The Story of Isaac

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 85th birthday.

Leonard Cohen
Canadian
1934 – 2016

 

The door it opened slowly
My father he came in
I was nine years old
And he stood so tall above me
His blue eyes they were shining
And his voice was very cold

He said, “I’ve had a vision
And you know I’m strong and holy
I must do what I’ve been told”
So he started up the mountain
I was running, he was walking
And his axe was made of gold

Well, the trees they got much smaller
The lake, a lady’s mirror
We stopped to drink some wine
Then he threw the bottle over
Broke a minute later
And he put his hand on mine

Thought I saw an eagle
But it might have been a vulture
I never could decide
Then my father built an altar
He looked once behind his shoulder
He knew I would not hide

You who build these altars now
To sacrifice these children
You must not do it anymore
A scheme is not a vision
And you never have been tempted
By a demon or a God

You who stand above them now
Your hatchets blunt and bloody
You were not there before
When I lay upon a mountain
And my father’s hand was trembling
With the beauty of the word

And if you call me brother now
Forgive me if I inquire
“Just according to whose plan?”
When it all comes down to dust
I will kill you if I must
I will help you if I can

When it all comes down to dust
I will help you if I must
I will kill you if I can
And mercy on our uniform
Man of peace or man of war
The peacock spreads his fan

The Strangers

Audrey Alexandra Brown
Canadian
1904 – 1998

 

Early this morning,
About the break of day,
Hoofbeats came clashing
Along the narrow way—

And I looked from my window
And saw in the square
Four white unicorns
Stepping pair by pair.

Dappled and clouded,
So daintily they trod
On small hooves of ivory
Silver shod.

Tameless but gentle,
Wondering yet wise,
They stared from their silver-lashed
Sea-blue eyes.

The street was empty
And blind with dawn—
The shutters were fastened,
The bolts were drawn,

And sleepers half-rousing
Said with a sigh,
“There goes the milk”
As the hooves went by!

The Passionate Man’s Pilgrimage

Sir Walter Raleigh
English
1554 – 1618

 

Give me my scallop shell of quiet,
My staff of faith to walk upon,
My scrip of joy, immortal diet,
My bottle of salvation,
My gown of glory, hope’s true gage,
And thus I’ll take my pilgrimage.
Blood must be my body’s balmer,
No other balm will there be given,
Whilst my soul, like a white palmer,
Travels to the land of heaven;
Over the silver mountains,
Where spring the nectar fountains;
And there I’ll kiss
The bowl of bliss,
And drink my eternal fill
On every milken hill.
My soul will be a-dry before,
But after it will ne’er thirst more;
And by the happy blissful way
More peaceful pilgrims I shall see,
That have shook off their gowns of clay,
And go apparelled fresh like me.
I’ll bring them first
To slake their thirst,
And then to taste those nectar suckets,
At the clear wells
Where sweetness dwells,
Drawn up by saints in crystal buckets.
And when our bottles and all we
Are fill’d with immortality,
Then the holy paths we’ll travel,
Strew’d with rubies thick as gravel,
Ceilings of diamonds, sapphire floors,
High walls of coral, and pearl bowers.
From thence to heaven’s bribeless hall
Where no corrupted voices brawl,
No conscience molten into gold,
Nor forg’d accusers bought and sold,
No cause deferr’d, nor vain-spent journey,
For there Christ is the king’s attorney,
Who pleads for all without degrees,
And he hath angels, but no fees.
When the grand twelve million jury
Of our sins and sinful fury,
‘Gainst our souls black verdicts give,
Christ pleads his death, and then we live.
Be thou my speaker, taintless pleader,
Unblotted lawyer, true proceeder,
Thou movest salvation even for alms,
Not with a bribed lawyer’s palms.
And this is my eternal plea
To him that made heaven, earth, and sea,
Seeing my flesh must die so soon,
And want a head to dine next noon,
Just at the stroke when my veins start and spread,
Set on my soul an everlasting head.
Then am I ready, like a palmer fit,
To tread those blest paths which before I writ.

To the Bio-Bio

In honor of Chilean Independence Day, we present this work by one of Chile’s greatest poets.

Andres Bello
Chilean
1781 – 1865

 

Blest were he, O Bio-Bio!
Who could dwell forevermore
In a deep grove, cool and shady,
Upon thine enchanted shore!

Just a lowly thatched-roofed cottage
Where thy limpid waters are seen
Pouring their calm flood in silence
Amid foliage fresh and green;

Where, instead of shifting changes
In the fickle things of state,
Wind-stirred oaks and maitens murmur,
And the forest peace is great;

Where the bird amid the branches,
In the early dawning gray,
Sings its untaught, artless music,
Greeting thus the new-born day.

In that humble thatched-roof cottage,
Oh, how happy were my lot,
In the peace that nothing troubles,
Envied not and envying not!

This to me in truth were sweeter
Than the Babel wild and loud
Where in chase of a chimera
All are rushing in a crowd;

Where dark treachery and falsehood
Near the quaking altar stay
That the people’s favor raises
To the idols of a day.

Sweet repose, most blissful quiet,
Earthly paradise divine!
Has the palm of war or wisdom
Worth which can outrival thine?

Truth I love, not adulation—
Truth all unadorned and plain,
Not the clamorous applauses
That are raised in Fortune’s train.

Growing old, for that false treasure
I would cease my soul to fret—
Say ‘Farewell to disappointments!
The forgetful I forget.

‘Others call excitement pleasure,
Madly seeking fame or pelf;
I in earth’s most hidden corner
Wish to live now for myself.’

Concord Hymn

We present this work in honor of Constitution Day.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
American
1803 – 1882

 

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set today a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.

No More Clichés

In honor of Mexican Independence Day, we present this work by one of Mexico’s most legendary poets.

Octavio Paz
Mexican
1914 – 1998

 

Beautiful face
That like a daisy opens its petals to the sun
So do you
Open your face to me as I turn the page.

Enchanting smile
Any man would be under your spell,
Oh, beauty of a magazine.

How many poems have been written to you?
How many Dantes have written to you, Beatrice?
To your obsessive illusion
To you manufacture fantasy.

But today I won’t make one more Cliché
And write this poem to you.
No, no more clichés.

This poem is dedicated to those women
Whose beauty is in their charm,
In their intelligence,
In their character,
Not on their fabricated looks.

This poem is to you women,
That like a Shahrazade wake up
Everyday with a new story to tell,
A story that sings for change
That hopes for battles:
Battles for the love of the united flesh
Battles for passions aroused by a new day
Battle for the neglected rights
Or just battles to survive one more night.

Yes, to you women in a world of pain
To you, bright star in this ever-spending universe
To you, fighter of a thousand-and-one fights
To you, friend of my heart.

From now on, my head won’t look down to a magazine
Rather, it will contemplate the night
And its bright stars,
And so, no more clichés.

If We Must Die

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 130th birthday.

Claude McKay
American
1889 – 1948

 

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursèd lot.

If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!

O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?

Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!