The Musical Ass

We present this work in honor of the 230th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Tomas de Iriarte y Oropesa
Spanish
1750 – 1791

 

The fable which I now present,
Occurred to me by accident:
And whether bad or excellent,
Is merely so by accident.

A stupid ass this morning went
Into a field by accident:
And cropped his food, and was content,
Until he spied by accident
A flute, which some oblivious gent
Had left behind by accident;
When, sniffling it with eager scent,
He breathed on it by accident,
And made the hollow instrument
Emit a sound by accident.
“Hurrah, hurrah!” exclaimed the brute,
“How cleverly I play the flute!”

A fool, in spite of nature’s bent,
May shine for once, by accident.

Pax Animae

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

09-16 Najera
Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera
Mexican
1859 – 1895

 

Speak not a word of wild, blaspheming grief!
Be proud, be brave, though fallen in the strife,
And gaze, oh poet, with supreme disdain
On all the dark injustices of life!

Thou shalt not seek for constancy in love,
Nor aught eternal from frail mortals ask;
To rear sepuchral monuments on high
From all thy griefs, O artist, be thy task!
Chisel thy statues out of marble white,
Forms chaste of mien, though naked to the air;
And let speech slumber on their sculptured lips;
Let them stand deeply sad, yet silent there.

A name! A sounding echo on the air,
Fleeting and frail, its life a moment’s span!
A dreamer’s foolish idol! Name and fame!
This is the last sad vanity of man.
Why should we justice seek, or clemency.—
If our own comrades here deny our plea—
From the indifference, mute and icy-cold,
Of unknown men, to live in days to be?

Tardy compassion why should we implore
From strangers hid in shadows, one and all?
The echoes sleep within the darksome wood,
And no one, no one answers to our call.

The only consolation in this life
Is to remember happy hours and fair,
And lift our eyes on high to view the skies
When skies are blue or stars are shining there;

To flee the sea, and on the sleeping lake
Enjoy the water’s calm, the peaceful time;
To sleep—to dream—our wizard strong, the Dream,
Is a deceiver holy and sublime!

‘Tis true, alas, that in the honest breast
The fresh wound calls for vengeance and for strife;
But yet—forgive the evil they have done!
All suffer from the malady of life.

The very men who crown themselves with flowers
Are born to sorrow, and to perish, too.
If those you love the most betray your trust,
Forgive them, for they know not what they do!

Perhaps those instincts they inherited,
And they avenge unknowingly to-day
Races that gathered on their hapless heads
All griefs and hatreds ere they passed away.

Are thou perchance the judge—the sinless one?
Do justice and sweet mercy meet in thee?
Ah, who is not a fugitive, that bears
The weight of crimes unpunished, guiltily?

Who has not feigned to love, dared with false vows
Into a maiden’s holy soul to steal?
Who can be sure that he has never killed?
Who is the just man, that may justice deal?

Pity and pardon for all those that live!
So, full of love, in mild and gentle mood,
We shall be tender and compassionate,
And haply, haply, some time shall be good!

Friend, dost thou suffer? Seek thy sweetheart fair
In deathless beauty, free from pain and fear—
Live leaning on thy sadness, as of old
On young Cordelia leaned the wandering Lear.

See, far and farther ebbs the dying day!
How good it is to rest! In shade obscure
The woodland lulls us with a music soft;
Virgin the water is, the air is pure.

Weary, her eyes the light is closing now;
Sad murmors sound, and many a mournful sigh.
The night, descending, to the earth says, ‘Come!
‘Tis over. Go to sleep, and do not cry!’

To recollect—forgive—have loved, believed,
And had brief happiness our hearts to bless,
And soon, grown weary, to recline against
The snowy shoulder of forgetfulness!

To feel forevermore the tenderness
That warmed your youthful bosoms with its flame,
Receiving happiness, if it should come,
Like a glad visit from some beauteous dame;

To hold still hidden that which most we love—
Smiling forgiveness on our lips to keep—
Until at last, O earth! we come to thee
In the complete abandonment of sleep:

This ought to be the life of him who thinks
How transient all things are that meet his eyes,
And, wisely, stops before the wide expanse
Of falsehood’s ocean that around him lies.

Gather the flowers, while there are flowers to pluck;
Forgive the roses for their thorny guise!
Our sorrows also pass away and fly,
Flitting like swarms of dark-winged butterflies.

Love and forgive! Resist with courage strong
The wicked, the unjust, the cowardly.
The silent night, when it settles down,
Pensive and sad, is beautiful to see!

When sorrow dims my spirit, on the heights
I seek for calmness and for shining light.
Upon the frozen summits of my soul
Infinite pity spreads its hue of white.

Iron Wine

09-15 Ridge
Lola Ridge
Irish
1873 – 1941

 

The ore in the crucible is pungent, smelling like acrid wine,
It is dusky red, like the ebb of poppies,
And purple, like the blood of elderberries.
Surely it is a strong wine – juice distilled of the fierce iron.
I am drunk of its fumes.
I feel its fiery flux
Diffusing, permeating,
Working some strange alchemy…
So that I turn aside from the goodly board,
So that I look askance upon the common cup,

And from the mouths of crucibles
Suck forth the acrid sap.

The Leader and the Led

09-14 Osundare
Niyi Osundare
Nigerian
b. 1947

 

The Lion stakes his claim
To the leadership of the pack

But the Antelopes remember
The ferocious pounce of his paws

The hyena says the crown is made for him
But the Impalas shudder at his lethal appetite

The Giraffe craves a place in the front
But his eyes are too far from the ground

When the Zebra says it’s his right to lead
The pack points to the duplicity of his stripes

The Elephant trudges into the power tussle
But its colleagues dread his trampling feet

The warthog is too ugly
The rhino too riotous

And the pack thrashes around
Like a snake without a head

“Our need calls for a hybrid of habits”,
Proclaims the Forest Sage,

“A little bit of a Lion
A little bit of a Lamb

Tough like a tiger, compassionate like a doe
Transparent like a river, mysterious like a lake

A leader who knows how to follow
Followers mindful of their right to lead”

The Dentist and the Crocodile

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 105th birthday.

09-13 Dahl
Roald Dahl
Welsh
1916 – 1990

 

The crocodile, with cunning smile, sat in the dentist’s chair.
He said, “Right here and everywhere my teeth require repair.”
The dentist’s face was turning white. He quivered, quaked and shook.
He muttered, “I suppose I’m going to have to take a look.”
“I want you”, Crocodile declared, “to do the back ones first.
The molars at the very back are easily the worst.”
He opened wide his massive jaws. It was a fearsome sight—
At least three hundred pointed teeth, all sharp and shining white.
The dentist kept himself well clear. He stood two yards away.
He chose the longest probe he had to search out the decay.
“I said to do the back ones first!” the Crocodile called out.
“You’re much too far away, dear sir, to see what you’re about.
To do the back ones properly you’ve got to put your head
Deep down inside my great big mouth,” the grinning Crocky said.
The poor old dentist wrung his hands and, weeping in despair,
He cried, “No no! I see them all extremely well from here!”
Just then, in burst a lady, in her hands a golden chain.
She cried, “Oh Croc, you naughty boy, you’re playing tricks again!”
“Watch out!” the dentist shrieked and started climbing up the wall.
“He’s after me! He’s after you! He’s going to eat us all!”
“Don’t be a twit,” the lady said, and flashed a gorgeous smile.
“He’s harmless. He’s my little pet, my lovely crocodile.”

The Young Nation

09-12 Machado
Antonio Machado
Spanish
1875 – 1939

 

It was a time of infamy and lies.
The nation itself was dressed up
like a squalid clown to draw
attention away from our wound.

That was then. We were young:
bad weather, worse omens,
we had nightmares in our hair
as the sea swelled with wrecks.

We swore we would abandon ship.
We said that we would sail away on
a silver galleon, eschewing the shore,
rudder and sail charging to the sea.

Even in the loss of that dream—
the debt from a century of failure—
we still sought the light as sacred
ideals drowned in this confusion.

Led by our anxious convictions,
we flexed, we preened, we abandoned
armor as clean as a mirror. We said,
“It’s bad, but tomorrow will be mine.”

Today is that tomorrow. The nation
is dancing in faux gold, faux fur,
twisted as an oak and drunk
on wine like blood from a sore.

Listen. If the will to change comes,
chase it. When the fire comes,
wake up, wake and let it fill you up
the way light burns inside a diamond.

The Dead of September 11

We present this work in honor of 9/11.

09-11 Morrison
Toni Morrison
American
1931 – 2019

 

Some have God’s words; others have songs of comfort
for the bereaved. If I can pluck courage here, I would
like to speak directly to the dead—the September dead.
Those children of ancestors born in every continent
on the planet: Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas…;
born of ancestors who wore kilts, obis, saris, geles,
wide straw hats, yarmulkes, goatskin, wooden shoes,
feathers and cloths to cover their hair. But I would not say
a word until I could set aside all I know or believe about
nations, wars, leaders, the governed and ungovernable;
all I suspect about armor and entrails. First I would freshen
my tongue, abandon sentences crafted to know evil—wanton
or studied; explosive or quietly sinister; whether born of
a sated appetite or hunger; of vengeance or the simple
compulsion to stand up before falling down. I would purge
my language of hyperbole; of its eagerness to analyze
the levels of wickedness; ranking them; calculating their
higher or lower status among others of its kind.
Speaking to the broken and the dead is too difficult for
a mouth full of blood. Too holy an act for impure thoughts.
Because the dead are free, absolute; they cannot be
seduced by blitz.
To speak to you, the dead of September 11, I must not claim
false intimacy or summon an overheated heart glazed
just in time for a camera. I must be steady and I must be clear,
knowing all the time that I have nothing to say—no words
stronger than the steel that pressed you into itself; no scripture
older or more elegant than the ancient atoms you
have become.
And I have nothing to give either—except this gesture,
this thread thrown between your humanity and mine:
I want to hold you in my arms and as your soul got shot of its box of flesh to understand, as you have done, the wit
of eternity: its gift of unhinged release tearing through
the darkness of its knell.

Serenata

09-05 Florez
Alejandro A. Flórez Roa
Colombian
1866 – 1901

 

Put your head out the window
so that my soul doesn’t pain,
so that my soul doesn’t pain.

Look out as it comes
the fresh light tomorrow,
the fresh light tomorrow.

Appear, and if I look at you,
I’ll confess to you my ardent love,
in the rumors of a kiss
and in the swing of a sigh,
and in the swing of a sigh.

You will know that I keep a treasure
for you inside my chest,
for you inside my chest,

get up from your bed
and you will know how much I adore you,
and you will know how much I adore you.

Streets are deserted
clouds wander lost,
and stars are awake
and stars are awake.

Ambrosia Arbor

We present this work in honor of Ganesh Charturthi.

09-09 Osho
N.K. Osho
Indian
b. 1975

 

Thousandfold flowers unfetters fragrance…
Thousandfold powers dowers Deliverance…
All frith flowers adore thine aubade!
All Ambrosia audacious attunes along cascade!

When my myriad… mystic
Mood… in mute stands rustic
O’erflows joy e’er encompass!
Sacred love, encore! all onus… pious abyss!

Daze, dazzling… blushes those sweet flower,
Carries my Chariot thought to Rose land!
And thy relume thought compose and jocund!
Where withal… Whimsical thro’ Orison pervade

Sacred Symphony sings, enlightens the Planet
Sonorous savant, radiant grace compose sonnet.

The Poet as Hero

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 135th birthday.

09-08 Sassoon
Siegfried Sassoon
English
1886 – 1967

 

You’ve heard me, scornful, harsh, and discontented,
Mocking and loathing War: you’ve asked me why
Of my old, silly sweetness I’ve repented—
My ecstasies changed to an ugly cry.

You are aware that once I sought the Grail,
Riding in armour bright, serene and strong;
And it was told that through my infant wail
There rose immortal semblances of song.

But now I’ve said good-bye to Galahad,
And am no more the knight of dreams and show:
For lust and senseless hatred make me glad,
And my killed friends are with me where I go.

Wound for red wound I burn to smite their wrongs;
And there is absolution in my songs.