Dawning

In honor of Revolution Day, we present this work by one of today’s most evocative Egyptian poets.

07-23 Lababidi
Yahia Lababidi
Egyptian
b. 1973

 

There are hours when every thing creaks
when chairs stretch their arms, tables their legs
and closets crack their backs, incautiously

Fed up with the polite fantasy
of having to stay in one place
and stick to their stations

Humans too, at work, or in love
know such aches and growing pains
when inner furnishings defiantly shift

As decisively, and imperceptibly, as a continent
some thing will stretch, croak or come undone
so that everything else must be reconsidered

One restless dawn, unable to suppress the itch
of wanderlust, with a heavy door left ajar
semi-deliberately, and a new light teasing in
Some piece of immobility will finally quit
suddenly nimble on wooden limbs
as fast as a horse, fleeing the stable.

To Marco Venier

We present this work in honor of the 430th anniversary of the poet’s death.

07-22 Franco
Veronica Franco
Italian
1546 – 1591

 

If I could be certain of your love,
from what your words and face display,
which often conceal a changing mind;
if external signs revealed what the mind
conceals within, so that a person
were not so often entrapped by deceit,
I would cast aside this fear, for which,
however I tried to protect myself,
I would be mocked as simple and unwise;
“to the same place one can take many roads,”

the proverb says; and it is never safe
to change one’s direction according to appearances.
Let no one stray from the beaten path
who is trying to find safe shelter
before the night comes to catch up with him.
The path of hope is not straightforward,
for more often than not, it leads astray
with lying words and false pretense;
the path of certainty is the right way,
which always leads to peaceful rest

and is safe on both sides and from. behind;
to this path I raise up my eyes’ thought
and, disappointed by words and charm,
I leave behind all their misleading lures.
May you find this an acceptable excuse,
may it acquit me of the charge that I believe
neither your gestures nor your words.
And if you truly love me, it grieves me very much
that you do not reveal yourself by deeds,
as a man who loves truly usually does:

I am sorry, on one hand, that you feel pain,
and on the other, that you frustrate me
in my desire to satisfy your true love.
Since I will not believe that I am loved,
nor should I believe it or reward you
for the pledge you have made me up to now,
win my approval, sir, with deeds:
prove yourself through them, if I, too,
am expected to prove my love with deeds;
but if instead you long for fictions,

as long as you persist in spinning out tales,
my welcome to you will be just as false;
and, when, fatigued and annoyed by fictions,
you show me your love in deeds,
I will assure you of mine in the same way.
I will show you my heart open in my breast,
once you no longer hide yours from me,
and my delight will be to please you;
and if you think I am so dear to Phoebus
for composing poems, in the works of love
you’ll find me dearer still to Venus.

Certain qualities concealed within me,
I will reveal to you, infinitely sweetly,
which prose or verse has never shown another,
on this condition: that you prove your love to me
by other means than compliments, for I
take care not to be fooled by them;
please me more with deeds and praise me less,
and where your courtesy overflows into praise,
distribute it in some other way.
Does what I say seem right to you,

or do you instead perhaps think I am wrong,
lacking experience to choose the right path?
Sir, being mocked is a most painful thing,
especially in love; and let whoever
does not believe this show his reason why.
I am ready to walk in step with you,
and I will love you beyond any doubt,
just as your merit requires I should.
If in your breast you have love’s burning fire
I’ll feel it by your side, for it will have

The power to set my heart aflame, too;
it’s not possible to escape its blows,
and whoever feels truly loved
is bound to love the lover in return;
but attempting to make white pass for black
is something that everybody dislikes,
even those whose judgment is weak.
So show me the fruits of your love for me,
for only foolish folk are deceived
by the lure of empty words.

Despite what I now answer you,
I’d not want you to think me greedy for gain,
for that vice is not concealed in my breast;
but I would like you to believe
that when I love, my courteous desires,
if not chaste, are decidedly chary;
and as soon as I have understood
that a man is brave and that he loves me,
I’ve returned his principal with interest.
But whoever, on this account, should decide

to try to fool me is himself a fool;
and anyone he asks could tell him so.
And what I now request from you
is not that you express your love
for me with silver or with gold;
for to make a deal with a gentleman
in order to extract a treasure from him
is most improper if one’s not entirely venal.
Such an act doesn’t suit my profession,
but I want to see, I say it clearly,

your love in deeds instead of words.
You know well what I most cherish:
behave in this as I’ve already told you,
and you’ll be my special, matchless lover.
My heart falls in love with virtues,
and you, who possess so many of them
that in you all the finest wisdom dwells,
don’t deny me your effort in such a great cause
let me see you longing in this way
to acquire a lover’s claim upon me;

be diligent and eager in this task
and in order to grant my wish,
do not be idle in your free time.
This will be no burden to you
for to your prowess any undertaking,
however difficult, comes with ease.
And if such a small task weighs you down,
think of how iron and stone fly aloft,
when set in motion by a burning flame;
whatever by nature tends to sink downward

through the fury of fire, more than any other force,
turns to rise from the center to the rim;
so love for me has no place within you
since it lacks the power to make you do
what even without love would be a small thing.
And do you then hope to make me love
as if you believed that with one single leap
I should suddenly fall in love with you?
I don’t glory in this or exalt myself;
but, to tell you the truth, you want to fly

without wings and rise too high all at once;
let your desire match your ability,
for you can easily reach a height
that others, with effort, cannot attain.
I long to have a real reason to love you
and I leave it up to you to decide,
so that you have no right to complain.
There’ll be no gap between merit and reward
if you’ll give me what, though in my opinion
it has great value, costs you not a thing;

your reward from me will be
not only to fly but to soar so high
that your hope will match your desires.
And my beauty, such as it is,
which you never tire of praising,
I’ll then employ for your contentment;
sweetly lying at your left side,
I will make you taste the delights of love
when they have been expertly learned;
And doing this, I could give you such pleasure

that you could say you were fully content,
and at once fall more deeply in love.
So sweet and delicious do I become,
when I am in bed with a man
who, I sense, loves and enjoys me,
that the pleasure I bring excels all delight,
so the knot of love, however tight
it seemed before, is tied tighter still.
Phoebus, who serves the goddess of love,
and obtains from her as a sweet reward

what blesses him far more than being a god,
comes from her to reveal to my mind
the positions that Venus assumes with him
when she holds him in sweet embraces;
so that I, well taught in such matters,
know how to perform so well in bed
that this art exceeds Apollo’s by far,
and my singing and writing are both forgotten
by the man who experiences me in this way,
which Venus reveals to people who serve her.

If your soul is vanquished by love for me,
arrange to have me in far sweeter fashion
than anything my pen can declare.
Your valor is the steadfast knot
that can pull me to your lap,
joined to you more tightly than a nail in hard wood;
your skill can make you master of my life,
for which you show so much love
that skill that miraculously stands out in you.
Let me see the works I’ve asked for from you,

for then you’ll enjoy my sweetness to the full;
and I will also take pleasure in yours,
in the way that mutual love allows,
which provides delight free from all pain.
I yearn and long to have a good reason
to love you: decide what you think best,
for every outcome depends on your will.

I have no more to say; go in peace.

The Banks o’ Doon

We present this work in honor of the 225th anniversary of the poet’s death.

07-21 Burns
Robert Burns
Scots
1759 – 1796

 

Ye banks and braes o’ bonie Doon,
How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair?
How can ye chant, ye little birds,
And I sae weary fu’ o’ care!
Thou’ll break my heart, thou warbling bird,
That wantons thro’ the flowering thorn:
Thou minds me o’ departed joys,
Departed never to return.

Aft hae I rov’d by Bonie Doon,
To see the rose and woodbine twine:
And ilka bird sang o’ its Luve,
And fondly sae did I o’ mine;
Wi’ lightsome heart I pu’d a rose,
Fu’ sweet upon its thorny tree!
And may fause Luver staw my rose,
But ah! he left the thorn wi’ me.

The River-Time

We present this work in honor of the 205th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Ïîðòðåò Ãàâðèëà Ðîìàíîâè÷à Äåðæàâèíà
Gavriil Derzhavin
Russian
1743 – 1816

 

The river-time, in its fast currents,
Bears away all people’s deals,
And drowns kingdoms, kings, and countries,
In the forgetfulness’ abyss.

And if, due pipes’ or lyres’ greatness,
Shall anything remain of that,
It shall be gobbled by the endless,
And shall not dodge the common fate.

Fallen

07-19 Cambridge
Ada Cambridge
Australian
1844 – 1926

 

For want of bread to eat and clothes to wear —
Because work failed and streets were deep in snow,
And this meant food and fire — she fell so low,
Sinning for dear life’s sake, in sheer despair.
Or, because life was else so bald and bare,
The natural woman in her craved to know
The warmth of passion — as pale buds to blow
And feel the noonday sun and fertile air.

And who condemns? She who, for vulgar gain
And in cold blood, and not for love or need,
Has sold her body to more vile disgrace —
The prosperous matron, with her comely face —
Wife by the law, but prostitute in deed,
In whose gross wedlock womanhood is slain.

To Him Who is Feared

We present this work in honor of Tisha B’Av.

07-18 Ben Kalir
Eleazar Ben Kalir
Turkish
c. 570 – c. 640

 

To Him who is feared a Crown will I bring.
Thrice Holy each day acclaim Him my King;
At altars, ye mighty, proclaim loud His praise,
And multitudes too may whisper His lays.
Ye angels, ye men, whose good deeds He records—
Sing, He is One, His is good, our yoke is the Lord’s!
Praise Him trembling to-day, His mercy is wide—
Ye who fear for His wrath—it doth not abide!
Ye seraphim, high above storm clouds may sing;
Men and angels make music, th’ All-seeing is king.
As ye open your lips, at His Name they shall cease—
Transgression and sin—in their place shall be peace;
And thrice shall the Shophar re-echo your song
On mountain and altar to whom both belong.

The Burning of the Law

07-15 Meir
Meir of Rothenburg
German
c. 1215 – 1293

 

Ask, is it well, O thou consumed of fire,

With those that mourn for thee,
That yearn to tread thy courts, that sore desire
Thy sanctuary;

That, panting for thy land’s sweet dust, are grieved,

And sorrow in their souls,
And by the flames of wasting fire bereaved,
Mourn for thy scrolls;

That grope in shadow of unbroken night,

Waiting the day to see
Which o’er them yet shall cast a radiance bright,

And over thee?

Ask of the welfare of the man of woe,
With breaking heart, in vain

Lamenting ever for thine overthrow,
And for thy pain;

Of him that crieth as the jackals cry,
As owls their moaning make,

Proclaiming bitter wailing far and nigh;
Yea, for thy sake.

And thou revealed amid a heavenly fire,

By earthly fire consumed,
Say how the foe unscorched escaped the pyre

Thy flames illumed!

How long shalt thou that art at ease abide

In peace, unknown to woe,
While o’er my flowers, humbled from their pride,

Thy nettles grow?

Thou sittest high exalted, lofty foe!

To judge the sons of God;
And with thy judgments stern dost bring them low

Beneath thy rod.

Yea, more, to burn the Law thou durst decree
God’s word to banish hence:

Then blest be he who shall award to thee
Thy recompense!

Was it for this, thou Law, my Rock of old
Gave thee with flames begirt,

That in thine after-days should fire seize hold
Upon thy skirt?

O Sinai! was it then for this God chose
Thy mount of modest height,

Rejecting statelier, while on thee arose
His glorious light?

Wast thou an omen that from noble state

The Law should lowly be?
And lo! a parable will I relate

Befitting thee.

Tis of a king I tell, who sat before

The banquet of his son

And wept: for ‘mid the mirth he death foresaw;

So thou hast done.

Cast off thy robe; in sackcloth folds of night,

O Sinai! cover thee;
Don widow’s garb, discard thy raiment bright

Of royalty.

Lo, I will weep for thee until my tears

Swell as a stream and flow
Unto the graves where thy two princely seers

Sleep calm below:

Moses; and Aaron in the Mountain Hor;

I will of them inquire:
Is there another to replace this Law

Devoured of fire?

O thou third month most sacred! woe is me

For treason of the fourth,

Which dimmed the sacred light that shone from thee

And kindled wrath;

And brake the tablets, yea, and still did rage:

And lo! the Law is burnt!
Ye sinful! is not this the twofold wage

Which ye have earnt?

Dismay hath seized upon my soul; how, then,

Can food be sweet to me,
When, O thou Law, I have beheld base men

Destroying thee?

They cast thee out as one despised, and burn

The wealth of God Most High;
They whom from thine assembly thou wouldst spurn

From drawing nigh.

I cannot pass along the highway more,
Nor seek thy ways forlorn;

How do thy paths their loneliness deplore!
Lo! how they mourn!

The mingled cup shall taste as honey sweet
Where tears o’erbrim the wine;

Yea, and thy chains upon my shackled feet
Are joy divine.

Sweet would it be unto mine eyes alway

A rain of tears to pour,
To sob and drench thy sacred robes, till they

Could hold no more.

But lo! my tears are dried, when, fast out-poured.

They down my cheeks are shed;
Scorched by the fire within: because thy Lord
Hath turned and fled.

Taking His holy treasure, He hath made

His journey far away;
And with Him hath not thy protecting shade

Vanished for aye?

And I am desolate and sore bereft,

Lo! a forsaken one:
Like a sole beacon on a mountain left,

A tower alone.

I hear the voice of singers now no more,
Silence their song hath bound;

The strings are broken which on harps of yore
Breathed forth sweet sound.

In sackcloth I will clothe and sable band,

For well-beloved by me

Were they whose lives were many as the sand

The slain of thee.

I am astonied that the day’s fair light

Yet shineth brilliantly
On all things: it is ever dark as night

To me and thee.

Send with a bitter cry to God above
Thine anguish, nor withhold:

Ah! that He would remember yet His love,
His troth of old!

Gird on the sackcloth of thy misery

For that devouring fire,
Which burst forth ravenous on thine and thee

With wasting dire.

E’en as thy Rock hath sore afflicted thee,

He will assuage thy woe,
Will turn again the tribes’ captivity,

And raise the low.

Yet shalt thou wear thy scarlet raiment choice,
And sound the timbrels high,

And yet amid the dancers shalt rejoice
With gladdened cry.

My neart shall be uplifted on the day
Thy Rock shall be thy light,

When He shall make thy gloom to pass away,
Thy darkness bright.

The Infinite

We present this work in honor of the 145th anniversary of the poet’s death.

07-14 Heavysege
Charles Heavysege
Canadian
1816 – 1876

 

The day was lingering in the pale north-west,
And night was hanging o’er my head—
Night, where a myriad stars were spread;
While down in the east, where the light was least,
Seemed the home of the quiet dead.
And, as I gazed on the field sublime,
To watch the bright, pulsating stars,
Adown the deep where the angels sleep
Came drawn the golden chime
Of those great spheres that sound the years
For the horologe of time.
Millenniums numberless they told,
Millenniums a millionfold
From the ancient hour of prime.