Look to This Day

In honor of Thiruvalluvar Day, we present this work by one of India’s greatest Sanskrit poets.

Kalidasa
Indian
c. 350

 

Look to this day:
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence.
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendour of achievement
Are but experiences of time.

For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision;
And today well-lived, makes
Yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this day;
Such is the salutation to the ever-new dawn!

Our Casuarina Tree

In honor of Pongal, we present this work by one of the 19th century’s great Bengali poets.

Toru Dutt
Indian
1856 – 1877

 

Like a huge Python, winding round and round
The rugged trunk, indented deep with scars,
Up to its very summit near the stars,
A creeper climbs, in whose embraces bound
No other tree could live. But gallantly
The giant wears the scarf, and flowers are hung
In crimson clusters all the boughs among,
Whereon all day are gathered bird and bee;
And oft at nights the garden overflows
With one sweet song that seems to have no close,
Sung darkling from our tree, while men repose.

When first my casement is wide open thrown
At dawn, my eyes delighted on it rest;
Sometimes, and most in winter,—on its crest
A gray baboon sits statue-like alone
Watching the sunrise; while on lower boughs
His puny offspring leap about and play;
And far and near kokilas hail the day;
And to their pastures wend our sleepy cows;
And in the shadow, on the broad tank cast
By that hoar tree, so beautiful and vast,
The water-lilies spring, like snow enmassed.

But not because of its magnificence
Dear is the Casuarina to my soul:
Beneath it we have played; though years may roll,
O sweet companions, loved with love intense,
For your sakes, shall the tree be ever dear.
Blent with your images, it shall arise
In memory, till the hot tears blind mine eyes!
What is that dirge-like murmur that I hear
Like the sea breaking on a shingle-beach?
It is the tree’s lament, an eerie speech,
That haply to the unknown land may reach.

Unknown, yet well-known to the eye of faith!
Ah, I have heard that wail far, far away
In distant lands, by many a sheltered bay,
When slumbered in his cave the water-wraith
And the waves gently kissed the classic shore
Of France or Italy, beneath the moon,
When earth lay trancèd in a dreamless swoon:
And every time the music rose,—before
Mine inner vision rose a form sublime,
Thy form, O Tree, as in my happy prime
I saw thee, in my own loved native clime.

Therefore I fain would consecrate a lay
Unto thy honor, Tree, beloved of those
Who now in blessed sleep for aye repose,—
Dearer than life to me, alas, were they!
Mayst thou be numbered when my days are done
With deathless trees—like those in Borrowdale,
Under whose awful branches lingered pale
“Fear, trembling Hope, and Death, the skeleton,
And Time the shadow;” and though weak the verse
That would thy beauty fain, oh, fain rehearse,
May Love defend thee from Oblivion’s curse.

After Rain

We present this work in honor of the 10th anniversary of the author’s death.

P.K. Page
Canadian
1916 – 2010

 

The snails have made a garden of green lace:
broderie anglaise from the cabbages,
chantilly from the choux-fleurs, tiny veils-
I see already that I lift the blind
upon a woman’s wardrobe of the mind.

Such female whimsy floats about me like
a kind of tulle, a flimsy mesh,
while feet in gumboots pace the rectangles-
garden abstracted, geometry awash-
an unknown theorem argued in green ink,
dropped in the bath.
Euclid in glorious chlorophyll, half drunk.

I none too sober slipping in the mud
where rigged with guys of rain
the clothes-reel gauche
as the rangy skeleton of some
gaunt delicate spidery mute
is pitched as if
listening;
while hung from one thin rib
a silver web-
its infant, skeletal, diminutive,
now sagged with sequins, pulled ellipsoid,
glistening.

I suffer shame in all these images.
The garden is primeval, Giovanni
in soggy denim squelches by my hub,
over his ruin
shakes a doleful head.
But he so beautiful and diademed,
his long Italian hands so wrung with rain
I find his ache exists beyond my rim
and almost weep to see a broken man
made subject to my whim.

O choir him, birds, and let him come to rest
within this beauty as one rests in love,
till pears upon the bough
encrusted with
small snails as pale as pearls
hang golden in
a heart that know tears are a part of love.

And choir me too to keep my heart a size
larger than seeing, unseduced by each
bright glimpse of beauty striking like a bell,
so that the whole may toll,
its meaning shine
clear of the myriad images that still-
do what I will-encumber its pure line.

Death of the Eagle

José María Heredia y Heredia
Cuban
1803 – 1839

 

Although beyond the eternal snows, aspires
The vast-winged eagle still to loftier air,
That nearer to the sun in blue more clear
He may renew his eyeball’s splendid ires.

He rises. Sparks in torrents he inspires.
Still up, in proud, calm flight, he glories where
The storm breeds lightnings in its inmost lair;
Whereat his wings are smit by their fierce fires.

With scream, in waterspout borne whirlingly,
Shriveled, sublimely tasting flame’s last kiss,
He plunges to the fulgurant abyss.

Happy he who, for Fame or Liberty,
In strength’s full pride and dream’s enrapturing bliss
Dies such undaunted, dazzling death as this.

A Lady

Amy Lowell
American
1874 – 1925

 

You are beautiful and faded
Like an old opera tune
Played upon a harpsichord;
Or like the sun-flooded silks
Of an eighteenth-century boudoir.
In your eyes
Smoulder the fallen roses of out-lived minutes,
And the perfume of your soul
Is vague and suffusing,
With the pungence of sealed spice-jars.
Your half-tones delight me,
And I grow mad with gazing
At your blent colours.

My vigour is a new-minted penny,
Which I cast at your feet.
Gather it up from the dust,
That its sparkle may amuse you.

from Tales of a Severed Head

In honor of the Moroccan holiday, Proclamation of Independence, we present this work by one of Morocco’s greatest living writers.

Rachida Madani
Moroccan
b. 1951

 

What city and what night
since it’s night in the city
when a woman and a train-station argue over
the same half of a man who is leaving?
He is young, handsome
he is leaving for a piece of white bread.
She is young, beautiful as a springtime
cluster
trying to flower for the last time
for her man who is leaving.
But the train arrives
but the branch breaks
but suddenly it’s raining in the station
in the midst of spring.
And the train emerges from all directions
It whistles and goes right through the woman
the whole length of her.
Where the woman bleeds, there will never be spring
Again.
in the night, in her head, under the pillow
trains pass filled with men
filled with mud
and they all go through her
the whole length of her.
How many winters will pass, how many snowfalls
before the first bleeding letter
before the first mouthful of white bread?

This Is How I Want to Die

Rosario Orrego
Chilean
1834 – 1879

 

Who could die like that cloud
that I watch, softly evaporate
white and airy to the firmament rising
on light, atmospheric wings.

Who could die like the star,
eclipsing a few moments, and then no more
to shine again, like her,
in other blue-clad firmaments!

Who could be aurora ray
and, in afternoon’s decline, diffuse
into twilight burning gold
the moribund light as it waves goodbye!

Who could be wilting flower
painlessly bending one’s chalice
and even pale and inert, shedding petals
and spilling ambrosia into the aura!

But I am no flower, no errant cloud,
No star of blinking worlds…
I have a heart, a caring soul,
pieces all, made to be torn out!

This is why I want to be weightless atom,
perfumed breath of breeze,
to fool suffering
and die exhaling grins.

That in your bosom no more, Nature,
death is a voluptuous fainting,
rather a pretty expression;
and not a single thing into eternal repose sinking.