from John Brown’s Body

We present this work in honor of Citizenship Day.

Stephen Vincent Benet
American
1898 – 1943

 

Thirteen sisters beside the sea,
(Have a care, my son.)
Builded a house called Liberty
And locked the doors with a stately key.
None should enter it but the free.
(Have a care, my son.)

The walls are solid as Plymouth Rock.
(Rock can crumble, my son.)
The door of seasoned New England stock.
Before it a Yankee fighting-cock.
Pecks redcoat kings away from the lock.
(Fighters can die, my son.)

The hearth is a corner where sages sit.
(Sages pass, my son.)
Washington’s heart lies under it.
And the long roof-beams are chiseled and split
From hickory tough as Jackson’s wit.
(Bones in the dust, my son.)

The trees in the garden are fair and fine.
(Trees blow down, my son.)
Connecticut elm and Georgia pine.
The warehouse groans with cotton and swine.
The cellar is full of scuppernong-wine.
(Wine turns sour, my son.)

Surely a house so strong and bold,
(The wind is rising, my son,)
Will last till Time is a pinch of mould!
There is a ghost, when the night is old.
There is a ghost who walks in the cold.
(The trees are shaking, my son.)

The sisters sleep on Liberty’s breast,
(The thunder thunders, my son,)
Like thirteen swans in a single nest.
But the ghost is naked and will not rest
Until the sun rise out of the West.
(The lightning lightens, my son.)

All night long like a moving stain,
(The trees are breaking, my son,)
The black ghost wanders his house of pain.
There is blood where his hand has lain.
It is wrong he should wear a chain.
(The sky is falling, my son.)

Wring the Swan’s Neck

In honor of Mexican Indepedence Day, we present this work by one of Mexico’s greatest poets.

Enrique Gonzalez Martinez
Mexican
1871 – 1952

 

Wring the swan’s neck who with deceiving plumage
inscribes his whiteness on the azure stream;
he merely vaunts his grace and nothing feels
of nature’s voice or of the soul of things.

Every form eschew and every language
whose processes with deep life’s inner rhythm
are out of harmony…and greatly worship
life, and let life understand your homage.

See the sapient owl who from Olympus
spreads his wings, leaving Athene’s lap,
and stays his silent flight on yonder tree.

His grace is not the swan’s, but his unquiet
pupil, boring into the gloom, interprets
the secret book of the nocturnal still.

from Die Goldenen Schmiede

Konrad von Würzburg
German
1225 – 1287

 

He who would braid and decorate
Your noble chaplet with flowers
Must bear within his breast
The blooming May branch of the arts
In order to adorn it
With rose-read phrases
And decorate it all around
With words like violets
To purify it utterly
Of everything false,
And most beautifully interweave
The herbs of exotic rhymes
Beneath, around, between
The blossoms of sweet speech.

So As Not to Distort

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 65th birthday.

Hiromi Itō
Japanese
b. 1955

 

I make shiratama
And take them to my man
I heat the sugar and form syrup
Put in the boiled dumplings
And cool them
I seal them tight
And take them
All the shiratama stick to the bottom
The surfaces of the shiratama are torn
Their round
Shapes are distorted
I scoop them up with a spoon
Hey!
Look!
Scoop them out
So they don’t get distorted
I love shiratama best of all
Says my man, carrying the shiratama to his mouth
He closes his eyes and shows me how good they are
I love them more than you
I watch my man
Swallowing the shiratama
And lapping up the lukewarm syrup

I shake the sealed container and wrap it in cloth
Then the two of us
Bring together our syrupy mouths
Slide the palms of our hands
Moving them in the shape of love
But
You know
I don’t want to distort
I don’t want to be left distorted
This is what I think, oh man, my man

I roll them up
Boil the shiratama, heat the syrup, then cool them
I roll into them
Heartrending hopes
Thick syrup
Smooth shiratama
My man swallows them down
Thick like saliva
Smooth like buttocks
How do they taste?

I don’t want to distort you
He also thought in his heartrending way
I have reached him
The food I secrete
Secreted deep, deep
Into the man I love

Lament for Clairac

Theophile de Viau
French
1590 – 1626

 

Sweet place where I adored Phyllis of yore,
Sun-hallowed walls that held my soul in charms,
Today beneath our sundered roofs no more
Than bloody spoil for prideful men at arms,

Cloth of the altar gone in smoke and scorned,
Temple in ruins, mysteries undone,
Horrific relicts of a city burned:
Men, horses, palaces, buried as one.

Deep moats packed with debris from shattered walls,
Tableaux of horror, shrieks and burials,
River where blood has not stopped running high,

Slaughterfields where the wolves and crows gorge free,
Clairac! For the one birth you gave to me
How many, many deaths you make me die.

An Ode on Aeolus’s Harp

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 320th birthday.

James Thomson
Scots
1700 – 1748

 

I

Ethereal race, inhabitants of air,
Who hymn your God amid the secret grove,
Ye unseen beings, to my harp repair,
And raise majestic strains, or melt in love.

II

Those tender notes, how kindly they upbraid!
With what soft woe they thrill the lover’s heart!
Sure from the hand of some unhappy maid
Who died of love these sweet complainings part.

III

But hark! that strain was of a graver tone,
On the deep strings his hand some hermit throws;
Or he, the sacred Bard, who sat alone
In the drear waste and wept his people’s woes.

IV

Such was the song which Zion’s children sung
When by Euphrates’ stream they made their plaint;
And to such sadly solemn notes are strung
Angelic harps to soothe a dying saint.

V

Methinks I hear the full celestial choir
Through Heaven’s high dome their awful anthem raise;
Now chanting clear, and now they all conspire
To swell the lofty hymn from praise to praise.

VI

Let me, ye wandering spirits of the wind,
Who, as wild fancy prompts you, touch the string,
Smit with your theme, be in your chorus joined,
For till you cease my muse forgets to sing.

Against an Avaricious Judge

Fray Luis de Leon
Spanish
1527 – 1591

 

Even if in copious mountains you lift the attained, useless gold;
and even if your possessions you improve with the hurt and tears of others;

And even if, cruel tyrant, you oppress the truth,
and your avarice, dressed in a false name, converts justice to buying and selling;

Even if you fool the eyes of the world that you adore,
it will nonetheless not stop sharp thistles to be born in your heart;

Nor will fear stop sleeping in your bed;
nor will you escape worries and agony, the ultimate spite;

Nor will good hope in pleasure ever cross your threshold;

Nor will la Meguera, with infernal flames, and serpentine whip
in a raised and ferocious skilled arm, leave your bedchamber for a moment;

Nor will you stop the wheel of fortune, despite all you can do,
the hungry and cruel consumer of time is coming with death as a co-conspirator,
to leave you naked of the gold and all that you love most;

And you will be left immersed in interminable harm and oblivion.

Helplessness

We present this work in honor of the 75th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Zinaïda Gippius
Russian
1869 – 1945

 

I look at a sea – the greedy one and fervent,
Chained to the earth, on the depleted shore…
Stand by a gulf – over the endless heavens,
And could not fly to azure, as before.

I didn’t decide to join or slaves, or rebels,
Have no a courage nor to live, nor – die…
I feel my God – but cannot say my prayers,
I want my love – but can’t find love of mine.

I send to sun my worship and my groan,
I see a sheet of clouds, pale and cold…
What is a truth? It seems to me, I know, –
But for the truth I have not the right world.

Surrender of an Exiled Lover to the Power of His Own Sadness

We present this work in honor of the 375th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Francisco de Quevedo
Spanish
1580 – 1645

 

These are now and will be the very last
tears that, with all the strength of living voice,
I shall lose in this fountain’s fleeting stream,
which carries them to slake the thirst of brutes.

I’m fortunate if, on some far-off shore,
while nourishing so much elusive pain,
I find a death that’s merciful, and fells
such flimsy structures built on weakened roots!

A spirit thus stripped bare a lover pure,
upon the sun I’ll burn, and my cold flesh
in dust and earth will keep Love’s memory.

to travellers I’ll be an epitaph,
since my face, lifeless, will declare to them:
“It was Love’s triumph to make war on me.”