The Lily

Mary Tighe
Irish
1772 – 1810

 

How wither’d, perish’d, seems the form
Of yon obscure unsightly root!
Yet from the blight of wintry storm
It hides secure the precious fruit.

The careless eye can find no grace,
No beauty in the scaly folds,
Nor see within the dark embrace
What latent loveliness it holds.

Yet in that bulb, those sapless scales
The lily wraps her silver vest,
Till vernal suns and vernal gales
Shall kiss once more her fragrant breast.

Yes, hide beneath the mould’ring heap,
The undelighting slighted thing;
There in the cold earth buried deep,
In silence let it wait the spring.

Oh! many a stormy night shall close
In gloom upon the barren earth,
While still in undisturb’d repose,
Uninjur’d lies the future birth.

And ignorance, with sceptic eye,
Hope’s patient smile shall wond’ring view;
Or mock her fond credulity,
As her soft tears the spot bedew;

Sweet smile of hope, delicious tear,
The sun, the show’r indeed shall come
The promised verdant shoot appear,
And nature bid her blossoms bloom.

And thou, O virgin queen of spring,
Shalt from thy dark and lowly bed,
Bursting thy green sheath’s silken string,
Unveil thy charms, and perfume shed;

Unfold thy robes of purest white,
Unsullied from their darksome grave,
And thy soft petals’ flow’ry light,
In the mild breeze unfett’d wave.

So faith shall seek the lowly dust,
Where humble sorrow loves to lie,
And bid her thus her hopes intrust,
And watch with patient, cheerful eye;

And bear the long, cold, wintry night,
And bear her own degraded doom,
And wait till heav’n’s reviving light,
Eternal spring! shall burst the gloom.

Lost for Words

Colm Toibin
Irish
b. 1955

 

The sea is all washed up. The house rocks
On through the night; nothing will see reason.
Most things have left us, and some people too.
Strange the speed with which they disappeared.
And colours died that gave a shape to things,
Till what is lost comes vaguely in these dreams.

And the dead sad words float out in foolish space
And have the weight of atoms in a wind;
They do not want to come to earth again.
I saw their tears unflowing in the sky.

In an old house I heard some words for flowers:
‘Buttercup’, ‘lupin’, ‘truth’ and ‘fluredelee’.
And there were names for trees: ‘barkbrown’, ‘oak’
And ‘hard’, the loveliest of all, they said,
Easy to live with and soft on the eye.
On a saint’s day you climbed into its soul.

The Odyssey — a Modern Sequel, Extract 1

In honor of Greek Independence Day, we present this work by a giant of Greek literature.

Nikos Kazantzakis
Greek
1883 – 1957

 

Then flesh dissolved, glances congealed, the heart’s pulse stopped,
and the great mind leapt to the peak of its holy freedom,
fluttered with empty wings, then upright through the air
soared high and freed itself from its last cage, its freedom.
All things like frail mist scattered till but one brave cry
for a brief moment hung in the calm benighted waters:
“Forward, my lads, sail on, for Death’s breeze blows in a fair wind!”

Paths of the Mirror

In honor of Dia de la Memoria, we present this work by one of Argentina’s most poignant poets.

Alejandra Pizarnik
Argentine
1936 – 1972

 

And above all else, to look with innocence. As if nothing was happening, which is true.

But you, I want to look at you until your face escapes from my fear like a bird from the sharp edge of the night.

Like a girl drawn with pink chalk on a very old wall that is suddenly washed away by the rain.

Like when a flower blooms and reveals its heart that isn’t there.

Every gesture of my body and my voice aimed to make myself into the offering, the bouquet that the wind abandons on the porch.

Cover the memory of your face with the mask of who you will be and scare off the girl you once were.

The night of us both scattered with the fog. It’s the season of cold foods.

And the thirst, my memory is of the thirst, me underneath, at the bottom, in the hole, I drank, I remember.

To fall like a wounded animal in a place that was meant to be for revelations.

As if it meant nothing. No thing. Mouth zipped. Eyelids sewn. I forgot. Inside, the wind. Everything closed and the wind inside.

Under the black sun of silence the words burned slowly.

But the silence is true. That’s why I write. I’m alone and I write. No, I’m not alone. There’s somebody here, shivering.

Even if I say sun and moon and star I’m talking about things that happen to me. And what did I wish for? I wished for a perfect silence. That’s why I speak.

The night is shaped like a wolf’s scream.

Delight of losing one-self in the presaged image. I rose from my corpse, I went looking for who I am. Migrant of myself, I’ve gone towards the one who sleeps in a country of wind.

My endless falling into my endless falling where nobody waited for me –because when I saw who was waiting for me I saw no one but myself.

Something was falling into the silence. My last word was “I” but I was talking about the luminescent dawn.

Yellow flowers constellate a circle of blue earth. The water trembles, full of wind.

The blinding of day, yellow birds in the morning. A hand untangles the darkness, a hand drags the hair of a drowned woman that never stops going through the mirror. To return to the memory of the body, I have to return to my mourning bones, I have to understand what my voice is saying.

An Old Song Re-Sung

Padraic Colum
Irish
1881 – 1972

 

As I went down through Dublin city
At the hour of twelve of the night,
Who did I see but a Spanish lady
Washing her feet by candle light.
First she washed them,
Then she dried them,
All by a fire of amber coals,
In all my life I never did see
A maid so neat about the soles.

I asked her would she come a-walking,
And we went on where the small bats flew,
A coach I called then to instate her,
And on we went till the grey cocks crew.
Combs of amber
In her hair were,
And her eyes had every spell,
In all my life I never did see
A maid whom I could love so well.

But when I came to where I found her,
And set her down from the halted coach,
Who was there waiting, his arms folded,
But that fatal swordsman, Tiger Roache?
Then blades were out,
And ‘twas thrust and cut,
And never wrist gave me more affright,
Till I lay low upon the floor
Where she stood holding the candle light.

But, O ye bucks of Dublin city,
If I should see at twelve of the night,
In any chamber, such lovely lady
Washing her feet by candle light,
And drying o’er
Soles neat as hers,
All by a fire of amber coal
Your blades be dimmed! I’d whisper her,
And take her for a midnight stroll!

Let the Life Be Victorious

We present this work in honor of Bihar Divas.

Maithili Sharan Gupt
Indian
1886 – 1964

 

The fear of death is false
Victory is only for Life.

Setting up the root of Organisms
making new splendor eternally
This soul is everlasting
Victory is only for Life.

The world only gets a new life
the lifeless remains like the foolish
A seed creates a hundred plants
The creator is very kind
Victory is only for Life.

I die a hundred times over the life
Do I bury this money
If I do not use it properly
Then it is a great devastation
Victory is only for Life.

The Efficacy of Prayer

In honor of Human Rights Day, we present this work by one of 20th century South Africa’s cleverest poets.

Casey Motsisi
South African
1932 – 1977

 

They called him Dan the Drunk.
The old people refuse to say how old he was,
Nobody knows where he came from – but they all
Called him Dan the Drunk.
He was a drunk, but perhaps his name was not really Dan.
Who know, he might have been Sam.
But why bother, he’s dead, poor Dan.
Gave him a pauper’s funeral, they did.
Just dumped him into a hole to rest in eternal drunkenness.
Somehow the old people are glad that Dan the Drunk is dead.
Ghastly!
They say he was a bad influence on the children.
But the kids are sad that Dan the Drunk is no more.
No more will the kids frolic to the music that used to flow out of his battered concertina. Or listen to the tales he used to tell.
All followed him into that pauper’s hole.
How the kids used to worship Dan the Drunk!
He was just one of them grown older too soon.
‘I’m going to be just like Dan the Drunk,’ a little girl said to her parents of a night cold while they crowded around a sleepy brazier.
The parents looked at each other and their eyes prayed.
‘God Almighty, save our little Sally.’
God heard their prayer.
He saved their Sally.
Prayer. It can work miracles.
Sally grew up to become a nanny…