A Young Girl’s Complaint About Her Sweetheart

Elen Gwdman
Welsh
c. 1616

 

Every young woman in the world,
In pure mind and heart;
Be wary, watch that you be wicked
To a lad, O be faithful.

I know from my own wound
And I confess to you:
The spear of sadness is in my breast
Because of loving faithfully.

A fine, noble graceful man,
In the lusty age of youth,
As he passed by the place where I lived,
I often enjoyed his company.

His virtues and his speech in my presence
His appearing sudden like the snow
And his sobriety were causes
To make me think he liked me.

Cupid knew in a short time
That I liked his ways,
And he struck a heavy blow,
Yes, an arrow of lead to my heart.

Then we both became sick
But neither confessed his thoughts;
Each knew only his own wound
Even though both were in pain.

Being of frail confidence, he did not
Presume to ask
Mercy at my hand,
But suffered there like a little lamb.

And I too was shy or dumb,
Not daring to tell him
Nor giving any sign anywhere
Of my wound, that he might suspect.

I imagined that he was just
Feigning a fancy
And he thought it was not fit
To try to salve my bruise.

Thus we were not counting the stars
And lacking a go-between;
When fortune brought, Christ knows,
To me sad news.

I heard that his friends had
Bound him tightly to another
He had to suffer swiftly
Either the yoke or the axe.

Meeting each other after this
And starting to enquire in amazement;
Blame fell on Destiny
That our friends knew not our troubles.

Since he is saying goodbye,
I will further confess:
From now on, for his sake,
I will live a madi all my life.

Friends and kinfolk, foolish and wise,
I say farewell to you;
I’ll go to Rome, with God’s strength,
To live all my life in a nunnery.

Singing and dancing, processions, gossip
I renounce your company;
Gravity, fasting, and prayer,
For these I have a welcome.

A girl sang this, who has set her heart
On giving up the world;
And in praise to pure Jesus
I will not seek to sing anything but this.

His Excellency General Washington

In honor of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, we present this work by a poet who was denied the benefits of both.

Phillis Wheatley
American
1753 – 1784

 

Celestial choir! enthron’d in realms of light,
Columbia’s scenes of glorious toils I write.
While freedom’s cause her anxious breast alarms,
She flashes dreadful in refulgent arms.
See mother earth her offspring’s fate bemoan,
And nations gaze at scenes before unknown!
See the bright beams of heaven’s revolving light
Involved in sorrows and the veil of night!
The Goddess comes, she moves divinely fair,
Olive and laurel binds Her golden hair:
Wherever shines this native of the skies,
Unnumber’d charms and recent graces rise.
Muse! Bow propitious while my pen relates
How pour her armies through a thousand gates,
As when Eolus heaven’s fair face deforms,
Enwrapp’d in tempest and a night of storms;
Astonish’d ocean feels the wild uproar,
The refluent surges beat the sounding shore;
Or think as leaves in Autumn’s golden reign,
Such, and so many, moves the warrior’s train.
In bright array they seek the work of war,
Where high unfurl’d the ensign waves in air.
Shall I to Washington their praise recite?
Enough thou know’st them in the fields of fight.
Thee, first in peace and honors-we demand
The grace and glory of thy martial band.
Fam’d for thy valour, for thy virtues more,
Hear every tongue thy guardian aid implore!
One century scarce perform’d its destined round,
When Gallic powers Columbia’s fury found;
And so may you, whoever dares disgrace
The land of freedom’s heaven-defended race!
Fix’d are the eyes of nations on the scales,
For in their hopes Columbia’s arm prevails.
Anon Britannia droops the pensive head,
While round increase the rising hills of dead.
Ah! Cruel blindness to Columbia’s state!
Lament thy thirst of boundless power too late.
Proceed, great chief, with virtue on thy side,
Thy ev’ry action let the Goddess guide.
A crown, a mansion, and a throne that shine,
With gold unfading, Washington! Be thine.

By Night When Others Soundly Slept

We present this work in honor of the 350th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Anne Bradstreet
English
1612 – 1672

 

1

By night when others soundly slept
And hath at once both ease and Rest,
My waking eyes were open kept
And so to lie I found it best.

2

I sought him whom my Soul did Love,
With tears I sought him earnestly.
He bow’d his ear down from Above.
In vain I did not seek or cry.

3

My hungry Soul he fill’d with Good;
He in his Bottle put my tears,
My smarting wounds washt in his blood,
And banisht thence my Doubts and fears.

4

What to my Saviour shall I give
Who freely hath done this for me?
I’ll serve him here whilst I shall live
And Loue him to Eternity.

Wishes

We present this work in honor of the 95th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Patrocinio de Biedma y la Moneda
Spanish
1848 – 1927

 

I would like to be the ray of the dawn
that lights up your forehead in the morning;
to be a flower that you admired for its gallantry
and give you an intoxicating essence.
I would like to be the echo that disgraces her
distant music reaches you:
the fugitive and vain sweet shadow
that you caress in your dreamy soul.
But alas! that the sun the aurora fades,
the flower dies and is lost in the wind
the soft echo that vibrated in calm:
I don’t want to be an illusion that disappears…
It’s better to occupy your thoughts
and be, like today, the soul of your soul.

Lines to a Parrot

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 260th birthday.

Joanna Baillie
Scots
1762 – 1851

 

In these our days of sentiment
When youthful poets all lament
Some dear lost joy, some cruel maid;
Old friendship changed and faith betrayed;
The world’s cold frown and every ill
That tender hearts with anguish fill;
Loathing this world and all its folly,
In lays most musical and melancholy,–
Touching a low and homely string,
May poet of a Parrot sing
With dignity uninjured? say!–
No; but a simple rhymester may.
Well then, I see thee calm and sage,
Perched on the summit of thy cage,
With broad, hooked beak and plumage green,
Changing to azure in the light,
Gay pinions tipped with scarlet bright,
And, strong for mischief, use or play,
Thick talons, crisped with silver grey,–
A gallant bird, I ween!
What courtly dame, for ball-room drest–
What gartered lord in silken vest–
On wedding morn what country bride
With groom bedizened by her side–
What youngsters in their fair-day geer,
Did ever half so fine appear?
Alas! at ball, or, church, or fair,
Were ne’er assembled visions rare
Of moving creatures all so gay
As in thy native woods, where day
In blazing torrid brightness played
Through checkered boughs and gently made
A ceaseless morris-dance of sheen and shade!
In those blest woods, removed from man,
Thy early being first began,
‘Mid gay compeers, who, blest as thou,
Hopped busily from bough to bough,
Robbing each loaded branch at pleasure
Of berries, buds and kerneled treasure;
Then rose aloft with outspread wing,
Then stooped on flexile twig to swing,
Then coursed and circled through the air,
Mate chasing mate, full many a pair.
It would have set one’s heart a dancing
To ‘ve seen their varied feathers glancing,
And thought how many happy things
Creative Goodness into being brings.
But now how changed! it is thy doom
Within a walled and windowed room
To hold thy home, and (all forgot
The traces of thy former lot),
Clutching the wires with progress slow,
Still round and round thy cage to go.
Or cross the carpet:–altered case!
This now is all thy daily travel’s space.
Yet here thou art a cherished droll,
Known by the name of Pretty Poll;
Oft fed by lady’s gentle hand
With sops and sugar at command,
And sometimes too a nut or cherry,
Which in thy claws to beak and eye
Thou seemest to raise right daintily,
Turning it oft, as if thou still
Wert scanning it with cautious skill,
Provoking urchins near to laughter loud and merry.
See, gathered round, a rosy band,
With eager upcast eyes they stand,
Marking thy motions and withal
Delighting on thy name to call;
And hear, like human speech, reply
Come from thy beak most curiously.
They shout, they mowe, they grin, they giggle,
Clap hands, hoist arms, and shoulders wriggle;
O here, well may we say or sing,
That learning is a charming thing!
For thou, beneath thy wire-wove dome,
A learned creature hast become;
And hast, by dint of oft repeating,
Got words by rote, the vulgar cheating
Which, once in ten times well applied,
Are to the skies with praises cried.
So lettered dunces oft impose
On simple fools their studied prose.
Aye; o’er thy round though unwigged head,
Full many a circling year has sped,
Since thou kept terms within thy college,
From many tutors, short and tall,
In braid or bonnet, cap or caul,
Imbibing wonderous stores of seeming knowledge.
And rarely Bachelor of Arts
Or Master (dare we say it?) imparts
To others such undoubted pleasure
From all his stores of classic treasure:
And ladies sage, whose learned saws
To cognoscenti friends give laws,
Rarely, I trow, can so excite
A listening circle with delight.
And rarely their acquirements shine
Through such a lengthened course as thine.
The grannums of this group so gay,
Who round thee now their homage pay,
Belike have in such youthful glee,
With admiration gazed on thee;
And yet no wrinkled line betrays
The long course of thy lengthened days,
Thy bark of life has kept afloat
As on a shoreless sea, where not
Or change or progress may be traced;
Time hath with thee been leaden-paced.
But ah! proud beauty, on whose head
Some three-score years no blight hath shed,
Untoward days will come at length,
When thou, of spirit reft and strength,
Wilt mope and pine, year after year,
Which all one moulting-time appear,
And this bright plumage, dull and rusty,
Will seem neglected shrunk and dusty,
And scarce a feather’s rugged stump
Be left to grace thy fretted rump.
Mewed in a corner of thy home,
Having but little heart to roam,
Thou’lt wink and peer–a wayward elf,
And croon and clutter to thyself,
Screaming at visitors with spite,
And opening wide thy beak to bite.
Yet in old age still wilt thou find
Some constant friend thy wants to mind,
Whose voice thou’lt know, whose hand thou’lt seek,
Turning to it thy feathered cheek;
Grateful to her though cross and froward
To all beside, and it will go hard
But she will love thee, even when life’s last goal
Thou’st reached, and call thee still her Pretty Poll.
Now from these lines, young friends, I know
A lesson might be drawn to shew
How, like our bird, on life’s vain stage,
Pass human childhood, prime and age:
But conned comparisons, I doubt,
Might put your patience to the rout,
And all my pains small thanks receive,
So this to wiser folks leave.

Gracefully She Approached

Simin Behbahani
Persian
1927 – 2014

 

Gracefully she approached,
in a dress of bright blue silk;
With an olive branch in her hand,
and many tales of sorrows in her eyes.
Running to her, I greeted her,
and took her hand in mine:
Pulses could still be felt in her veins;
warm was still her body with life.

“But you are dead, mother”, I said;
“Oh, many years ago you died!”
Neither of embalmment she smelled,
Nor in a shroud was she wrapped.

I gave a glance at the olive branch;
she held it out to me,
And said with a smile,
“It is the sign of peace; take it.”

I took it from her and said,
“Yes, it is the sign of…”, when
My voice and peace were broken
by the violent arrival of a horseman.
He carried a dagger under his tunic
with which he shaped the olive branch
Into a rod and looking at it
he said to himself:
“Not too bad a cane
for punishing the sinners!”
A real image of a hellish pain!
Then, to hide the rod,
He opened his saddlebag.
in there, O God!
I saw a dead dove, with a string tied
round its broken neck.

My mother walked away with anger and sorrow;
my eyes followed her;
Like the mourners she wore
a dress of black silk.

Translation by Mahmud Kianush

The Town

Karen Gershon
German
1923 – 1993

 

I did not want to feel at home
of what importance was the town
my family were driven from
how could I still have thought it mine
I have four children why should I
expend my love on stones and trees
of what significance were these
to have such power over me

As stones and trees absorb the weather
so these had stored my childhood days
and from a million surfaces
gave back my father and my mother
my presence there was dialogue
how could I have refused to answer
when my own crippled childhood broke
from streets and hillsides like a dancer

Work

We present this work in honor of Labor Day.

Eliza Cook
English
1818 – 1889

 

Work, work, my boy, be not afraid;
Look labor boldly in the face;
Take up the hammer or the spade,
And blush not for your humble place.

There’s glory in the shuttle’s song;
There’s triumph in the anvil’s stroke;
There’s merit in the brave and strong
Who dig the mine or fell the oak.

The wind disturbs the sleeping lake,
And bids it ripple pure and fresh;
It moves the green boughs till they make
Grand music in their leafy mesh.

And so the active breath of life
Should stir our dull and sluggard wills;
For are we not created rife
With health, that stagnant torpor kills?

I doubt if he who lolls his head
Where idleness and plenty meet,
Enjoys his pillow or his bread
As those who earn the meals they eat.

And man is never half so blest
As when the busy day is spent
So as to make his evening rest
A holiday of glad content.

Dreams

We present this work in honor of the 120th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Mathilde Wesendonck
German
1828 – 1902

 

Say, what wondrous dreams are these
Embracing all my senses,
That they have not, like bubbles,
Vanished to a barren void?

Dreams, that with every hour
Bloom more lovely every day,
And with their heavenly tidings
Float blissfully through the mind!

Dreams, that with glorious rays
Penetrate the soul,
There to paint an eternal picture:
Forgetting all, remembering one!

Dreams, as when the Spring sun
Kisses blossoms from the snow,
So the new day might welcome them
In unimagined bliss,

So that they grow and flower,
Bestow their scent as in a dream,
Fade softly away on your breast
And sink into their grave.

Translation by Richard Stokes