from Hieroglyphs

We present this work in honor of the Moroccan holiday, Allegiance Day.

Mohammed Bennis
Moroccan
b. 1948

 

A ghost
You attend to the ruby time
No east will rise in you or west
A niche
Drowned in blue rustle shrouded by the Kingdom
A clay horizon
Eternity
Dangling like a bunch of grapes
For a hand that drifts away
And dies

A stone
Forgets its master
Was he
Here
Or was he there
A stone above a stone
Rises to watch you
The comer
No one
Is still awake but you

A silence attends to me
And for you my guest
There will be a night of papyri
And a night of
Ageless
Distances
Arriving in hissing scents
The night’s end
And beginning
Are identical
Friezes are becoming one
Under the feet of the river’s dusk
Intoxication echoes resonate inside me
And fade away

Translation by James Kirkup

The Blind Men and the Elephant

We present this work in honor of World Elephant Day.

John Godfrey Saxe
American
1816 – 1887

 

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, “Ho, what have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ‘tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he:
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a rope!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

MORAL

So, oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

 

This Be the Verse

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 100th birthday.

Philip Larkin
English
1922 – 1985

 

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

Even If You are Not With Me

We present this work in honor of the 25th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Mahmoud Mohammed Shaker
Egyptian
1909 – 1997

 

Even if you are not with me, the memories of you are with me.
My heart sees you, even if you are made vanished from my vision.
The eye sees who it loves but will end up losing the sight of them.
But the one who sees with their heart, will never lose the sight
(of the people they love).

Al-Sab’iniyya

In honor of Tisha B’Av, we present this work by one of the great Jewish poets of the early Renaissance.

Musa Ibn Tubi
Arab Andalusian
c. 1363

 

He who desires perfect happiness, must devote himself to study, by which means, if he prospers in his labours, he will obtain eternal life.

This is the reward of the good, and there is happiness to be gained, therefore waste not thy time, but strive to advance ere death overtakes thee.

Be thou even the greatest of men, yet keep aloof from those delighting only in vain pursuits.

Man is absorbed in worldly pleasures, his heart full of desires, but the gates of true happiness are closed for him, he stumbles blindly along a straight path.

He whose mind’s eye is opened, sees the contemptibility of this world; the sojourn in it is of short duration, miserable and evil.

Many spend their life in vanities, none of which can be retained either by him possessed of abundance, or by the indolent, or by the foolish.

They exchange their imperishable treasure for a phantom, they lack firmness, because they judge rashly.

It has been shown that intellect and ability are the highest parts of man; would that he appreciated those gifts!

If a man be wise and act judiciously, he perfects himself, and brings himself nearer to the Sublime Intellect.

A powerful combination was formed of two elements, divine and human, to which was given an upright form.

He who turns from wickedness will be inspired by the light of reason; but who is more unworthy, than he in whom evil preponderates?

Base desires pollute the soul; purify and return it to God.

Intoxicated with the poison of your passion, O people, ye are sunk in slumber, but soon ye must depart, either this day or the next.

What thinks the arrogant one? Does he not reflect that this world is but a bridge which all men alike must cross?

Awake from thy slumber and seek seclusion and peace; the exercise of man’s free will is followed by repentance, when his wickedness is of no avail.

Let not perishable things be pleasing to you, either fine raiment or grand dwellings; foolish it is thus to delay eternal prosperity.

Seek the mantle of wisdom through study and upright acts; your endeavours will thus be idealized, and you will attain the desired aim.

This is what is termed the Favour of God, by which you may hope to find Him. He who displeases God, sins greatly.

Leave vain ornaments and earthly matters, which turn you astray from truth, and strive after virtue.

A scholar cares not for worldly pleasures, nor does he find happiness in such desires, the spirit of knowledge is more powerful than earthly lusts.

Nothing is nobler than a lofty soul, and no pleasure is greater than that of learning; its delight is spiritual, all else is transitory.

He who has tasted of knowledge shall not conceal his learning, the ignorant man is of little account in this world, what shall he be in the next?

They who acquire wisdom escape the doom of annihilation; learning is a step on the ladder leading to heavenly realms.

Thou sayest: To understand this study, its essence should be first explained; what subjects dost thou counsel me to pursue?

Learn the science of Religion which is the root of human belief, then the science of Healing which restores a strong constitution to the body.

To understand what relates to the Primary Cause, Physics must be studied, after which Metaphysics form the most important subject and therefore should be studied afterwards.

Before however commencing these you must zealously pursue the science of Logic, the theories of which lead the way to the speculative sciences.

Through Astronomy you will acquire a knowledge of Geometry and the movements of the constellations of the heavenly bodies.

Endeavour to learn all these thoroughly, as through them man attains perfection. The study of other branches here omitted is not compulsory.

These seven classes of sciences are further subdivided, and having acquired them, happiness is in store for thee.

Let thy chief endeavour be to ascertain how to meet thy Creator. Show thyself humble, then will He find pleasure in thee, seeing the purity of thy character.

Think not that knowledge is exhaustible, or that there is any part of it which can give content; yet strive to illuminate by study the darkness of thy mind.

Hast thou reached this limit then isolate thyself, meditate and sharpen thy intellect while thy thoughts are pure.

Learning in combination with a devout life is the truest approach to God and the truest worship of Him. The love of this world shows but an ignoble spirit.

Thou demandest: “How can I master all these subects?” Begin, bestir thyself and withdraw from mankind.

Endeavour gradually to raise thyself, and abandon ignorance and shame, in avoiding these thou reachest the incomparable standard.

Thy good or ill fortune will depend on thy approximation to God. Listen to the advice of thy friend, if thou wilt derive benefit from his friendship.

When thou hast attained this standard, God will open for thee the gate which leads to the Creating Intellect. He will bestow gifts on thee, but the choicest treasure will be thy connection with Him.

This is the opinion of philosophers and theologians of different sects, and none will be found to oppose this view.

Follow the common advice of these and be guided by it, hear and be obedient. Entreat God himself to explain to thee what is hidden,

That He may inspire those who delight in study and devote themselves to it. This well planned order is His work and the result of His All powerful wisdom.

Every wise man is anxious to learn and to gain accomplishments, but when the fool hears them spoken of, he considers them full of deceit.

Children must not partake of rich food, and honey is disliked by the sick. He who has a malady of the eye, shuns the glaring light of the sun.

All this is said allegorically, and I will not speak in plain language; my intention being that it should come to you in a strange guise, not correct in form and as a sort of jest.

My style is enigmatic, and my words are but hints to students. He who understands them must be distinguished by philosophical learning.

Thou shouldst know how to reply to him who questions thee concerning the author of the Principles the simple substance and the other elements.

The sky is a simple body, Substance is likewise a unity; the natural consequence is that God is also a unity.

He who would acknowledge this, must understand what is meant by Unity, but he who misinterprets it, denies the existence of God.

The abstraction from a multitude is one; and what cannot be otherwise described; what can be divided cannot be a unity but is a quantity.

One is what cannot be counted, but is absolute simplicity; this is the Primary Cause in the chain of evolutions.

He represents the limit of all forms, and is the finality of all that is final. His power is infinite and eternal over all things.

All that moves has a moving power which is again set in motion by another; this continues till an immovable motor is encountered.

He is the author of all origin, all that exists commences with him and progresses with unbroken continuity.

There are two general principles for all existing things which are to be found not only in the essence, but also in the matter.

The local movements are three on account of three starting points; three is the most perfect number and the first complete one.

The trinity must be denied to him who is above the three. A triplet of judges was instituted lest an error should arise in judgment.

The Beginning further comprises four, from the division and addition of which all things are formed. All that exists partakes of them, and the dissolution of them means death.

Upon careful consideration I find five beginnings, my fulcrum is proved by logical demonstration.

Every thing that moves can turn in six directions, every side has an opposite one, but the best movement is that above.

Every living thing can move itself in six different manners, but inanimate objects cannot move themselves. A plant has two movements and heavenly beings have six.

When thou hast reached seven, then thou findest seven planets in their seven spheres with forward and backward movements.

Also seven climates and seven metals; the limits of the principles with respect to physical matters are thus seven.

The influence of the moon on every seventh day is universally known, through natural and astronomical researches.

The crisis of illnesses takes place on the seventh day, and no physician can prevent it; in short seven has the upper hand in all things.

I must here also mention the observance of the seventh day, the importance of the seventh month and the release of the slave in the seventh year.

The days of the feast are seven, between them are seven times seven days; the lambs of the feast offerings are seven, how greatly is this number distinguished!

Aristotle says: He who gives the advice to obey nature, gives the best law and regulations.

He made this observation reflecting that the chief law in its practical and philosophical sense is divine.

I do not say that these lines are devoid of proofs, they come from the gate of wisdom.

These are metaphysical problems which I have treated in a number of books; only a few highly cultured ones will understand them, they concern God’s first creating command.

Take seven, and seven times seven, and seven, then add again seven, then thou hast Seventy.

Finished is the Sab’iniyya and praise be to God.

Translation by Hartwig Hirschfeld

One Day, Early in the Morn’

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

Turgut Uyar
Turkish
1927 – 1985

 

Let’s say I knock on your door early one morning,
And wake you up:
That is, the fog still hasn’t lifted off the Golden Horn
The ferry boats are blowing off their horns
It’s still the wee hours of the dawn
The bridge would still be up.
If I knock on your door one day early in the morn’ …
Let’s say my trip has taken me a while
The train has crossed over iron bridges in the night
Villages on top of the mountains with five or ten houses,
Telegraph poles along the route
They were running to keep up with us.
Let’s say I sang songs out from the window
Let’s say I kept dozing off and waking up again
My ticket was third class,
So much for poverty.
Let’s say I couldn’t afford that meerschaum necklace,
So I bought you an apple from Sapanca.
“Haydarpasa here I come,” is how I arrived
The ferry boat shimmering at the pier,
Somewhat of a chill in the air,
The sea smelling tar and fishes
Let’s say I crossed to the other side with a row boat from the bridge
In a single breath I climbed up our hill…
If I knock on your door in the wee hours of one morn’
“Who is it?” you’d ask sleepily from the other side
Your hair mussed up, still feeling groggy
God knows how beautiful you’d look my love,
If I knock on your door early one morning,
And wake you up from your sleep,
That is, the fog still hasn’t lifted off the Golden Horn
The factory whistles are blowing.

Translation by Ugur Akinci

The Gumsucker’s Dirge

Joseph Furphy
Australian
1843 – 1912

 

Sing the evil days we see, and the worse that are to be,
In such doggerel as dejection will allow,
We are pilgrims, sorrow-led, with no Beulah on ahead,
No elysian Up the Country for us now.

For the settlements extend till they seem to have no end;
Spreading silently, you can’t tell when or how;
And a home-infested land stretches out on every hand,
So there is no Up the Country for us now.

On the six-foot Mountain peak, up and down the dubious creek,
Where the cockatoos alone should make a row,
There the rooster tears his throat, to announce with homely note,
That there is no Up the Country for us now.

Where the dingo should be seen, sounds the Army tambourine,
While the hardest case surrenders with a vow;
And the church-bell, going strong, makes us feel we’ve lived too long,
Since there is no Up the Country for us now.

And along the pine-ridge side, where the mallee-hen should hide,
You will see some children driving home a cow;
Whilst, ballooning on a line, female garniture gives sign,
That there is no Up the Country for us now.

Here, in place of emu’s eggs, you will find surveyors’ pegs,
And the culvert where there ought to be a slough;
There, a mortise in the ground, shows the digger has been round,
And has left no Up the Country for us now.

And across this fenced-in view, like our friend the well-sung Jew,
Goes the swaggy, with a frown upon his brow,
He is cabin’d, cribb’d, confin’d, for the thought is on his mind,
That there is no Up the Country for him now.

And the boy that bolts from home has no decent place to roam,
No region with adventure to endow,
But his ardent spirit cools at the sight of farms and schools,
Hence, there is no Up the Country for him now.

Such a settling, spreading curse must infallibly grow worse,
Till the saltbush disappears before the plough,
But the future, evil-fraught, is forgotten in the thought,
That there is no Up the Country for us now.

We must do a steady shift, and devote our minds to thrift,
Till we reach at length the standard of the Chow,
For we’re crumpled side by side in a world no longer wide,
And there is no Up the Country for us now.

Better we were cold and still, with our famous Jim and Bill,
Beneath the interdicted wattle-bough,
For the angels made our date five-and-twenty years too late,
And there is no Up the Country for us now.

The Liberation of Moscow

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 265th birthday.

Dmitry Khvostov
Russian
1757 – 1835

 

Inhabitant of hilly Olympus—
Kheraskov! Inspired by Phoebus,
Heralded conversant of the Muses;
The sounds of your immortal lyre
Proclaiming Moscow’s arduous captivity
Yet once again elicit the tears of the Slavs.
They, both loudly and harmoniously,
Depict for us the indomitable spirit
Of our ancestors, dauntless in adversity,
To leaven our recent sorrows’ load.

Moscow! Vicious Napoleon,
Hungrier than Attila, came to embody
For the world an epitome of brutality;
All the hayfields covered with corpses,
Death, fire, looting proceed unimpeded,
A shrine in the woods our only guidance;
Rattled and shaken by Hell’s own breath,
Kremlin itself is severed from the earth
And racing through the expanse of air,
Strikes the appearance of a fiery fortress.

The chronicler will document
The dastardly deeds of these latter days;
Progeny will give no credence to the bard,
Believing his tale a work of imagination.
Both the one and the other will represent
That the Grand Caesar of the white lands,
Having shifted the North after himself,
Routing, trammeled the treacherous enemy,
And the Russian is erasing with his mighty hand
All trace of indecency from the face of the earth.

Translation by Alex Cigale

Rain in the Night

Homero Aridjis
Mexican
b. 1940

 

It rains in the night
on the old roofs and the wet streets

on the black hills
and on the temples in the dead cities

In the dark I hear the ancestral music of the rain
its ancient footfall its dissolving voice

More rapid than the dreams of men
the rain makes roads through the air

makes trails through the dust
longer than the footstep of men.

Tomorrow we will die
die twice over

Once as individuals
a second time as a species

and between the bolts of lightning and the white seeds
scattered through the shadows

there’s time for a complete examination of conscience
time to tell the human story

It rains
It will rain in the night

but on the wet streets and black hills
there will be no one to hear rain fall

Translation by George McWhirter