On Love

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 1040th birthday.

Abu Ali, the Mathematician
Persian
980 – 1037

 

I never knew a sprightly fair
That was not dear to me;
And freely I my heart could share
With every one I see.

It is not this or that alone
On whom my choice would fall:
I do not more incline to one
Than I incline to all.

The circle’s bounding line are they;
Its centre is my heart;
My ready love, the equal ray
That flows to every part.

Morning

Duo Duo
Chinese
b. 1951

 

It’s morning or any time, it’s morning.
You dream of waking up, you’re afraid of waking up
so you say: you’re afraid of ropes, afraid of women with faces of birds, so
you dream of your father
speaking bird words, drinking bird milk.
You dream of your father as a bachelor
who by chance, not in a dream
had you, you dream the dream your father dreamed.
You dream that your father says: this is a dream a dead man dreamed.

You don’t believe but you’re inclined to believe
this is a dream, only a dream, and it’s yours:
it was once the handlebar of a bicycle keeping the shape squeezed by a hand.
Now it droops from your father’s belly.
It was once a son refusing to be born.
Now it’s you
crawling back to that handlebar. You’ve dreamed of all the details
like the teeth your father dropped on the ground, glittering
and laughing at you.
So you are not the death
but merely a case of death: you’ve dreamed your dream’s death.

Profit and Loss

Julio Cortázar
Argentine
1914 – 1984

 

I’m lying again, with grace,
I bow respectfully before the mirror
reflecting my collar and tie.
I believe I am that gentleman who goes out
every morning at nine.
The gods are dead one by one in long lines
of paper and cardboard.
I don’t miss anything, I don’t even
miss you. I feel a little hollow, but it’s just
a drum: skin on either side.
Sometimes you return in the evening, when I’m reading
things that put me to sleep: the news,
the dollar and the pound, United Nations
debates. It feels like
your hand stroking my hair. But I don’t miss you!
It’s just that little things are suddenly missing
and I might like to seek them out: like happiness,
and the smile, that furtive little creature
no longer living between my lips.

Stone Breaking

In honor of Civic Day, we present this work by a noteworthy Canadian civil servant.

Duncan Campbell Scott
Canadian
1862 – 1947

 

March wind rough
Clashed the trees,
Flung the snow;
Breaking stones,
In the cold,
Germans slow
Toiled and toiled;
Arrowy sun
Glanced and sprang,
One right blithe
German sang:
Songs of home,
Fatherland:
Syenite hard,
Weary lot,
Callous hand,
All forgot:
Hammers pound,
Ringing round;
Rise the heaps,
To his voice,
Bounds and leaps
Toise on toise:
Toil is long,
But dear God
Gives us song,
At the end
Gives us test,
Toil is best.

To Lucasta, Going to the Wars

Richard Lovelace
English
1617 – 1657

 

Tell me not (Sweet) I am unkind,
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind
To war and arms I fly.

True, a new mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.

Yet this inconstancy is such
As you too shall adore;
I could not love thee (Dear) so much,
Lov’d I not Honour more.

The Garden

In honor of the Moroccan holiday, Enthronement, we present this work by one of Morocco’s great living poets.

Abdelkarim Tabbal
Moroccan
b. 1931

 

Once this green grass
spoke love to me
whispered to me inside my feet
and so I fell in the lap of greenery
besieged in perfume
drinking the wine of wine
Once it sought to find inside my body
the stem
within my voice
the branches
in my wanderings
the shadows
It grew high in me and I in it
It clung to my mirror
At our reunion it adorned itself
with what is in the water
and in the sun
and in the music
and the dream
Stones summoned life’s passion
Life’s breath was roused. Children.
The voluptuous wind
vents its anger at me
The river nymph and I
sneak away to our secret place
and there she reveals the birth of trees
discloses the secrets of the garden to be
But who of you, travellers
from night to night
tattle-tales
of the sea and its waves
enemies of the flowers
Who of you
trampled the heart
leaving behind only ruins
only the chaff scattering about in forgetfulness?
You can do nothing
The seed is lodged safely in the depths.

Graves

We present this work in honor of Tisha B’Av.

Moses ben Jacob ibn Ezra
Arab Andalusian
c. 1055 – c. 1138

 

And where are the graves, so many graves
Of all who have died on the earth since the beginning?
Grave tunnelling into grave,
Headstone and obelisk crumbled into one dust,
Bodies heaped upon bodies, in motionless orgy—
All sleeping together in deep holes,
Fragments of chalk,
Stained rubies.

The Frog

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 150th birthday.

Hilaire Belloc
French
1870 – 1953

 

Be kind and tender to the Frog,
And do not call him names,
As ‘Slimy skin,’ or ‘Polly-wog,’
Or likewise ‘Ugly James,’
Or ‘Gap-a-grin,’ or ‘Toad-gone-wrong,’
Or ‘Bill Bandy-knees’:
The Frog is justly sensitive
To epithets like these.

No animal will more repay
A treatment kind and fair;
At least so lonely people say
Who keep a frog (and, by the way,
They are extremely rare).

Of Dying Beauty

Louis Zukofsky
American
1904 – 1978

 

“Spare us of dying beauty,” cries out Youth,
“Of marble gods that moulder into dust—
Wide-eyed and pensive with an ancient truth
That even gods will go as old things must.”

Where fading splendor grays to powdered earth,
And time’s slow movement darkens quiet skies,
Youth weeps the old, yet gives new beauty birth
And molds again, though the old beauty dies.

Time plays an ancient dirge amid old places
Where ruins are a sign of passing strength,
As is the weariness of aged faces
A token of a beauty gone at length.

Yet youth will always come self-willed and gay—
A sun-god in a temple of decay.