Acrobat of Pain

We present this work in honor of the 130th anniversary of the poet’s death.

João da Cruz e Sousa
1861 – 1898


Chortle, laugh, in a laughter of storm
like a clown who, lanky and nervous,
laughs, in an absurd laughter, inflated
with violent irony and pain.

With that atrocious and bloody guffaw—:
rattle the jester’s bells, convulsing.
Jump, puppet: jump, clown, pierced
by the stertor of this slow agony—

You’re asked for an encore, and that’s not to be sneered at.
Come on! Tighten the muscles up, tighten up
in these macabre steel pirouettes…

And though you fall on the ground, quivering,
drowned in your hot and seething blood,
laugh! Heart, saddest of clowns.

Translation by Flavia Vidal

from Death Without End

We present this work in honor of the 50th anniversary of the poet’s death.

José Gorostiza
1901 – 1973


Filled with myself, walled up in my skin
by an inapprehensible god that is stifling me,
deceived perhaps
by his radiant atmosphere of light
that hides my drained
my wings broken into splinters of air,
my listless groping through the mire;
filled with myself—gorged—I discover my essence
in the astonished image of water,
that is only an unwithering cascade,
a tumbling of angels fallen
of their own accord in pure delight,
that has nothing
but a whitened face
half sunken, already, like an agonized laugh
in the thin sheets of the cloud
and the mournful canticles of the sea—
more aftertaste of salt or cumulus whiteness
than lonely haste of foam pursued.
Nevertheless—oh paradox—constrained
by the rigor of the glass that clarifies it,
the water takes shape.
In the glass it sits, sinks deep and builds,
attains a bitter age of silences
and the graceful repose of a child smiling
in death, that deflowers
a beyond of disbanded
In the crystal snare that strangles it,
there, as in the water of a mirror,
it recognizes itself;
bound there, drop with drop,
the trope of foam withered in its throat.
What intense nakedness of water,
what water so strongly water,
is dreaming in its iridescent sphere,
already singing a thirst for rigid ice!
But what a provident glass—also—
that swells
like a star ripe with grain,
that flames in heroic promise
like a heart inhabited by happiness,
and that punctually yields up
to the water
a round transparent flower,
a missile eye that attains heights
and a window to luminous cries
over that smoldering liberty
oppressed by white fetters!

Translation by Rachel Benson

from El Vergonzoso en Palacio

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

Tirso de Molina
1579 – 1648


Have you told your lady of your love? – I have not dared to. – So she has never found out? – I don’t doubt that she’s seen the flame of love in my infatuated eyes, which cry out in silence. – The tongue should perform that task; otherwise it may as well be a foreign jargon. Has she not given you occasion to declare yourself? – So much so, that my shyness amazes me. – Speak, then. Any delay can only hurt your love. – I’m afraid to lose by speaking what I enjoy by keeping quiet. – That’s just foolish. A wise man once compared a mute lover to a Flemish painting that’s always kept rolled up. The painter won’t get very far unless he shows his paintings to the public, so they can admire and buy them. The court is no place for reticence. Unroll your painting so it may be sold. No one can cure you if you won’t tell them what’s wrong. – Yes, my lady. But the inequality between us holds me back. – Isn’t love a god? – Yes, my lady. – Well then, speak, for the laws of the god are absolute, toppling the mightiest monarchs and leveling crowns and clogs. Tell me who you love, and I’ll be your go-between. – I don’t dare. – Why not? Am I not fit to be your messenger? – No, but I’m afraid… Oh, god! – What if I say her name? Would you tell me if she is, by any chance… me? – My lady, yes. – Let me finish! And you are jealous of the Count of Vasconcelos, right? – It’s hopeless. He is your equal, my lady, and the heir of Braganza. – Equality and likeness don’t come down to whether a lover is noble, humble or poor, but to an affinity of soul and will. Make yourself clear from now on, don Dionís, I urge you. When it comes to games of love, it’s better to go over than to undershoot the mark. For a long time now I’ve preferred you to the Count of Vasconcelos.

Translation by Ben Sachs-Hamilton

from The Halieutica

Oppian of Corycus
183 – c. 200


O cruel Love, crafty of counsel,
of all gods fairest to behold with the eyes,
of all most grievous when thou dost vex the heart
with unforeseen assault, entering the soul
like a storm-wind and breathing the bitter menace of fire,
with hurricane of anguish and untempered pain.
The shedding of tears is for thee a sweet delight
and to hear the deep-wrung groan;
to inflame a burning redness in the heart
and to blight and wither the bloom upon the cheek,
to make the eyes hollow and to wrest all the mind to madness.
Many thou dost even roll to doom,
even those whom thou meetest in wild and wintry sort,
fraught with frenzy; for in such festivals is thy delight.
Whether then thou art the eldest-born among blessed gods
and from unsmiling Chaos didst arise with fierce and flaming torch
and didst first establish the ordinances of wedded love
and order the rites of the marriage-bed;
or whether Aphrodite of many counsels, queen of Paphos,
bare thee a winged god on soaring pinions,
be thou gracious and to us come gentle and with fair weather
and in tempered measure; for none refuses the work of Love.
Everywhere thou bearest sway and everywhere thou art desired
at once and greatly feared;
and happy is he who cherishes and guards in his breast a temperate Love.
Nor doth the race of Heaven suffice thee nor the breed of men;
thou rejectest not the wild beasts nor all the brood of the barren air;
under the coverts of the nether deep dost thou descend
and even among the finny tribes thou dost array thy darkling shafts;
that naught may be left ignorant of thy compelling power,
not even the fish that swims beneath the waters.

Translation by A.W. Mair

To Sleep

We present this work in honor of the 410th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Lupercio Leonardo de Argensola
1559 – 1613


Frightful representation of death,
cruel sleep, my heart no longer agitate,
by showing me the tight knot has been cut,
sole consolation for my adverse fate.

Seek out the ramparts of some tyrant strong,
his walls of jasper, ceiling made of gold;
or seek the miser rich in his poor bed,
and make him wake up sweating, trembling, cold.

Then let the first see how the angry mob
breaks down with wrath his iron-covered gates,
or see the hidden blade of lackey bought;

and let the second see his wealth exposed
by stolen key or furious assault:
and let Love keep the glories he has wrought.

Translation by Alix Ingber

The Collar

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 390th birthday.

George Herbert
1593 – 1633



I struck the board, and cry’d, No more,
I will abroad.
What? Shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free; free as the rode,
Loose as the winde, as large as store.
Shall I be still in fruit?
Have I no harvest but a thorn
To let me bloud, and not restore
What I have lost with cordiall fruit?
Sure there was wine
Before my sighs did drie it: there was corn
Before my tears did drown it.
Is the yeare onely lost to me?
Have I no bayes to crown it?
No flowers, no garlands gay? All blasted?
All wasted?
Not so, my heart: but there is fruit,
And thou hast hands.
Recover all thy sigh-blown age
On double pleasures: leave thy cold dispute
Of what is fit, and not forsake thy cage,
Thy rope of sands,
Which pettie thoughts have made, and made to thee
Good cable, to enforce and draw,
And by thy law,
While thou didst wink and wouldst not see.
Away; take heed:
I will abroad.
Call in thy deaths head there: tie up thy fears.
He that forbears
To suit and serve his need,
Deserves his load.
But as I rav’d and grevv more fierce and wilde
At every word,
Me thoughts I heard one calling, Childe:
And I reply’d , My Lord.

from A Versified Autobiography

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 240th birthday.

Gabriele Rossetti
1783 – 1854


Thrilled by the first Phœbean impulses,
Rough versicles I traced with facile hand:
And yet, to my surprise, those lines of mine
Almost took wing into a distant flight.
A hope of Pindus did I hear me named:
But praise increased my ardour, not my pride.
And yet some vanity there came and mixed
With the fair issue of my preluding:
But, all the more I heard the applause increase,
With equal force did study grow in me.
Not surely that I tried to load my page
With pomp abstruse extraneous to my drift;
But counterwise each image and each rhyme,
The more spontaneous, so meseemed more fair.
In trump of gold and in the oaten pipe
Let some seek the sublime, I seek for ease.
I shunned those verses which sprawl forth untuned
Even from my days of schoolboy tutelage:
I know they please some people, but not me:
Admiring Dante, Metastasio
I laud; and hold—a true Italian ear
Must not admit one inharmonious verse.
Some lines require a very surgeon’s hand
To make them upon crutches stand afoot.
So be they! But, to set them musical,
They must, by Heaven, be in themselves a song.
This seems a truthful, not a jibing, rule—
Music and lyric are a twinborn thing.
Yet think not that I deem me satisfied
With upblown empty sound without ideas:—
Then will a harmony be beautiful
When great emotions and great thoughts it stirs.

Translation by William Michael Rossetti

Ancient Eternal and Immortal Spirit of Antiquity

We present this work in honor of the 80th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Kostis Palamas
1859 – 1943


Immortal spirit of antiquity,
Father of the true, beautiful and good,
Descend, appear, shed over us thy light
Upon this ground and under this sky
Which has first witnessed the unperishable fame.
Give life and animation to those noble games!
Throw wreaths of fadeless flowers to the victors
In the race and in the strife!
Create in our breasts, hearts of steel!
In thy light, plains, mountains and seas
Shine in a roseate hue and form a vast temple
To which all nations throng to adore thee,
Oh immortal spirit of antiquity!

Blue Song

We present this work in honor of the 40th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Tennessee Williams
1911 – 1983


I am tired.
I am tired of speech and of action.
If you should meet me upon the
street do not question me for
I can tell you only my name
and the name of the town I was
born in–but that is enough.
It does not matter whether tomorrow
arrives anymore. If there is
only this night and after it is
morning it will not matter now.
I am tired. I am tired of speech
and of action. In the heart of me
you will find a tiny handful of
dust. Take it and blow it out
upon the wind. Let the wind have
it and it will find its way home.

Song of the Old Hussar

We present this work in honor of Defense of the Fatherland Day.

Denis Davydov
1784 – 1839


Where are you, old friends of mine,
True hussars by avocation,
Comrades both in arms and wine,
Champions of conversation?

Grayheads, I remember you,
Dippers full, in blissful poses.
Drinking while the fire burned through,
Glowing like your own red noses!

Sprawled on hayricks for settees,
Jaunty shakoes backward tilted,
Hussar jackets to your knees,
Sabres resting, carven-hilted.

Black-stained pipes between your teeth,
Puffing, there you lay in clover,
While the smoke, wreath after wreath,
Floated lock and whisker over.

Tire re you drowsed and hugged your swords;
Not a sound, while smoke curled densely,
Not a murmur – drunk as lords,
Drunk till you were almost senseless.

But as soon as dawn arrived
Off to battle you rode daily
With your shakoes to one side,
In tire wind your jackets flailing.

Under riders horses fly,
Sabres whistle, foemen slaying…
Battle over, nightfall nigh —
Dippers once again start playing.

Mat do I see now, though? God!
War has given way to dancing;
Like officials clad and shod.
Through a waltz hussars go prancing.

They’ve grown wise, you’ll say to me…
Listen to those home-bred Frenchmen:
Jomini1 — just Jomini.
But of vodka — ne’er a mention!

Where are you, old friends of mine,
True hussars by avocation,
Comrades both in arms and wine,
Champions of conversation?

Translation by Dorian Rottenberg