Opportunity

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 180th birthday.

Edward Rowland Sill
American
1841 – 1887

 

This I beheld, or dreamed it in a dream:—
There spread a cloud of dust along a plain;
And underneath the cloud, or in it, raged
A furious battle, and men yelled, and swords
Shocked upon swords and shields. A prince’s banner
Wavered, then staggered backward, hemmed by foes.
A craven hung along the battle’s edge,
And thought, “Had I a sword of keener steal—
That blue blade that the king’s son bears,— but this
Blunt thing—!” He snapped and flung it from his hand,
And lowering crept away and left the field.
Then came the king’s son, wounded sore bestead,
And weaponless, and saw the broken sword
Hilt-buried in the dry and trodden sand,
And ran and snatched it, and with battle-shout
Lifted afresh he hewed his enemy down
And saved a great cause that heroic day.

May

Gioconda Belli
Nicaraguan
b. 1948

 

Kisses don’t wither
like the flowers of the malinche tree,
hard shells of seeds don’t grow over my arms;
I’m always flowering
with this internal rain,
like the green patios in May
and I laugh because I love the wind and the clouds
and the singing birds that pass overhead,
even though I’m entangled with memories,
covered with ivy like old walls,
I go on believing in the secret whisperings,
the strength of wild horses,
the winged message of gulls.

I believe in the countless roots of my song.

I Swear to You Love By Your Arrows

Gaspara Stampa
Italian
1523 – 1554

 

I swear to you, Love, by your arrows,
And by your powerful holy flame,
I care not if by one I-m maimed,
My heart burned, wasted by the other:
However far through times past or coming,
There never was nor will be woman
Whomever of them you wish to name,
Could know such sharpness, such devouring:

For there-s a virtue born from suffering,
That dims and conquers the sense of pain,
So that it-s barely felt, seems scarcely hurting.
No! This, that torments soul and body again,
This is the real fear presaging my dying:
What if my fire be only straw and flame?

Aboriginal Australia

We present this work in honor of ANZAC Day.

Jack Davis
Australian
1917 – 2000

To the Others
You once smiled a friendly smile,
Said we were kin to one another,
Thus with guile for a short while
Became to me a brother.
Then you swamped my way of gladness,
Took my children from my side,
Snapped shut the law book, oh my sadness
At Yirrakalas’ plea denied.
So, I remember Lake George hills,
The thin stick bones of people.
Sudden death, and greed that kills,
That gave you church and steeple.
I cry again for Warrarra men,
Gone from kith and kind,
And I wondered when I would find a pen
To probe your freckled mind.
I mourned again for the Murray tribe,
Gone too without a trace.
I thought of the soldier’s diatribe,
The smile on the governor’s face.
You murdered me with rope, with gun
The massacre of my enclave,
You buried me deep on McLarty’s run
Flung into a common grave.
You propped me up with Christ, red tape,
Tobacco, grog and fears,
Then disease and lordly rape
Through the brutish years.
Now you primly say you’re justified,
And sing of a nation’s glory,
But I think of a people crucified –
The real Australian story.

Once Upon a Time

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

Gabriel Okara
Nigerian
1921 – 2019

 

Once upon a time, son,
they used to laugh with their hearts
and laugh with their eyes:
but now they only laugh with their teeth,
while their ice-block-cold eyes
search behind my shadow.

There was a time indeed
they used to shake hands with their hearts:
but that’s gone, son.
Now they shake hands without hearts
while their left hands search
my empty pockets.

‘Feel at home!’ ‘Come again’:
they say, and when I come
again and feel
at home, once, twice,
there will be no thrice-
for then I find doors shut on me.

So I have learned many things, son.
I have learned to wear many faces
like dresses – homeface,
officeface, streetface, hostface,
cocktailface, with all their conforming smiles
like a fixed portrait smile.

And I have learned too
to laugh with only my teeth
and shake hands without my heart.
I have also learned to say,’Goodbye’,
when I mean ‘Good-riddance’:
to say ‘Glad to meet you’,
without being glad; and to say ‘It’s been
nice talking to you’, after being bored.

But believe me, son.
I want to be what I used to be
when I was like you. I want
to unlearn all these muting things.
Most of all, I want to relearn
how to laugh, for my laugh in the mirror
shows only my teeth like a snake’s bare fangs!

So show me, son,
how to laugh; show me how
I used to laugh and smile
once upon a time when I was like you.

from As You Like It

We present this work in honor of the 405th anniversary of the poet’s death.

William Shakespeare
English
1564 – 1616

 

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Speak of the North! A Lonely Moor

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 205th birthday.

Charlotte Brontë
English
1816 – 1855

 

Speak of the North! A lonely moor
Silent and dark and tractless swells,
The waves of some wild streamlet pour
Hurriedly through its ferny dells.

Profoundly still the twilight air,
Lifeless the landscape; so we deem
Till like a phantom gliding near
A stag bends down to drink the stream.

And far away a mountain zone,
A cold, white waste of snow-drifts lies,
And one star, large and soft and lone,
Silently lights the unclouded skies.

from Anim Z’mirot

Judah ben Samuel of Regensburg
German
1150 – 1217

 

Melodies I weave, songs I sweetly sing;
longing for Your Presence, to You I yearn to cling.

In Your shelter would my soul delight to dwell,
to grasp Your mystery, captured by Your spell.

Whenever I speak of Your glory so resplendent,
my heart yearns deeply for Your love transcendent.

Thus I glorify You in speech as in song,
declaring with my love: to You do I belong.

Without having seen You I declare Your praise;
without having known You I laud You and Your ways.

To Your assembled servants and in Your prophets’ speech,
You alluded to Your glory which is beyond our reach.

The scope of your greatness and he marvel of Your strength
are reflected in Your actions all described at length.

They have imagined You, but never as You are;
they tell of Your deeds, to portray You from afar.

They speak of You with parables in countless varied visions,
while You remain as One throughout all of their renditions.

They try to portray You as one now young, now old,
with hair now dark, now gray, as if it could be told.

Youth and force in battle, old age on judgment day;
like a seasoned warrior, with strength He clears the way.

He wears triumph as a helmet on His head,
His power and holiness have stood Him in good stead.

His head is covered with dawn-dew bathed in light,
His locks of hair are covered with dewdrops of the night.

He takes pride in me, the source of His delight;
and He will be my splendor whose praise I will recite.

His head is envisioned as pure and beaten gold,
bearing His holy name in letters large and bold.

With kindness and dignity, with splendor that they share,
His people Israel crown Him with their prayer.

Adorned is His head with the curly locks of youth,
black as a raven. He is splendid as the truth.

Nothing is more precious among all His good pleasures
than Zion, seat of splendor, chief among His treasures.

His cherished people adorn Him as a crown,
a royal diadem of beauty and renown.

He beautifies the people He has carried since their birth.
For Him they are precious; He pays honor to their worth.

In mutual devotion, in each other we glorify;
I know that He is near when unto Him I cry.

Radiant and ruddy, His garments red as wine,
He compresses sinning nations as grapes on a vine.

The knot of His tefilin He showed to Moses, humble, wise;
the Lord’s vision and His ways revealed only to his eyes.

Exalting the humble, enthroned upon their praise,
He takes pleasure in His people, exalted through heir ways.

Your word is based on truth from the start of all Creation;
since we always seek You, seek the welfare of our nation.

Cherish my plentitude of song as Your own;
may my verses be permitted to approach Your throne.

My praise I humbly offer as a crown upon Your head;
we no longer offer incense, accept my prayer instead.

May the words of this my song be precious as the Psalter
once offered in the Temple with sacrifice upon the altar.

May my prayer rise to the Creator of the miracle of birth,
Master of beginnings whose might and justice fill the earth.

And when I chant my prayer, may You greet it with assent;
the spirit of ancient offerings to You is my intent.

May You find sweet and pleasing my prayer and my songs;
my soul goes out in yearning, for You alone it longs.