Poem o’ the Day

I love haiku. I especially love haiku translations that capture the sense of the original: short, sweet and to the point.

Basho

Summer grasses:
all that remains of great soldiers’
imperial dreams

Traveling this high

mountain trail, delighted

by violets

The old pond,
A frog jumps in:
Plop!


Issa


A world of dew,
and within every dewdrop
a world of struggle


Cherry blossom shade
no one an utter
stranger

Spring breeze–
a mouse licking up
Sumida River

Poem o’ the Day

Tomorrow’s Poem in Your Pocket Day, don’t forget. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.

It struck me today that I’ve been a little heavy on the male poets. It’s not that I don’t like female poets. It’s just that I don’t know many. So I took a stroll through Wikipedia’s List of Female Poets. I clicked on Erinna because the name leaped out. Contemporary of Sappho, lovely. Died young. Wrote one of the most beautiful epitaphs for a friend in existence, of which only fragments survive. Yeah. We’re highlighting her.

I love her poems for a few reasons. First, she didn’t load her poetry down with ten trillion references to the gods, which was the failing of too many ancient Greek poets. Secondly, she’s expressing a friendship and grief that remind us just how timeless those human emotions are. Thirdly, through her, I now know a lot more about what it was like to be a woman in ancient Greece, and it’s fascinating.

Finally, most importantly, she’s one hell of a wordsmith. Even in translation.

The Distaff and Other Poems

…virgins

…tortoise

….moon

…tortoise…

…into the deep wave

you jumped from the white horses with a crazy step.

“I’ve got you,” I cried, “my friend.” And when you were the tortoise

jumping out you ran through the great hall’s court.

Unhappy Baucis, these are my laments as I cry for you deeply,

these are your footprints resting in my heart, dear girl,

still warm; but what we once loved is already ashes.

Young girls, we held our dolls in our bedrooms

like new wives, hearts unbroken. Near dawn your mother,

who handed out wool to her workers in attendance,

came in and called you to help with salted meat.

What terror the monster Mormo brought when we were both little girls:

on her head were massive ears and she walked

on four legs and kept changing her face.

But when you went to the bed of a man

you forgot all you heard from your mother while still a child,

my dear Baucis. Aphrodite filled your thoughts with forgetting.

As I weep for you now I desert your last rites,

for my feet may not leave the house and become unclean

nor is it right for me to look upon your corpse,

nor cry with my hair uncovered; but a red shame

divides me…

Nineteen…Erinna…the distaff…

2.

From here an empty echo reaches into Hades.

But there is silence amongst the dead, and darkness closes their eyes.

5.

My gravestone, my Sirens, and mourning urn,

who holds Hades’ meagre ashes,

say to those who pass by my tomb “farewell,”

both those from my town and those from other states.

Also, that this grave holds me, a bride. Say also this,

that my father called me Baucis, and that my family

was from Tenos, so that they may know, and that my friend

Erinna engraved this epitaph on my tomb.

6.

I am the tomb of Baucis, a young bride, and as you pass

the much lamented grave-stone you may say to Hades:

“Hades, you are malicious.” When you look, the beautiful letters

will tell of the most cruel fate of Baucis,

how her father-in-law lit the girl’s funeral pyre

with the pine-torches over which Hymen sang.

And you, Hymen, changed the tuneful song of weddings

into the mournful sound of lamentation.

Poem o’ the Day

There’s a story behind Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan.” You might have heard it:

At the time of its publication, Coleridge subtitled it “A Vision in a Dream. A Fragment” and added a prefatory note explaining its unusual origin. The poet remarked that after taking some opium for medication, he grew drowsy while reading a passage from Samuel Purchas’s Pilgrimage. concerning the court of Kubla Khan. In his semi-conscious state, Coleridge composed a few hundred lines of poetry, and when he awoke, immediately began writing the verses down. Unfortunately, a visitor interrupted him, and when the poet had a chance to return to his writing, the images had fled, leaving him with only vague recollections and the remaining 54 lines of his unfinished poem.

Been there, done that. Well, aside from the opium and the few hundred lines of poetry… Anyway, the moral of the story is: don’t interrupt the writer at work. Who knows what this poem may have been were it complete?

Kubla Khan

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And here were gardens bright with sinuous rills
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!

And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced;
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And ‘mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And ‘mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!

The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves:
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ‘t would win me
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Poem o’ the Day

You all know I buggered off to watch House last night. And that’s the inspiration for today’s poetry. I’m not a huge fan of William Butler Yeats, but I have to admit that hearing this one read aloud was delightful:

Her Praise

She is foremost of those that I would hear praised.
I have gone about the house, gone up and down
As a man does who has published a new book,
Or a young girl dressed out in her new gown,
And though I have turned the talk by hook or crook
Until her praise should be the uppermost theme,
A woman spoke of some new tale she had read,
A man confusedly in a half dream
As though some other name ran in his head.
She is foremost of those that I would hear praised.
I will talk no more of books or the long war
But walk by the dry thorn until I have found
Some beggar sheltering from the wind, and there
Manage the talk until her name come round.
If there be rags enough he will know her name
And be well pleased remembering it, for in the old days,
Though she had young men’s praise and old men’s blame,
Among the poor both old and young gave her praise.

That, of course, inspired me to read a few more poems. And I found one that I like very muchly:

On Being Asked for a War Poem

I think it better that in times like these
A poet’s mouth be silent, for in truth
We have no gift to set a statesman right;
He has had enough of meddling who can please
A young girl in the indolence of her youth,
Or an old man upon a winter’s night.

Words and Music

When Simon & Garfunkel songs get lodged in my head, they’re usually songs like “The Sound of Silence” or “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” possibly “Mrs. Robinson” or “The Boxer.” They’re one of the bands my dad and I used to listen to together. Stuff like this makes you realize the ol’ dad is kinda cool after all. And excellent musical taste, when you ignore the country music.

“Richard Cory” is one of his favorites. It was one of my first hints that he actually liked poetry. It doesn’t get lodged in my brain nearly often enough:

Inspired by NP.

Poem o’ the Day

All right, I know we’ve done W.H. Auden, but this poem came up while I searched for something else, and it delighted me. Therefore, more Auden.

If I could tell you

Time will say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

There are no fortunes to be told, although,
Because I love you more than I can say,
If I could tell you I would let you know.

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reasons why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
The vision seriously intends to stay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Suppose the lions all get up and go,
And all the brooks and soldiers run away;
Will Time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.

-W.H. Auden

The days are getting lovely. Thankfully, Orhan Veli Kantk’s got a poem for that.

Fine Days

These fine days have been my ruin.
On this kind of day I resigned
My job in “Pious Foundations”
On this kind of day I started to smoke
On this kind of day I fell in love
On this kind of day I forgot
To bring home bread and salt
On this kind of day I had a relapse
Into my versifying disease.
These fine days have been my ruin.

-Orhan Veli Kantk

Poem o’ the Day

All right, here it is, the moment none of you have been waiting for: a Dana Hunter original that didn’t come from an NP writing assignment.

This poor piece has been ripped from its context as part of a poetry war. But I like to flatter myself by thinking it stands fairly well on its own. Well, aside from the whole hooves thing, which is what happens when you’re writing a poem from the point of view of a character with hooves rather than tootsies.

Nothing lasts, eternal
Unchanged
Yesterday long past
Someone cooled their hooves in the mud of a stream
Where today you carve a line
Which holds greater worth:
That moment of coolness
Those lasting words?
I know what each of you would say

Nothing lasts

Things become separate
That side of the stream or this
This elevation or that
Mountains rise, plains fall
And it is often forgotten
That this mountain was a plain once
That this plain washed down from a peak

Things separate
Not really separate

Need for divisions
Divides us
Without boundaries we would be no different

We need divisions
Remember the places between

Poem o’ the Day

Every once in a while, synchronicity happens.

I’ve got a scene coalescing in my head for this current story, in which the stark contrasts between beauty and horror come up. My folks are warriors. They see the worst. But they’ve also seen extraordinary beauty, which just about makes the ugliness they have to deal with worthwhile.

Today, looking for Zen poems to post, I ended up on A View on Buddhism, and found this wonderful one by Ryokan:

Where beauty is, then there is ugliness;
where right is, also there is wrong.
Knowledge and ignorance are interdependent;
delusion and enlightenment condition each other.
Since olden times it has been so.
How could it be otherwise now?
Wanting to get rid of one and grab the other
is merely realizing a scene of stupidity.
Even if you speak of the wonder of it all,
how do you deal with each thing changing?

And that just about sums it up right there. It’s utterly perfect for that scene.

One of the things I adore about Zen is the acceptance of the world as it is. Another thing I like is the acceptance of change. Layman P’ang, one of my absolute favorite Zen sages, put it like this:

The past is already past.
Don’t try to regain it.
The present does not stay.
Don’t try to touch it.

From moment to moment.
The future has not come;
Don’t think about it
Beforehand.

Whatever comes to the eye,
Leave it be.
There are no commandments
To be kept;
There’s no filth to be cleansed.

With empty mind really
Penetrated, the dharmas
Have no life.
When you can be like this,
You’ve completed
The ultimate attainment.

With a philosophy like that – basically saying the scriptures are meaningless – even an atheist can practice Zen.

After all, this Zen poem by Master Seung Sahn just about could’ve been written by one of us:

Good and evil have no self nature;
Holy and unholy are empty names;
In front of the door is the land of stillness and quiet;
Spring comes, grass grows by itself.

Poem o’ the Day

The problem with being young is that you haven’t enough experience or knowledge to appreciate things. They also don’t tell you the really juicy stuff that heightens your appreciation.

So I never liked Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias.” Some dead bugger with a silly name using fancy language to talk about some old broken statue. Big ol’ yawn.

But since then, I’ve learned a lot about the Romantics. I found out that Shelley was a really interesting guy who even wrote a tract called “The Necessity of Atheism,” and to hell with the consequences. I’ve learned a lot about lost civilizations, developed a passion for the ancient world, and perhaps most importantly, come to appreciate the fact that all things must die.

I read the poem again after learning all that. And now I can see its power.

OZYMANDIAS


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Poem o’ the Day

I sincerely hope my heart sister NP won’t mind me filching her latest, because it made me LOL, and it deserves to be my Poem o’ the Day.

to do

I have a list of

things to do today


of tasks needing completion

errands needing run

chores needing accomplished


but as the morning

drags

on


I find myself

straying

from what needs to be done

in order to


update my list of

things to do today


so I am organized

and know exactly what it is

I’m not doing


instead of writing articles

I list the articles I need to write

and make notes about research to be done


instead of running errands

I rearrange the order of errands

for the most efficient gas use


instead of completing chores

I take an inventory of cleaning products

in case I need to run to the store first


at the end of the day,

my list will be complete



and it will be

a damn good-looking list


Be sure to drop by her place and let her know what you’re carrying for Poem in Your Pocket day. As soon as I’ve figured it out, I’ll let you know.