fill your vases with water for spring is here

From the Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984), translated from Urdu by Agha Shahid Ali.

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Poem

You who wear shirts
ripped at the collars:

       it has come:
       the great calm
       with its harvest of silence:

       all lips have been sewn
       perhaps some wounds also.

And rebels,
my friends:

       fill your vases with water
       for spring is here:

       in this blossoming of wounds,

       some roses may also.

 

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I sharpened knives all night

A striking flash of verse by the acclaimed Serbian poet Radmila Lazic (1949-).

radalazic

“Love”

I sharpened knives
All night.
To welcome you
In the brilliance of their blades,
And among them,
My love sparkles
For your eyes only.

Translated by Charles Simic 

what planet in the widow’s hand?

Today I give you just one of the searing poems from The Silence that Remains by Palestinian poet, novelist, and journalist Ghassan Zaqtan (1954-), translated by Palestinian-American poet and physician Fady Joudah (1971-).

ghassanres

“That Life”

I’m going to see how they died
I’m going toward that wreckage
going to see them there
tranquil on the hill of engagement

Dear Wednesday’s narcissus, what time is it
what death is it
what planet in the widow’s hand
five or three?

Her dress was blooming
              we were
neglected flowers on her dress

Dear women’s thresholds, how much is a lifetime
what time is a river
how many daggers in the blood
of the whirling storm
five or three?

We let the city play
and rolled our widespread shrouds shut

I’m going to see how they died
I’m going toward that wreckage
going to see their death
hills of the north
wind-rise of the south
I’m going to call them by their names

water becomes lake when bounded

The moody scenes and lyrical ecopoetics woven throughout Sea Summit by Yi Lu (translated from the Chinese by Fiona Sze-Lorrain) will linger with you beyond the page.

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“Lake, Again”

water becomes lake when bounded
people don’t care where it comes from    how it comes about
nor about the converging smooth-running    spring in the lake bottom
how its refluxes collide  intertwine
like superimposed vinyl records
that tease out lingering sorrows    the past and present

the world has many lakes
some frozen    some boiling at a volcano’s peak
some saltier than seawater
most fresh and cool, green and pleasing

stillness is self weighing on self
many things controlled unwittingly

You must live with great seriousness

Dear readers,

Thank you kindly for joining me on this month’s journey in verse. It’s always a delight to share the words that have moved me over the past year–and to seek out new poets to introduce to you all. I hope you’ve encountered something along the way that resonated with you, and I very much hope you will keep reading poetry throughout the year.

April’s final poem comes from the incredible Nazim Hikmet (1902-1963), who is considered the first modern Turkish poet. As I mentioned in this month’s introductory post, it is through reading poetry that I often rediscover what is worth celebrating and fighting for in this life, even on the darkest days. These stirring words from Hikmet speak not only to what is at stake in each of the poems I posted this month, but to what is at stake in every day of our lives. Here’s to learning to love this world, seriously and deeply and with every fiber of our beings.

nazimhikmet_newbioimage

“On Living”

I

Living is no laughing matter:
    you must live with great seriousness
        like a squirrel, for example—
  I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
        I mean living must be your whole occupation.
Living is no laughing matter:
    you must take it seriously,
    so much so and to such a degree
  that, for example, your hands tied behind your back,
                                your back to the wall,
or else in a laboratory
    in your white coat and safety glasses,
    you can die for people—
even for people whose faces you’ve never seen,
even though you know living
    is the most real, the most beautiful thing.
I mean, you must take living so seriously
  that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees—
  and not for your children, either,
  but because although you fear death you don’t believe it,
  because living, I mean, weighs heavier.

II

Let’s say we’re seriously ill, need surgery—
which is to say we might not get up
                      from the white table.
Even though it’s impossible not to feel sad
                      about going a little too soon,
we’ll still laugh at the jokes being told,
we’ll look out the window to see if it’s raining,
or still wait anxiously
                      for the latest newscast. . .
Let’s say we’re at the front—
                  for something worth fighting for, say.
There, in the first offensive, on that very day,
                  we might fall on our face, dead.
We’ll know this with a curious anger,
            but we’ll still worry ourselves to death
            about the outcome of the war, which could last years.
Let’s say we’re in prison
and close to fifty,
and we have eighteen more years, say,
                      before the iron doors will open.
We’ll still live with the outside,
with its people and animals, struggle and wind—
                          I mean with the outside beyond the walls.
I mean, however and wherever we are,
            we must live as if we will never die.

III

This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars
              and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet—
              I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
              in pitch-black space . . .
You must grieve for this right now
—you have to feel this sorrow now—
for the world must be loved this much
                              if you’re going to say “I lived”. .

translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk

I am much too small in this world, yet not small enough

I can’t let National Poetry Month pass without sharing some devastating verse from brilliant, dear Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926).

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“I Am Much Too Alone in This World, Yet Not Alone”

I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone
    enough
to truly consecrate the hour.
I am much too small in this world, yet not small
    enough
to be to you just object and thing,
dark and smart.
I want my free will and want it accompanying
the path which leads to action;
and want during times that beg questions,
where something is up,
to be among those in the know,
or else be alone.

I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection,
never be blind or too old
to uphold your weighty wavering reflection.
I want to unfold.
Nowhere I wish to stay crooked, bent;
for there I would be dishonest, untrue.
I want my conscience to be
true before you;
want to describe myself like a picture I observed
for a long time, one close up,
like a new word I learned and embraced,
like the everday jug,
like my mother’s face,
like a ship that carried me along
through the deadliest storm.

translation by Annemarie S. Kidder

all we can do is celebrate this life

“With what kind of voice shall we interrogate God? In Cattle of the Lord, it is anxious, sardonic, sensuous—but never despairing. In these incisive and vulnerable poems, the problem of the eternal divine is filtered through the modern world, in all its alienation and chaos. We’re shown again and again how faith is inextricable from doubt, how eros is inextricable from death….” –Nicky Beer

I’ve been haunted for days by the stunning poems in Cattle of the Lord, written by the Portuguese author Rosa Alice Branco and translated by Alexis Levitin.

Branco_from_google

“Laughter in the Grass”

Slowly we breathe in,
and the air plays throughout our bodies
in no rush to join the air
outside. They teach us
to ruminate the void and that is why we enter
one another, we who were never matter,
and at this scale the speed of light
is irrelevant to the infinite.
Our ears are filled with the cries
of nails piercing the silence
of your hands. If you don’t save yourself
from your own death, even though you are
also god, if you die in our name
and go on dying of us, all we can do
is celebrate this life. Come, my love, your laughter
presses down the grass and your weight
pierces my body: eternal sufferer
on the ground of such a joy.