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Posts Tagged ‘poems in translation’

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

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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

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“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.

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I rarely do this, but the spirits are moving me to re-post (with slight updates) this amazing, necessary verse I shared two years ago:

“Landai belong to women,” Safia Siddiqi, a renowned Pashtun poet and former Afghan parliamentarian, said. “In Afghanistan, poetry is the women’s movement from the inside.”

“A poem is a sword,” Saheera Sharif, Mirman Baheer’s founder, said. Literature, she says, is a more effective battle for women’s rights than shouting at political rallies. “This is a different kind of struggle.”

Today I share a testament to the power of verse from the women of Afghanistan. The following couplets are called landays (or landai), an oral and often anonymous song, each with 22 syllables, created by and for the more than twenty million Pashtun women who span the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Whether sung to the beat of a hand drum in a rural village centuries ago or whispered furtively into a phone hotline run by Mirman Baheer (Afghanistan’s largest women literary society), each landay is a stunning reflection of a layered life–a life in which singing and writing these poems does not come without grave risks.

I beseech you to read this article from the New York Times, Why Afghan Women Risk Death to Write Poetryand explore more landays and images online from this beautiful issue of Poetry magazine.

Members of Mirman Baheer, Afghanistan’s largest women’s literary society

If you couldn’t love me from the start,
then why did you awake my sleeping heart?

_

I call. You’re stone.
One day you’ll look and find I’m gone.

_

May God make you into a riverbank flower
so I may smell you when I go to gather water.

_

My love gave his life for our homeland.
I’ll sew his shroud with one strand of my hair.

_

Today I spilled spinach on the floor.
Now the old goat stands in the corner, swinging a two-by-four.

_

O darling, you’re American in my eyes.
You are guilty; I apologize.
_

In my dream, I am the president.
When I awake, I am the beggar of the world.

Translated and presented by Eliza Griswold in
I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan

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I hope that after reading this poem you will understand why I’ve recently been captivated by the work of Sudanese poet Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi (1969-), who was forced into exile in 2012 and now lives in London. He is often described as one of today’s leading African poets writing in Arabic; if you’d like to read more of these beautiful translations, check out the collection where this poem lives, A Monkey at the Window

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“A Body”

The body of a bird in your mouth
breathing songs.
Raw light spills from your eyes,
utterly naked.

You must breach the horizon, once,
in order to wake up.
You must open window after window.
You must support the walls.

I let alphabets cling to me
as I climb the thread of language
between myself and the world.
I muster crowds in my mouth:
suspended between language and the world,
between the world and the alphabets.

I let my head
listen to the myth,
to all sides praising each other.
And I shout at the winds from the top of a mountain.

Why does my tongue tell me to climb this far?
What is the distance between my voice and my longing?
What is there?

A body transcending my body.
A body exiled by desire.
A body sheltered by the wind.

Translated by Sarah Maguire and Atef Alshaer

 

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Today I share a moment of spare brilliance from the great Afghan modernist poet Partaw Naderi (1953-).

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“Star Rise”

I am the twin of light
I know the history of the sun

Stars
rise from the blisters on my hands.

Kabul
February, 1994
translated by Sarah Maguire and Yama Yari

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“Landai belong to women,” Safia Siddiqi, a renowned Pashtun poet and former Afghan parliamentarian, said. “In Afghanistan, poetry is the women’s movement from the inside.”

“A poem is a sword,” Saheera Sharif, Mirman Baheer’s founder, said. Literature, she says, is a more effective battle for women’s rights than shouting at political rallies. “This is a different kind of struggle.”

On this last day of National Poetry Month, a testament to the power of verse from the women of Afghanistan. The following couplets are called landays (or landai), an oral and often anonymous song, each with 22 syllables, created by and for the more than twenty million Pashtun women who span the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Whether sung to the beat of a hand drum in a rural village centuries ago or whispered furtively into a phone hotline run by Mirman Baheer (Afghan’s largest women literary society), each landay is a stunning reflection of a layered life–a life in which singing and writing these poems does not come without grave risks.

As I wrap up my month of daily posts, I beseech you to read this article from the New York Times, Why Afghan Women Risk Death to Write Poetryand explore more landays online from this beautiful issue of Poetry magazine. Thank you for following along for another 30 days of verse.

Members of Mirman Baheer, Afghanistan’s largest women’s literary society

If you couldn’t love me from the start,
then why did you awake my sleeping heart?

_

I call. You’re stone.
One day you’ll look and find I’m gone.

_

May God make you into a riverbank flower
so I may smell you when I go to gather water.

_

You sold me to an old man, father.
May God destroy your home; I was your daughter.

_

Today I spilled spinach on the floor.
Now the old goat stands in the corner, swinging a two-by-four.

_

O darling, you’re American in my eyes.
You are guilty; I apologize.
_

In my dream, I am the president.
When I awake, I am the beggar of the world.

Translated and presented by Eliza Griswold in
I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan

Read Full Post »

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