Poems to celebrate World Poetry Day

by Ingrid Robeyns on March 21, 2012

Today is World Poetry Day, and as previously announced we will celebrate it here at Crooked Timber by having an open thread where all of us can post poems, with or without translations, of our own making or borrowed from someone else. Here’s mine, which dates back to my student days, but I am pretty sure I didn’t write it myself – I think it read it somewhere in the form of street poetry or in a students’ magazine. The original is in Dutch, the English translation mine. Enjoy!

Ze schreef een klein gedichtje
het had niet veel om handen
maar het was als een klein lichtje
dat in het donker brandde.
She wrote a little poem
it didn’t mean much at all
yet it was like a tiny light
glowing in the dark.



Andreas Moser 03.21.12 at 8:40 am

Even World Poetry Day doesn’t convince me. I will stick to prose.


Chris Bertram 03.21.12 at 8:54 am

Thanks Ingrid. You made me think of my friend Michael Bayley, with whom I’ve lost touch, but some of whose poems appeared in Faber Poetry Introductions 7, way back in 1990. Including this one:


After she died,
he thought of the horse
they’d always denied her,

even heard it one night,
clip-clopping the landing
in her mother’s shoes.


Daniel 03.21.12 at 9:08 am

of our own making or borrowed from someone else

but if possible, readers, when under the “borrowed from someone else” heading, don’t publish entire copyrighted works. This isn’t an invitation to a debate about copyright in poetry btw and I will delete any such comments as offtopic for Ingrid’s thread.


Phil 03.21.12 at 9:32 am

Twenty years ago, I used your wrote this poem.

What I’d like to write

Of course, I’d really like to write a book
He said – a book the length of many pages,
The pages turning, pages of grey cloud,
Pages of white sky, branches moving
In long Victorian streets, pages of light,
Pages of wet paving and streetlight.
He’d like, he said, but faltering, fingers smudging,
Uncertain hand dragging across the lines
And the slow days passing – windy and light days,
Hauled up one by one like frames of film
Each blue frame lifting up and gone
All the unwritten days. He’d like, he thought,
He’d like to write something – a letter home,
Almost a letter – letters of the light,
The cats he’d seen at midnight, orange smudges
Of streetlight – a letter of the wind, the street
As the moments’ pages turned he would write
All the unwriteable days hauling past,
All of the traffic and the quiet nights.
Yes, you’d like, the days flick by, you would,
You’d like to write, but failing, hand limp,
Close the book, let the pen drop, give up the attempt.


Phil 03.21.12 at 9:33 am

Actually nearer 30 now I think of it – 27 minimum. Nemmind.


Z 03.21.12 at 9:44 am

This poem has been killing me with nostalgia ever since I first read it. Uncannily, it is very similar to the poem selected by Chris in topic and execution.


For which I offer three translations.

Oh, the autumn wind
She would so feel like plucking
Many red flowers

The autumn wind blows
Away red flowers she would
Pick if she were there

Ces fleurs si rouges
Elle les ramasserait tant
Oh le vent d’automne


Daniel 03.21.12 at 10:02 am

Oh what the hell; my justification for the existence of securities markets.

The saver has his greed and has his fear
He wants it in an overnight account.
The borrower, though, wants the full amount
and wants to use it for a dozen years.
And so a broker magically appears
to offer stock, and bid at a small discount
and make a turn; but they must never miscount.
Liquidity providers cannot clear
a market which displays adverse selection.
The people selling lemons cause a drought.
Markets don’t just exist; they must be made
So dealers churn their books in self protection
And gamblers wash the information out.
They also serve who only sit and trade


Sam Clark 03.21.12 at 10:18 am

Apologies for the length of this, but it’s colonised my imagination recently:

Cesare Pavese, ‘Smokers of Paper’ trans. Geoffrey Brock.

He’s brought me to bear his band. He sits in a corner
mouthing his clarinet. A hellish racket begins.
Outside, through flashes of lightning, wind gusts
and rain whips, knocking the lights out
every five minutes. In the dark, their faces
give it their all, contorted, as they play a dance tune
from memory. Full of energy, my poor friend
anchors them all from behind. His clarinet writhes,
breaks through the din, passes beyond it, releasing
like a lone soul, into a dry, rough silence.

The poor pieces of brass have been dented too often:
the hands working the stops also work in the fields,
and the obstinate brows stay fixed on the ground.
Miserable worn-out blood, weakened
by too many labors—you can hear it groan
in their notes, as my friend struggles to lead them,
his own hands hardened from swinging a hammer,
from pushing a plane, from scraping a living.

He’s lost all his old comrades, and he’s only thirty.
Part of the postwar group that grew up on hunger.
They all came to Turin, to look for a life,
and discovered injustice. He learned, without smiling,
how to work in a factory. He learned how to measure
the hunger of others with his own fatigue—
injustice was everywhere. He tried to find peace
by walking, at night, down streets without ends,
half-asleep, but found only thousands of streetlamps
blazing down on iniquity: hoarse women and drunks,
staggering puppets, far from their homes, He came,
one winter, to Turin—factory lights, smoke and ash—
and he learned what work is. He accepted that work
was part of a man’s hard fate; if all men did that,
there just might be some justice in this world.
And he found new comrades. He suffered their long words,
he listened and waited for them to be over.
He made them his comrades. Families of them
in each house, the city surrounded by them, the face
of the world covered with them. And each of them
felt desperate enough to conquer the world.

They sound harsh tonight, despite all the time
he spent coaching each player. He ignores the loud rain
and the flickering lights. His face is severe,
fixed on some grief, almost biting the mouthpiece.
I’ve seen this expression before, one evening, just us
and his brother, who’s ten years sadder than him.
We were up late in the dim light, the brother studying
a lathe he had built that didn’t work right,
and my poor friend cursing the fate that kept him there,
bound to his hammer and plane, feeding a pair
of old people he never asked for.
That’s when he yelled
that it wasn’t fate that made the world suffer
or made the daylight spark blasphemous outbursts:
man is the guilty one. If we only could just leave,
and be hungry and free, and say no
to a life that uses our love and our piety,
our families, our patches of dirt, to shackle our hands.

(I think I’m OK on copyright since this is freely available at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/182022)

(DD adds – I think you are, but perhaps from now on in could people just quote an opening passage and provide the link when dealing with modern or translated stuff? Poetryfoundation.org have definitely got permission for it but I don’t know whether that means it’s OK for us to reproduce. Thanks.)


Neville Morley 03.21.12 at 10:27 am

Heinrich Heine, Die Lorelei

Ich weiß nicht, was soll es bedeuten,
Daß ich so traurig bin,
Ein Märchen aus uralten Zeiten,
Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn.
Die Luft ist kühl und es dunkelt,
Und ruhig fließt der Rhein;
Der Gipfel des Berges funkelt,
Im Abendsonnenschein.
I don’t know what it signifies
That I am so sad.
A folk-tale from ancient times
Won’t leave my head.
The air is cool, it’s getting dark,
Gently flows the Rhine.
The mountain-top glitters
In the evening sunshine.

Because it’s my wife’s favourite poem…


Torquil Macneil 03.21.12 at 10:36 am

That pretty little poem reminded me of Wisława Szymborska, Ingrid. I think she died this year or last. If you don’t know her, I think you would like her.

This one is well known but worth repeating on world poetry day because it sums up so completely what poetry is:

The un-red deer
In the un-green forest

The antlers which do not appear
And are not like branches

The hounds which do not bay
With tails which do not swish

The heather beyond and the insignificant stumble
Of the horse not pulled up

By the rider who does not see all this
Nor hear nor smell it

Or does so but it does not matter
The horn sounds Gone away

Or, if it does not, is there hunter,
Hunted, or the broken tree

Swept by the wind from the channel?

C.H. Sisson


Jeffrey Davis 03.21.12 at 12:02 pm

Four poems. These date from the early 80s, when I gave up writing, to this past year when inexplicably I picked up writing again.

Weir Trinkets

In one field, camel, llama, and bison roam
With a fence-high mournful array of cattle.
In mild, lingering, winter afternoons
We wish the steam of their breath made a ghost
That has broken free of the grave and most
Other claims of the earth, of suns and moons,
And in their lowing, mooing, bite and battle,
There were song, though not one of their heads are home.

Love Poem

I believed you all & I still believe
& each belief begat a girl. Oh, yes!
Tonite there isn’t time to lie to or seduce
the blonde upstairs, a California nurse
who smiled & listened & cued & worse:
all of it a dream, straight from Dr. Seuss,
as if she were an egg & and I was less
& there…I want to be young & never leave.


Primrose and Blackberry

The ache of inattention springs in a wild
crisscross of nettle and thorn, while the bush hog
catches rabbits napping, snapping their small bones:
an aftermath of roots exposed and burrows cleft,
the blade damp and downy from what its hunger left.
If only walls held the field with more than stone…

Once, remember, we made love astride that log,
its hollows humming and its mosses mild.


The Ecstasy of the Sculptor Steiner

I would turn my skin, so white and pale,
into something beautiful (not macabre
or historical) like papyrus
and write there the truth: I live in fear.
Tiring fear! that soon, or now, something near
will turn dark, with a minimum of fuss,
and no turning back or show of power.
With death so close, my skin should be a sail.


Sus. 03.21.12 at 12:36 pm

“The Low Road” by Marge Piercy

What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break
your fingers, they can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can’t walk, can’t remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can’t stop them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds and hold a fund-raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.

A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million your own country.

It goes on one at at time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said No,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.


Bloix 03.21.12 at 1:22 pm

I wrote this a few years ago shortly after my father died:

Five Butterflies
The damp lies heavy on the muddy field;
The earth is cold, the western sky still night.
A clouded sulfur stiffly tilts its wings
To catch the first thin rays of morning light.

A concrete culvert pours into a creek,
draining the run-off from a morning shower.
Above the rip-rapped bank a monarch glides
And lights upon a milkweed’s starry flower.

Puddling at a trickle in the mud,
Its false eyes turned unblinking toward the sun,
A buckeye’s long proboscis sucks up drops
Of brackish water from the silty run.

A purple thistle sways in the roadside weeds;
A swallowtail sways with it, as if pinned:
Its six clawed legs clamped to the thistle’s spikes,
Its four black wings like sails before the wind.

High in the branches of a dying elm,
Orange and black wings raised in silent rhyme,
A tawny emperor leaps from leaf to sky,
Falling and rising in beats of broken time.


Duncan 03.21.12 at 1:25 pm

Jeffrey Davis’s poems are really good.


Bloix 03.21.12 at 1:32 pm

#11 – Jeffrey Davis:
“The ache of inattention springs in a wild
crisscross of nettle and thorn, while the bush hog
catches rabbits napping, snapping their small bones”

Oh, I like that very much: the opening abstraction followed by a vivid contradictory concrete image, and then the surprising twist of violence – lovely, powerful writing.


mark drago 03.21.12 at 1:36 pm

A poem I wrote in Dec. 2011:

I do not represent
Or signify
One thing beyond this small space held;
No voice to sound
To who would hear,
No eye to sight
What cannot be seen.
From a piece of time
Does the least feather of a pigeon depend,
And my mortal soul,
That spires could touch
If I would them,
With every else will end
In the merest trough of matter,
A once of nothing.


Ralph Hitchens 03.21.12 at 1:47 pm

A couple of poems from, I don’t know, 20 or 30 years ago–

Autumn Haiku:

Wood smoke
Sharp to the scent
Drifting into a gray sky, pale
As a dream

To a friend, driving to the coast:

Sooner or later each restless heart
Follows the sun to the highway’s end
Watching the white lines flickering past
Thinking you’ll find the rainbow at last
Shrugging off pieces of the past
In Las Cruces, and Gila Bend

Sooner or later each restless heart
Arrives in southern California
Where new lives and old lives never meet
And dreams are parked on every street
And the sand is hot beneath your feet
Don’t say I didn’t warn you


tomslee 03.21.12 at 1:47 pm

I can’t match the good stuff above, so I’ll prove Lewis Carroll’s claim that “Any fairly practised writer, with the slightest ear for rhythm, could compose, for hours together, in the easy running metre of The Song of Hiawatha”, with some doggerel I wrote a year ago about the closing of a local video store called Generation X. Here’s hoping CT formatting doesn’t screw it up…

When will Netflix organize a
zombie walk on uptown streets or
sponsor The TriCity Roller
Girls (a flat-track roller derby team)?
When will iTunes hand out dog treats,
welcome pets into the store, or
join with next-door coffee shop to
raise some money for a goat?

Amazon will never help to
run a standup festival, or
carve a space for LGBT
films (and also TV series).
Nor will Googlers ever be as
cool as staff who know their subject,
finding just the film you mean when
hazy recollections are the most you
can recount about some movie.

(The whole thing).


NStudent 03.21.12 at 1:57 pm

A favorite, Catullus 5:

Original Latin:
1 Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus,
2 rumoresque senum severiorum
3 omnes unius aestimemus assis!
4 soles occidere et redire possunt;
5 nobis, cum semel occidit brevis lux,
6 nox est perpetua una dormienda.
7 da mi basia mille, deinde centum,
8 dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,
9 deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum;
10 dein, cum milia multa fecerimus,
11 conturbabimus illa, ne sciamus,
12 aut ne quis malus invidere possit
13 cum tantum sciat esse basiorum.

My translation:

Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love
and let us value all the rumors
of stern old men at just one assis!
Suns are able to set and rise again,
when the short light has set for us once,
a perpetual night must be slept by us.
Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred;
then another thousand, then a second hundred;
then yet another thousand, then a hundred.
Then, when we have made many thousands,
We will mix them up, lest we know
anyone evil able to envy when he counts
there to be so many kisses.


suby 03.21.12 at 2:52 pm

I am not a poet

I am not a poet
I do have a partiality for words beginning with P.
I am a parent, a partner, a patron, a person even.
Perhaps I should add poet.
I love poetry, but I also love
prose, plot and personalities.
If I were a poet I would write about poverty, prejudice, pretence
Privilege, paranoia, peace, philanthropy, power, the powerless.
Poets are true artisans, practitioners of precision, surgeons of the writing world.
We put poets on pedestals, they are popular people, but no one reads their poetry.
So what is the point?
No, I am not a poet.
I do though try to write poetry


Amy Afebuame 03.21.12 at 2:55 pm

A poem i wrote in November, 2011 as i walked past the “homes” of so many African children who are all alone in this world with no shelter over their heads but the constructed bridges and abandoned vehicles; who have no hope for food or life but are alone and in want…

With eyes fixed
Their thoughts go wild in expectation
What will the day bring?
Today first, for tomorrow is not an option.

I live in my own world
Things to me, don’t just happen by chance
Taking charge of my own
I dream, and wait for them to come to pass.

For them, upon remnants they feast
With beam and a radiant glow on their faces
What happens at the end of the feast?
Dry faces, full of gloom and hope for another phase.

How can they love?
After all, the expression of their love has been denied by poverty
Where is their hope?
Dead, for even life, they doubt it exists.

On me, their eyes fixed
On and on we stare
What do I have to give?
Outstretched arms, for all they need rests in those arms.

What a world!!
A world of differences, hard to embrace
Just a moment in their world and my fanciful one dash away
The life they live, it’s a WORLD OF THEIR OWN…

This is a plea to reach out to the less privilege all around us, for they need just a little smile to show them what love means… Above all, give all you can, for therein lies your reward …


nnyhav 03.21.12 at 3:00 pm

planned obsolescence

these words will be
one day old
like those
writ yesterday
writ without
or false promise
meant only to say
we will all be
one day old
like yesterday


Enda H 03.21.12 at 3:19 pm

I have been working for years
on a four-line poem
about the life of a leaf;
I think it might come out right this winter.

The Mayo Tao, by Derek Mahon.


Alison P 03.21.12 at 3:26 pm

This is my translation of the Latin inscription on the Stone of Bologna:

To the Gods of the Dead

Aelia Laelia
Neither man nor woman
Nor androgyny
Not girl or boy
Not crone or maiden
Neither Madonna nor whore
But all things
You are destroyed
By neither famine nor iron
Nor by poison
But by everything
You are not taken
Into the waters
Nor into the sky
Nor are you within the earth
But everywhere

Lucius Agatho Priscus
Not your husband or your lover
Not needed by you
Not sad
Not rejoicing
Not weeping
This which is amassed
Not a pyramid
Not your tomb
He knows and knows not
What he has done

This is the grave
In which there is no body
This is the body
That is held within no tomb

Jung called this poem “a flypaper for every conceivable projection that buzzed in the human mind.”


William Timberman 03.21.12 at 3:42 pm


I don’t know
in the world’s great house
we were raised in
different rooms
and passed on stairways
you along the wall
me already more than half way
over the railing

Was it then
we began
sending each other pictures?

I was wearing
the shirt you made me
The way the sun was
you couldn’t see my eyes
or so you say
I remember
the far edge of the garden
when you turned toward me
above your outstretched arm
the jacaranda
lifting its
pale architecture

you say now
you’d go that far
For the children
And tell me I can have
what’s left of the beer glasses
these four tin plates
equitable distribution
according to the laws
of California

You slam the trunk lid twice
calling me poet
like that again
but delicately
assure me
God will bless all those
who sail in me
before you drive away


Alan 03.21.12 at 3:43 pm

This is a great idea! Thanks. Here’s mine.


I will observe tomorrow
the southern traditions of my
mother, now a species at 92
who molted her brain several times
to become something which cannot
distinguish me from my brother,
or sweets from feces and spit:
so hours from now
I will be eating
black-eyed peas to assure
that I will have
money this coming year,
but also sweeping the floor
and making sure
I wash a good-sized
load of laundry,
both of which
my mother assured
all my life
should be avoided
on New Year’s day
if one does not wish
to sweep one out
or wash one out
of the family.


Platonist 03.21.12 at 3:57 pm

Two metered translations from Rimbaud’s Le Bateau ivre, because it’s a cheap excuse to rhyme “cerebellum” and “brouhaha”:

Dans les clapotements furieux des marées,
Moi, l’autre hiver, plus sourd que les cerveaux d’enfants,
Je courus ! Et les Péninsules démarrées
N’ont pas subi tohu-bohus plus triomphants.

Into the furious tides lapping the shore
Last winter, deafer than child’s cerebellum
I ran as peninsulas loosed from their moors
Endured no more triumphant harum-scarum

Diving into the tide’s furious clapping
Last winter, more deaf than children’s cerebra
I fled peninsulas torn from their trappings
They’d endured no more triumphant brouhaha


Aulus Gellius 03.21.12 at 4:10 pm

Here’s a couple epigrams from Martial’s Liber Spectaculorum, a description of spectacles shown at the Colosseum. All the disgusting cruelty (to person and beast) and sycophantic emperor-worship you could want!

Lambere securi dextram consueta magistri
tigris, ab Hyrcano gloria rara iugo,
saeva ferum rabido laceravit dente leonem —
res nova, non ullis cognita temporibus.
Ausa est tale nihil, silvis dum vixit in altis:
postquam inter nos est, plus feritatis habet.

She is taught to quietly lick her trainer’s hand,
this tiger, a rare prize from Hyrcania;
but she savaged a lion with her awful jaws —
a novelty, a thing never seen before.
She would not have dared such an attack, when she lived in the jungle:
come among men, she has learned to be more wild.
Quicquid in Orpheo Rhodope spectasse theatro
dicitur, exhibuit, Caesar, harena tibi.
Repserunt scopuli mirandaque silva cucurrit,
quale fuisse nemus creditur Hesperidum.
Adfuit immixtum pecori genus omne ferarum
et supra vatem multa pependit avis,
ipse sed ingrato iacuit laceratus ab urso:
haec tantum res est facta παρ᾽ἱστορίαν.

Everything seen in Rhodope when Orpheus sang
(as they say), has been shown, Caesar, in your arena.
The rocks crept forth, the miraculous forest walked,
just as, we are told, the Hesperian woods did once.
And among these was a flock of all kinds of beasts,
And many birds flew over the bard’s head —
but the man was ripped to bits by an un-charmed bear:
only that bit was changed from the source-material.

Oh, and here’s a totally untranslatable bit of filth (read it aloud!) from the anonymous Priapea, my favorite collection of dick-jokes:

Cum loquor, una mihi peccatur littera, nam T
P dico semper, blaesaque lingua mea est.

Get it?


Aulus Gellius 03.21.12 at 4:13 pm

Curses: there ought to be a line break after each of those dashes in the Martial. Also, I tried to indent every other line in those poems, since it’s in elegiac couplets, but apparently that didn’t take. On the other hand, the Greek letters seem to have come through perfectly.


Aulus Gellius 03.21.12 at 4:14 pm

Argh, and a mistake I can’t blame on the computer: “mea” in the Priapea poem ought to be “mihi.”


Brussel Sprout 03.21.12 at 4:27 pm

Here’s the one I’ve borrowed:

And Yet The Books
And yet the books will be there on the shelves, separate beings,

That appeared once, still wet 

As shining chestnuts under a tree in autumn,

And, touched, coddled, began to live

In spite of fires on the horizon, castles blown up, 

Tribes on the march, planets in motion. 

“We are, ” they said, even as their pages 

Were being torn out, or a buzzing flame 

Licked away their letters. So much more durable

Than we are, whose frail warmth 

Cools down with memory, disperses, perishes.

I imagine the earth when I am no more:

Nothing happens, no loss, it’s still a strange pageant, 

Women’s dresses, dewy lilacs, a song in the valley. 

Yet the books will be there on the shelves, well born, 

Derived from people, but also from radiance, heights.
Czeslaw Milosz


Doug K 03.21.12 at 5:00 pm

links as plaintext since the crookedtimber markup never renders the way I expect it to..

Seamus Heaney, In the Attic

last stanza:

As I age and blank on names,
As my uncertainty on stairs
Is more and more the light-headedness

Of a cabin boy’s first time on the rigging,
As the memorable bottoms out
Into the irretrievable,

It’s not that I can’t imagine still
that slight untoward rupture and world-tilt
As a wind freshened and the anchor weighed.


In Greece once on vacation, I ran for several hours each day. My Greek relatives wanted to know if I was being paid to do all this running.

I am paid in the red coin of the sun going down,
the notes of waves susurrant in the pebbles
which cannot be counterfeited;
the figs ripening and the wind that bears their scent
chattering of cicadas,
goat bells in the olive grove, behind the monastery,
cool sweet water from the mountain springs;
the wages are good enough.


Something in Afrikaans, Breyten Breytenbach: Seven years in jail for treason against the apartheid government, wrote The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist, the opposite of a crime against humanity, poetry in fact; this is a different poem though.

ek maak die venster oop
en die son kom drink
met ‘n helder tong
aan die wyn in my glas

ek kan nie kla nie
soms kyk die reen duisende oe
teen die ruite
maar kry nie vastrapplek nie
en die paddavissies gly grond toe


I open the window
and the sun comes to drink
with a clear tongue
of the wine in my glass

I can’t complain
sometimes the rain looks with a thousand eyes
against the panes
but does not find a foothold
and the tadpole drops slide to the ground


Jim Harrison 03.21.12 at 5:24 pm

As Good as It Gets

All on a hot and wintry day,
Right here, which is to say,
Very far away,
I came to like a catastrophe,
My rusty eyes
Focusing on the pimple-spangled fundament
Of a departing dream,
Obscure astrology!
Then, for the first time in my life,
As I often do,
I blessed the children and the animals
Just in case I’m God almighty and forgot.
Were the sigh I heard my own,
I would have been alone;
But as it was,
There was nobody there but me.


Phil 03.21.12 at 6:19 pm

That poem by(?) William Timberman is wonderful. I *immediately* thought it was about me, despite never having worn a shirt anyone made for me.

A. Gellius – don’t get it.


Aulus Gellius 03.21.12 at 6:30 pm

Phil: you have to consider the names of the letters T and P, as pronounced in Latin. “nam te/ pe-dico semper.”


Tom Hurka 03.21.12 at 6:52 pm

A borrowed poem, philosophical, from the Montreal poet Louis Dudek:


My two dogs
tied to a tree
by a ten-foot leash
kept howling and whining for an your
till I let them off.

Now they are lying quietly on the grass
a few feet further from the tree
and they haven’t moved at all since I let them go.

Freedom may be
only an idea
but it’s a matter of principle
even to a dog.


Beatrice Rogers 03.21.12 at 7:14 pm

I grew up with poetry, being able to quote from Wordsworth and Coleridge without understanding the meanings when I was small. This implanted images of patients floating on tables and an irate old man shackled by a magical albatross. I left it behind in favour of literature and was only really reminded of it when I read Possession by AS Byatt as an adult where her (it’s not pastiche but how would you say, perhaps homage?) poetry blew me away and persuaded me to revisit the genre.

This is one I wrote when I was about 14.

A rook sat on a bare branch one cold winter’s day.
He met another rook upon his way.
They talked about their loneliness for they were very old,
and then he hopped onto another branch and sat there as he thought.

Here’s someone else’s work. I’m sorry I don’t know who and I have googled it and can’t find it. The image has stuck with me.. total misdirection and whomp! The relationship is taken apart in six words.

We fit together like a hook and eye.
A fish hook,
a fish’s eye.


Tom Hurka 03.21.12 at 7:44 pm

The fish hook poem is Margaret Atwood, and it actually goes

You fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye


Agog 03.21.12 at 7:55 pm

A sonnet from the Portuguese (of Camoes: the original is at pensador.uol.br/frase/MjIzNjYx)

Each night, when grief has stained me darkest blue,
My kind mind sends me dreaming to that place
In sleep where she, that fugitive, whose face
Haunts all my daylight hours, now lives anew.
And there, in desolation, where the view
Extends across the fading field, I race
Towards her, but she moves at equal pace
Away, as though compelled by magic to.
I cry “Sweet shadow, please don’t run from me.”
She looks back modestly defiant then,
A glance that says “This can no longer be.”
Again she flies from me. I shout out “Di . . .”
But wake before I can complete “. . . namene!”
Without the real or imagined she.

I remember the triumph of deciding that ‘saudade’ in that context had to be ‘desolation’. And always the smugness of getting a sonnet together, even if stuffed full of rubbish…


e 03.21.12 at 8:43 pm

“It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.” ― William Carlos Williams


Adriaan 03.21.12 at 8:48 pm

My translation, such as it is, of one of the most famous and beautiful Dutch poems: “Vrede” by Leo Vroman. The original is here.

Should a dove, one hundred pounds,
an olive tree clutched in its claws,
reach my ears with soothing sounds
of choirs of women, free of flaws,
with cooing tales of how the crimes
of war have disappeared, and keep
repeating them a hundred times:
every single time I’d weep.

Since I threw myself into
a cab so unexpectedly,
that a hole, which grew and grows,
was torn into the night by me,
since my dearest, cheeks bedewed,
blushing dryness, features pained,
stood still, just like a statue hewed
from solid rock while pebbles rained,
my skin’s been taut and far too dry
for sweat and prayers to find release,
but nonetheless I writhe and cry
through gnashing teeth for peace, just peace.

Love would be decapitated,
miracles would surely cease,
if life should go on unabated,
without peace, god damn it, peace;
for that terrifying sound
that rent my love and I apart,
continues to this day to hound
my thoughts and wake me with a start
from dreams we share about the war
returning surreptitiously,
how yet again, like years before
it forces us maliciously
to run and hide and yell and howl
and utter near inhuman screams,
so desperate, so loud, so foul,
we almost hear them in our dreams.

Why should I not curse the fire
that sets the rebuilt town alight,
those images that still conspire
to keep me up throughout the night?
But the roasted child, its eyes
put out, before its life’s begun
isn’t what I most despise:
it’s the century where nothing’s done,
when suddenly, right through the house,
a tower of filth has risen up,
with long forgotten mud and cobwebs,
disintegrating furniture,
flames red as blood and blood
red as flames, the surrounding air laden
with living parts of dead, but amiable
people, the eternal silence before
the startled child is strangled in this
column, already stretching out
its arms.

Bring me tales of how the crimes
of war have disappeared, and keep
repeating them a hundred times:
every single time I’d weep.


geo 03.21.12 at 9:48 pm

Shine, Perishing Republic

While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening
to empire
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the
mass hardens,
I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots
to make earth.
Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances, ripeness and deca-
dence; and home to the mother.

You making haste haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good, be it stub-
bornly long or suddenly
A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains:
shine, perishing republic.
But for my children, I would have them keep their distance from the thick-
ening center; corruption
Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the monster’s feet there
are left the mountains.
And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever servant,
insufferable master.
There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught–they say–
God, when he walked on earth.

Robinson Jeffers


Andres 03.21.12 at 10:13 pm

Appreciating a long poem or sonnet requires some effort. When I’m feeling particularly lazy, I prefer limericks or better yet, letrillas:

Que el mancebo principal
aplique por la pobreza
a ser ladrón su nobleza
por ser arte liberal;
que sea podenco del real
mas escondido en el seno,

Mas que en tales desatinos
venga el pobre desdichado,
de puro descaminado,
a parar por los caminos;
que conozca los teatinos
por intercesión de un palo,


Andres 03.21.12 at 10:23 pm

By Francisco de Quevedo. Loose translation:

That the self-important teenager,
led by poverty,
turns his nobility to theft
as a liberal art,
that he should hoard each coin
deep inside himself,
that’s allright.

But if in such dire straits,
the unhappy wretch,
by sheer cluelessness,
resorts to holdups at the crossroads;
that he should be introduced
to the confessor,
on the way to the gibbet,
that is bad.


Andres 03.21.12 at 11:06 pm

And this one, by Mr. Etheridge Knight, is one of my favorites (profanity removed by me, not by the author).

Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminally Insane

Hard Rock was “known not not to take no shit
From nobody,” and he had the scards to prove it:
Split purple lips, lumped ears, welts above
His yellow eyes, and one long scar that cut
Across his temple and plowed through a thick
Canopy of kinky hair

The WORD was that Hard Rock wasn’t a mean n*****
Anymore, that the doctors had bored a hole in his head,
Cut out part of his brain, and shot electricity
Through the rest. When they brought Hard Rock back,
Handcuffed and chained, he was turned loose,
Like a freshly gelded stallion, to try his new status.
And we all waited and watched, like indians at a corral,
To see if the WORD was true.

As we waited we wrapped ouselves in the cloak
Of his exploits: “Man, the last time, it took eight
Screws to put him in the Hole.” “Yeah, remember when he
Smacked the captain with his dinner tray?” “He set
Te Record for time in the Hole–67 straight days!”
“Ol Hard Rock! man, that’s one crazy n*****.”
And then the jewel of a myth that Hard Rock had once bit
A screw on the thumb and poisoned him with syphilitic spit.

The testing came, to see if Hard Rock was really tame.
A hillbilly called him a black son of a b****
And didn’t lose his teeth, a screw who knew Hard Rock
From before shook him down and barked in his face.
And Hard Rock did _nothing_. Just grinned and looked silly,
His eyes empty like knot holes in a fence.

And even after we discovered that it took Hard Rock
Exactly 3 minutes to tell you his first name,
We told ourselves that he had just wised up,
Was being cool; but we could not fool ourselves for long,
And we turned away, our eyes on the ground. Crushed.
He had been our Destroyer, the doer of things
We dreamed of doing but cound not bring ourselves to do,
The fears of years, like a biting whip,
Had cut grooves too deeply across our backs.



Norwegian Guy 03.21.12 at 11:59 pm

One of my favorite poems, by the Norwegian poet Olav H. Hauge, in a translation(*) by Robert Bly:

It’s the Dream

It’s that dream that we carry with us
that something wonderful will happen,
that it has to happen,
that time will open,
that the heart will open,
that doors will open,
that the mountains will open,
that wells will leap up,
that the dream will open,
that one morning we’ll slip in
to a harbor that we’ve never known.

Since it’s a short poem, I’ll add the Norwegian original too. It’s from the 1966 collection Dropar i austvind:

Det er den draumen me ber på

Det er den draumen me ber på
at noko vedunderleg skal skje,
at det må skje –
at tidi skal opna seg
at hjarta skal opna seg
at dører skal opna seg
at berget skal opna seg
at kjeldor skal springa –
at draumen skal opna seg,
at me ei morgonstund skal glida inn
på ein våg me ikkje har visst um.

(*) There are a couple of other English translations available, including by Robin Fulton. The differences between them are small, but this is probably the version that is closest to the original.


between4walls 03.22.12 at 3:51 am

The end of Dei Sepolcri by Ugo Foscolo, an Italian Romantic poet. This (too long to reproduce in full) poem was written as a protest against Napoleon’s new regulations on cemeteries, but outlasted the issue. It ends:

“E tu onore di pianti, Ettore, avrai,
ove fia santo e lagrimato il sangue
per la patria versato, e finché il Sole
risplenderà su le sciagure umane.”

my translation

And you, Hector, will have the honor of tears
wherever blood shed for the homeland
is holy and wept over, and as long as the Sun
shines on human miseries.

The rest is here: http://it.wikisource.org/wiki/Dei_Sepolcri


Alex Prior 03.22.12 at 5:36 am

From Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, perhaps the ultimate love song of the economist:


From where you are you can hear in Cockle Row in the spring,
moonless night, Miss Price, dressmaker and sweetshop-keeper,
dream of

her lover, tall as the town clock tower, Samsonsyrup-gold-maned,
whacking thighed and piping hot, thunderbolt-bass’d and
barnacle-breasted, flailing up the cockles with his eyes
like blowlamps and scooping low over her lonely loving
hotwaterbottled body.


Myfanwy Price!


Mr Mog Edwards!


I am a draper mad with love. I love you more than all the
flannelette and calico, candlewick, dimity, crash and merino,
tussore, cretonne, crepon, muslin, poplin, ticking and twill
in the whole Cloth Hall of the world. I have come to take
you away to my Emporium on the hill, where the change hums
on wires. Throw away your little bedsocks and your Welsh
wool knitted jacket, I will warm the sheets like an electric
toaster, I will lie by your side like the Sunday roast.


I will knit you a wallet of forget-me-not blue, for the
money, to be comfy. I will warm your heart by the fire so
that you can slip it in under your vest when the shop is


Myfanwy, Myfanwy, before the mice gnaw at your bottom drawer
will you say


Yes, Mog, yes, Mog, yes, yes, yes.


And all the bells of the tills of the town shall ring for
our wedding.

[_Noise of money-tills and chapel bells_


John Quiggin 03.22.12 at 7:33 am

My poetry career was mercifully short, but I was a bit more successful as a satirical songwriter. Here’s the title entry for my self-published songbook from the 1980s (Oz topical references will be obscure, but the phenomenon is universal). American readers may want to note that the polarity of red and blue is reversed in my hemisphere and that Liberal=Conservative. Also, we walk on our heads.

Tune is Johnny I hardly knew you

As I was walking past the Lodge, haroo, haroo
I saw a most peculiar dodge, haroo, haroo
Bob Hawke came by and I swear its true
He went in red and he came out blue
And the Liberals didn’t know what to do
Oh, Bobby, I hardly knew you !

Where are the eyes that flashed with fire, haroo, haroo
Where’s the fear you once inspired, haroo, haroo
The bosses love you like a son,
You’ve got the greenies on the run
Flogging yellowcake by the ton
Oh, Bobby, I hardly knew you !

Where’s the workers leader now, haroo, haroo
Consensus is the sacred cow, haroo, haroo
Out wages cut and hours froze
Except for the doctors and such as those
I think that something’s on the nose
Oh, Bobby, I hardly knew you !

Where’s the voice that roared so loud, haroo, haroo
Wheres the left-wing stand so proud, haroo, haroo
You smile so sweet and you talk so glib
You duck and dodge and you fudge and fib
And you sound just like a bloody Lib
Oh, Bobby, I hardly knew you !


Theophylact 03.22.12 at 1:59 pm

One of the few poems I know that translates perfectly from German ito English is Christian Morganstern’s Fisches Nachtgesang. Unfortunately, it’d be hopeless for me to render the HTML properly, so I’ve just given the link.


Theophylact 03.22.12 at 2:00 pm

Aagh — typos!


MS 03.22.12 at 3:38 pm

I love all of these. And I am impressed by the poems people are posting that they wrote. To the poets: Please keep writing and translating things. Please publish or blog or disseminate your work in some way for others (if you are up to it).

Thank you, everyone and thank you Ingrid for this idea. I wish we could do this every week.

Here’s one by Fernando Pessoa

Countless lives inhabit us.
I don’t know, when I think or feel,
Who it is that thinks or feels.
I am merely the place
Where things are thought or felt.

I have more than just one soul.
There are more I’s than I myself.
I exist, nevertheless,
Indifferent to them all.
I silence them: I speak.

The crossing urges of what
I feel or do not feel
Struggle in who I am, but I
Ignore them. They dictate nothing
To the I I know: I write.


Patwater 03.22.12 at 11:34 pm

Reminding us of the transience of humankind

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked 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.


Patwater 03.22.12 at 11:49 pm

And another (one of mine): http://www.patrickatwater.com/p/my-avalon.html

Apologies for the link offsite but it’s a pdf and a bit long for these pages. Brings back good memories though — great thread everyone.



niamh 03.23.12 at 2:41 am

‘Deceptions’ by Philip Larkin:

‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’ by W.B. Yeats:
as sung by Christy Moore:


john c. halasz 03.23.12 at 5:35 am

Friedrich Hoelderlin


Ist nicht heilig mein Herz, schoeneren Lebens voll,
Seite ich liebe? Warum achtetet ihr mich mehr,
Da ich stolzer und wilder,
Worterreicher und leerer war?

Ach! Der Menge gefaellt, was auf dem Marktplatz taugt,
Und es ehret der Knecht nur den Gewaltsamen;
An das Goettliche glauben
Die allein, die es selber sind.

The Acclaim of Men

Is it not holy, my heart, more full of beautiful life,
Since I love? Why do they respect me more,
Since I am prouder and wilder,
More eloquent and emptier?

Oh! The crowd is pleased with the marketplace trade,
And they honor the servant only in the powerful;
In the God-like believe
Those alone who themselves are it.

(Yes, I’m aware my old translation contains a number of syntactic solecisms, but it goes into English better that way, or so I thought).


Ingrid Robeyns 03.23.12 at 5:37 am

they’re wonderful, thanks folks!


Chris Williams 03.23.12 at 10:16 am

I wrote this as a response to this : http://ailsaandlisa.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/what-i-learnt-at-university/ which is much much better, and was itself I think inspired by, among others, this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAtwxtte-vs

What I learned at university

That Charles the fifth’s mother was called Joanna the Mad.
And she wasn’t the only one.

That by stretching my legs as far as they then went,
and heaving with my arms, which then were nearly strong,
and trusting that i’d left it off the catch,
I could break into my room, above the laundry steps.

Eights sides of handwritten a4 takes two hours.
A dissertation can be done in a month at top whack, but
a thesis takes five years, and this I felt to be unfair.

To love St Mary, a buttery spindle appearing behind the Camera as I, a lucky bastard, walked to breakfast.
To hate the ranked up lights on the Belgrave Road, riding in Simon’s car, save when all went green that one time.
To spot the trams,  like fat grey slugs, climb the bridge by the Parkway, and race downstairs to catch them.

That DTB means 
down the bar.
And that was fun.

That PRO means
public record office.
And that was fun.

That TURT means
trans-ureathral resection of tumour.
And that was more fun than the alternative.

That I was as clever as I had suspected,
 and as lazy as I had feared,
 but not nearly as nice as I had hoped.

To be poor and homeless, though never both together.

To sit inside the window pod, on bare concrete in the sky, 
two hundred feet above Vicky Park, and accidentally become
(via Greg and Lucy’s incessant friendly bickering, their way to fight off boredom)
a historian.

That the weekend feels like a Mark Three carriage,
doing two fifty BPM past Ratcliffe’s concrete towers
while Debbie sings “11.59”.

That love was not a menu – love was in charge.


Innocent Bystander 03.23.12 at 10:59 am

The only problem
with haiku is that you just
get started and then

— Roger McGough


Chris Bertram 03.23.12 at 11:11 am

Chris Williams: thanks for the link to AilsaandLisa …. there’s tremendous stuff there.


Doug K 03.23.12 at 5:25 pm

niamh, I am partial to the Waterboys’ rendering of Yeats, you may like:

Love and Death

and The Stolen Child

They did an entire album of Yeats recently, but I have not listened to the whole of the tunes yet.


Henry (not the famous one) 03.24.12 at 10:58 am

Something Brecht wrote late (some might say too late):

Und ich dachte immer, die allereinfachsten Worte
Müssen genügen. Wenn ich sage, was ist
Muß jedem das Herz zerfleischt sein.
Daß du untergehst, wenn du dich nicht wehrst.
Das wirst du doch einsehn.

And I always thought
That the simplest words must be enough.
That when I say what is, everyone’s heart must be torn to shreds.
That you’ll go down if you don’t stand up.
Surely you see that.


Hidari 03.25.12 at 9:46 pm

Nor is it written that you may not grieve.
There is no rule of joy; long may you dwell
Not smiling yet in that last pain,
On that last supper of the heart.

It is not written that you must take joy
Because not thus again shall you sit down
To ply the mingled banquet
Which the deep larder of illusion shed
Like myth in time grown not astonishing.

Lean to the cloth awhile, and yet awhile,
And even may your eyes caress
Proudly the used abundance.

It is not written in what heart
You may not pass from magic plenty
Into the straitened nowadays.

To each is given secrecy of heart,
To make himself what heart he please
In stirring up from that fond table
To sit him down at this sharp meal.

It shall not here be asked of him
‘What thinks your heart?’
Long may you sorely to yourself upbraid
This truth unwild, this only-bread.

It is not counted what large passions
Your heart in ancient private keeps alive.
To each is given what defeat he will.

Laura Riding.


Ingrid Robeyns 03.27.12 at 6:30 pm

Innocent Bystander — that haiku made me laugh out loud!


Substance McGravitas 03.27.12 at 6:53 pm

Oh well, if silly poems count…

There once was a young man called Sven
Who’d been OCD since way back when
He’d count peas on his plate
And make wall-hangings straight
And this kind of thing would drive him nuts.

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