The Poetry Page



Pablo Neruda

                                            And it was at that age...Poetry arrived
                                         in search of me. I don't know, I don't know where
                                                it came from, from winter or a river.
                                                    I don't know how or when,
                                               no, they were not voices, they were not
                                                        words, nor silence,
                                                but from a street I was summoned,
                                                    from the branches of night,
                                                     abruptly from the others,
                                                        among violent fires
                                                        or returning alone,
                                                     there I was without a face
                                                        and it touched me.

                                               I did not know what to say, my mouth
                                                            had no way
                                                            with names
                                                        my eyes were blind,
                                                 and something started in my soul,
                                                     fever or forgotten wings,
                                                     and I made my own way,
                                                             that fire
                                                   and I wrote the first faint line,
                                                   faint, without substance, pure
                                                           pure wisdom
                                                  of someone who knows nothing,
                                                        and suddenly I saw
                                                            the heavens
                                                            and open,
                                                      palpitating planations,
                                                        shadow perforated,
                                                   with arrows, fire and flowers,
                                                  the winding night, the universe.

                                                     And I, infinitesmal being,
                                                    drunk with the great starry
                                                         likeness, image of
                                                      I felt myself a pure part
                                                        of the abyss,
                                                   I wheeled with the stars,
                                            my heart broke free on the open sky.

Sense of Something Coming by E.M. Rilke

     I am like a flag in the center of open space.
     I sense ahead the wind which is coming, and must live
     it through.
     while the things of the world still do not move:
     the doors still close softly, and the chimneys are full
     of silence,
     the windows do not rattle yet, and the dust still lies down.
     I already know the storm, and I am troubled as the sea.
     I leap out, and fall back,
     and throw myself out, and am absolutely alone
     in the great storm.

Banalata Sen by Jibananda Das

     I have walked earth's byways
          for millenia
          from Ceylon's coast
     to the archipelago of Malaya,
          in the night's darkness,
          moving ever.
          I have been a guest
     at the now hoary court
          of Vimsivar
          and Asoka;
          in the further dark
          of the city of Vidharva.
          Life's seas foamed
          all around. I was weary.
          And my sole respite came,
          I spent a couple of hours
          with Natore's Banalata Sen.

     Her hair dark, like some long gone
          Vidisha's night,
     her face like Sravasti's delicate
          Like some mariner,
          helm lost, gone astray
          in far seas,
          by chance of discovering
          the greenness
          of Spice Islands -
          I saw her in the dusk.
          And raising eyes, like bird's nests,
          she asked: "Where were you
          so long?"
          She asked me then.
          Natore's Banalata Sen.

     Evening comes at all our day's end
          like the sound of dew.
     The kite wipes off sunshine's scent
     from its wings.
     When all the earth's colours are spent,
          in the fireflies' brilliant hue,
          completing an unfinished tale,
          an old script
          finds a new arrangement.
          All the birds return home,
          all the rivers.
          All the day's transactions end.
          Just darkness remains
          and sitting with me
          face to face,
          Banalata Sen.

And for those of you who like the original (in Bengali script):

by Constantine P. Cavafy (1911)
Thanks to my friend Yannis Bilias for drawing my attention to this one and the next

    When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
    pray that the road is long,
    full of adventure, full of knowledge.
    The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
    the angry Poseidon -- do not fear them:
    You will never find such as these on your path,
    if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
    emotion touches your spirit and your body.
    The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
    the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
    if you do not carry them within your soul,
    if your soul does not set them up before you.
    Pray that the road is long.
    That the summer mornings are many, when,
    with such pleasure, with such joy
    you will enter ports seen for the first time;
    stop at Phoenician markets,
    and purchase fine merchandise,
    mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
    and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
    as many sensual perfumes as you can;
    visit many Egyptian cities,
    to learn and learn from scholars.
    Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
    To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
    But do not hurry the voyage at all.
    It is better to let it last for many years;
    and to anchor at the island when you are old,
    rich with all you have gained on the way,
    not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.
    Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
    Without her you would have never set out on the road.
    She has nothing more to give you.
    And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
    Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
    you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.

by Constantine P. Cavafy (1896)

    Without consideration, without pity, without shame
    they have built great and high walls around me.
    And now I sit here and despair.
    I think of nothing else: this fate gnaws at my mind;
    for I had many things to do outside.
    Ah why did I not pay attention when they were building the walls.
    But I never heard any noise or sound of builders.
    Imperceptibly they shut me from the outside world.



Pablo Neruda

(thanks to my friend Rich Barnett for this one)

Only the most ancient love on earth
will wash and comb the statue of the children,
straighten the feet and knees.
The water rises, the soap slithers,
and the pure body comes up to breathe
the air of flowers and motherhood.

Oh, the sharp watchfulness,
the sweet deception,
the lukewarm struggle!

Now the hair is a tangled
pelt criscrossed by charcoal,
by sawdust and oil,
soot, wiring, crabs,
until love, in its patience,
sets up buckets and sponges,
combs and towels,
and, out of scrubbing and combing, amber,
primal scrupulousness, jasmines,
has emerged the child, newer still,
running from the mother's arms
to clamber again on its cyclone,
go looking for mud, oil, urine and ink,
hurt itself, roll about on the stones.
Thurs, newly washed, the child springs into life,
for later, it will have time for nothing more
than keeping clean, but with the life lacking.

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