Mistaken – Vikram Seth

I smiled at you because I thought that you 

Were someone else; you smiled back; and there grew 

Between two strangers in a library 

Something that seemes like love; but you loved me 

(If that’s the word) because you thought that I 

Was other than I was. And by and by 

We found we’d been mistaken all the while 

From that first glance, that first mistaken smile.

Distressful Homonyms – Vikram Seth

Since for me now you have no warmth to spare 

I sense I must adopt a sane and spare 
Philosophy to ease a restless state 

Fuelled by this uncaring. It will state 
A very meagre truth: love like the rest 

Of our emotions, sometimes needs a rest. 
Happiness, too, no doubt; and so, why even 

Hope that ‘the course of true love’ could run even?

How Rarely These Few Years – Vikram Seth

How rarely all these few years, as work keeps us aloof, 

Or fares, or one thing or another, 

Have we had days to spend under our parents’ roof: 

Myself my sister, and my brother. 
All five of us will die; to reckon from the past 

This flesh and blood is unforgiving. 

What’s hard is that just one of us will be the last 

To bear it all and go on living.

Round And Round – Vikram Seth

After a long and wretched flight 

That stretched from daylight into night, 

Where babies wept and tempers shattered 

And the plane lurched and whiskey splattered 

Over my plastic food, I came 

To claim my bags from Baggage Claim 
Around, the carousel went around 

The anxious travelers sought and found 

Their bags, intact or gently battered, 

But to my foolish eyes what mattered 

Was a brave suitcase, red and small, 

That circled round, not mine at all. 
I knew that bag. It must be hers. 

We hadnt met in seven years! 

And as the metal plates squealed and clattered 

My happy memories chimed and chattered. 

An old man pulled it of the Claim. 

My bags appeared: I did the same.

Morning Rain – Tu Fu

A slight rain comes, bathed in dawn light. 

I hear it among treetop leaves before mist 

Arrives. Soon it sprinkles the soil and, 

Windblown, follows clouds away. Deepened 
Colors grace thatch homes for a moment. 

Flocks and herds of things wild glisten 

Faintly. Then the scent of musk opens across 

Half a mountain — and lingers on past noon.

Restless Night – Tu Fu

As bamboo chill drifts into the bedroom, 

Moonlight fills every corner of our 

Garden. Heavy dew beads and trickles. 

Stars suddenly there, sparse, next aren’t. 
Fireflies in dark flight flash. Waking 

Waterbirds begin calling, one to another. 

All things caught between shield and sword, 

All grief empty, the clear night passes.

The Passionate Shepherd (Excerpt) – Nicholas Brenton

Who can live in heart so glad 

As the merry country lad? 

Who upon a fair green balk 

May at pleasure sit and walk, 

And amid the azure skies 

See the morning sun arise; 

While he hears in every spring 

How the birds do chirp and sing; 

Or before the hounds in cry 

See the hare go stealing by; 

Or along the shallow brook 

Angling with a baited hook, 

See the fishes leap and play 

In a blessed sunny day; 

Or to hear the partridge call 

Till she have her covey all; 

Or to see the subtle fox, 

How the villain plies the box, 

After feeding on his prey 

How he closely sneaks away 

Through the hedge and down the furrow, 

Till he gets into his burrow; 

Then the bee to gather honey, 

And the little black hair’d coney 

On a bank for sunny place 

With her forefeet wash her face: 

Are not these, with thousands moe 

Than the courts of kings do know, 

The true pleasing-spirits sights 

That may breed true love’s delights?

Eclogue IV – Virgil

Muses of Sicily, essay we now 

A somewhat loftier task! Not all men love 

Coppice or lowly tamarisk: sing we woods, 

Woods worthy of a Consul let them be. 

Now the last age by Cumae’s Sibyl sung 

Has come and gone, and the majestic roll 

Of circling centuries begins anew: 

Justice returns, returns old Saturn’s reign, 

With a new breed of men sent down from heaven. 

Only do thou, at the boy’s birth in whom 

The iron shall cease, the golden race arise, 

Befriend him, chaste Lucina; ’tis thine own 

Apollo reigns. And in thy consulate, 

This glorious age, O Pollio, shall begin, 

And the months enter on their mighty march. 

Under thy guidance, whatso tracks remain 

Of our old wickedness, once done away, 

Shall free the earth from never-ceasing fear. 

He shall receive the life of gods, and see 

Heroes with gods commingling, and himself 

Be seen of them, and with his father’s worth 

Reign o’er a world at peace. For thee, O boy, 

First shall the earth, untilled, pour freely forth 

Her childish gifts, the gadding ivy-spray 

With foxglove and Egyptian bean-flower mixed, 

And laughing-eyed acanthus. Of themselves, 

Untended, will the she-goats then bring home 

Their udders swollen with milk, while flocks afield 

Shall of the monstrous lion have no fear. 

Thy very cradle shall pour forth for thee 

Caressing flowers. The serpent too shall die, 

Die shall the treacherous poison-plant, and far 

And wide Assyrian spices spring. But soon 

As thou hast skill to read of heroes’ fame, 

And of thy father’s deeds, and inly learn 

What virtue is, the plain by slow degrees 

With waving corn-crops shall to golden grow, 

From the wild briar shall hang the blushing grape, 

And stubborn oaks sweat honey-dew. Nathless 

Yet shall there lurk within of ancient wrong 

Some traces, bidding tempt the deep with ships, 

Gird towns with walls, with furrows cleave the earth. 

Therewith a second Tiphys shall there be, 

Her hero-freight a second Argo bear; 

New wars too shall arise, and once again 

Some great Achilles to some Troy be sent. 

Then, when the mellowing years have made thee man, 

No more shall mariner sail, nor pine-tree bark 

Ply traffic on the sea, but every land 

Shall all things bear alike: the glebe no more 

Shall feel the harrow’s grip, nor vine the hook; 

The sturdy ploughman shall loose yoke from steer, 

Nor wool with varying colours learn to lie; 

But in the meadows shall the ram himself, 

Now with soft flush of purple, now with tint 

Of yellow saffron, teach his fleece to shine. 

While clothed in natural scarlet graze the lambs. 

‘Such still, such ages weave ye, as ye run,’ 

Sang to their spindles the consenting Fates 

By Destiny’s unalterable decree. 

Assume thy greatness, for the time draws nigh, 

Dear child of gods, great progeny of Jove! 

See how it totters- the world’s orbed might, 

Earth, and wide ocean, and the vault profound, 

All, see, enraptured of the coming time! 

Ah! might such length of days to me be given, 

And breath suffice me to rehearse thy deeds, 

Nor Thracian Orpheus should out-sing me then, 

Nor Linus, though his mother this, and that 

His sire should aid- Orpheus Calliope, 

And Linus fair Apollo. Nay, though Pan, 

With Arcady for judge, my claim contest, 

With Arcady for judge great Pan himself 

Should own him foiled, and from the field retire. 

Begin to greet thy mother with a smile, 

O baby-boy! ten months of weariness 

For thee she bore: O baby-boy, begin! 

For him, on whom his parents have not smiled, 

Gods deem not worthy of their board or bed.

Eclogue X – Virgil

This now, the very latest of my toils, 

Vouchsafe me, Arethusa! needs must I 

Sing a brief song to Gallus- brief, but yet 

Such as Lycoris’ self may fitly read. 

Who would not sing for Gallus? So, when thou 

Beneath Sicanian billows glidest on, 

May Doris blend no bitter wave with thine, 

Begin! The love of Gallus be our theme, 

And the shrewd pangs he suffered, while, hard by, 

The flat-nosed she-goats browse the tender brush. 

We sing not to deaf ears; no word of ours 

But the woods echo it. What groves or lawns 

Held you, ye Dryad-maidens, when for love- 

Love all unworthy of a loss so dear- 

Gallus lay dying? for neither did the slopes 

Of Pindus or Parnassus stay you then, 

No, nor Aonian Aganippe. Him 

Even the laurels and the tamarisks wept; 

For him, outstretched beneath a lonely rock, 

Wept pine-clad Maenalus, and the flinty crags 

Of cold Lycaeus. The sheep too stood around- 

Of us they feel no shame, poet divine; 

Nor of the flock be thou ashamed: even fair 

Adonis by the rivers fed his sheep- 

Came shepherd too, and swine-herd footing slow, 

And, from the winter-acorns dripping-wet 

Menalcas. All with one accord exclaim: 

‘From whence this love of thine?’ Apollo came; 

‘Gallus, art mad?’ he cried, ‘thy bosom’s care 

Another love is following.’Therewithal 

Silvanus came, with rural honours crowned; 

The flowering fennels and tall lilies shook 

Before him. Yea, and our own eyes beheld 

Pan, god of Arcady, with blood-red juice 

Of the elder-berry, and with vermilion, dyed. 

‘Wilt ever make an end?’ quoth he, ‘behold 

Love recks not aught of it: his heart no more 

With tears is sated than with streams the grass, 

Bees with the cytisus, or goats with leaves.’ 

‘Yet will ye sing, Arcadians, of my woes 

Upon your mountains,’ sadly he replied- 

‘Arcadians, that alone have skill to sing. 

O then how softly would my ashes rest, 

If of my love, one day, your flutes should tell! 

And would that I, of your own fellowship, 

Or dresser of the ripening grape had been, 

Or guardian of the flock! for surely then, 

Let Phyllis, or Amyntas, or who else, 

Bewitch me- what if swart Amyntas be? 

Dark is the violet, dark the hyacinth- 

Among the willows, ‘neath the limber vine, 

Reclining would my love have lain with me, 

Phyllis plucked garlands, or Amyntas sung. 

Here are cool springs, soft mead and grove, Lycoris; 

Here might our lives with time have worn away. 

But me mad love of the stern war-god holds 

Armed amid weapons and opposing foes. 

Whilst thou- Ah! might I but believe it not!- 

Alone without me, and from home afar, 

Look’st upon Alpine snows and frozen Rhine. 

Ah! may the frost not hurt thee, may the sharp 

And jagged ice not wound thy tender feet! 

I will depart, re-tune the songs I framed 

In verse Chalcidian to the oaten reed 

Of the Sicilian swain. Resolved am I 

In the woods, rather, with wild beasts to couch, 

And bear my doom, and character my love 

Upon the tender tree-trunks: they will grow, 

And you, my love, grow with them. And meanwhile 

I with the Nymphs will haunt Mount Maenalus, 

Or hunt the keen wild boar. No frost so cold 

But I will hem with hounds thy forest-glades, 

Parthenius. Even now, methinks, I range 

O’er rocks, through echoing groves, and joy to launch 

Cydonian arrows from a Parthian bow.- 

As if my madness could find healing thus, 

Or that god soften at a mortal’s grief! 

Now neither Hamadryads, no, nor songs 

Delight me more: ye woods, away with you! 

No pangs of ours can change him; not though we 

In the mid-frost should drink of Hebrus’ stream, 

And in wet winters face Sithonian snows, 

Or, when the bark of the tall elm-tree bole 

Of drought is dying, should, under Cancer’s Sign, 

In Aethiopian deserts drive our flocks. 

Love conquers all things; yield we too to love!’ 

These songs, Pierian Maids, shall it suffice 

Your poet to have sung, the while he sat, 

And of slim mallow wove a basket fine: 

To Gallus ye will magnify their worth, 

Gallus, for whom my love grows hour by hour, 

As the green alder shoots in early Spring. 

Come, let us rise: the shade is wont to be 

Baneful to singers; baneful is the shade 

Cast by the juniper, crops sicken too 

In shade. Now homeward, having fed your fill- 

Eve’s star is rising-go, my she-goats, go