Poem – A Song

Sitting at His table one day,
God and the devil a game did play;
Hated humanity was at stake;
Well, the first picked Bonaparte;
The other drew, and for his part,
‘Twas Mastai that he did take.

Impoverished abbey, thin as a sprite!
Petty prince, small and filled with spite,
Truly a thoughtless brat!
Oh what a worthless pot!
‘Twas God that had the losing lot
So the devil won them both at that.

God the Father cried, ‘Take them you!
You will not know what to do
With them’; the devil laughed; ‘Good sir-
That’s where you’re wrong,’ the devil said,
And of the one a pope he made,
And of the other an emperor.

Poem – June Nights

In summer, when day has fled, the plain covered with flowers
Pours out far away an intoxicating scent;
Eyes shut, ears half open to noises,
We only half sleep in a transparent slumber.

The stars are purer, the shade seems pleasanter;
A hazy half-day colours the eternal dome;
And the sweet pale dawn awaiting her hour
Seems to wander all night at the bottom of the sky.

Poem – Letter

You can see it already: chalks and ochers;
Country crossed with a thousand furrow-lines;
Ground-level rooftops hidden by the shrubbery;
Sporadic haystacks standing on the grass;
Smoky old rooftops tarnishing the landscape;
A river (not Cayster or Ganges, though:
A feeble Norman salt-infested watercourse);
On the right, to the north, bizarre terrain
All angular–you’d think a shovel did it.
So that’s the foreground. An old chapel adds
Its antique spire, and gathers alongside it
A few gnarled elms with grumpy silhouettes;
Seemingly tired of all the frisky breezes,
They carp at every gust that stirs them up.
At one side of my house a big wheelbarrow
Is rusting; and before me lies the vast
Horizon, all its notches filled with ocean blue;
Cocks and hens spread their gildings, and converse
Beneath my window; and the rooftop attics,
Now and then, toss me songs in dialect.
In my lane dwells a patriarchal rope-maker;
The old man makes his wheel run loud, and goes
Retrograde, hemp wreathed tightly round the midriff.
I like these waters where the wild gale scuds;
All day the country tempts me to go strolling;
The little village urchins, book in hand,
Envy me, at the schoolmaster’s (my lodging),
As a big schoolboy sneaking a day off.
The air is pure, the sky smiles; there’s a constant
Soft noise of children spelling things aloud.
The waters flow; a linnet flies; and I say: “Thank you!
Thank you, Almighty God!”–So, then, I live:
Peacefully, hour by hour, with little fuss, I shed
My days, and think of you, my lady fair!
I hear the children chattering; and I see, at times,
Sailing across the high seas in its pride,
Over the gables of the tranquil village,
Some winged ship which is traveling far away,
Flying across the ocean, hounded by all the winds.
Lately it slept in port beside the quay.
Nothing has kept it from the jealous sea-surge:
No tears of relatives, nor fears of wives,
Nor reefs dimly reflected in the waters,
Nor importunity of sinister birds.

Poem – Ballad About Drinking

We had slaughtered a hundred white whales,
civilization was quite forgotten,
our lungs were burned out from smoking shag,
but on sighting port we blew out our chests like barrels
and began to speak to one another politely,
and with the noble goal of drinking
we went ashore from the schooner at Amderma.

In Amderma we walked like gods,
swaggering along with our hands on our hips,
and through the port our beards and sidewhiskers
kept their bearings on the pub,
and passing girls and shellbacks
as well as all the local dogs
went along with us as escort.

But, clouding the whole planet,
a notice hung in the shop: ‘No Spirits! ‘
We looked at some sparkling wine from the Don
as if it were feeble fruit juice,
and through our agonized yearning
we realized-it wouldn’t work.

Now who could have drunk our spirits, our vodka?
It’s dreadful the way people drink-simply ruinous.
But skinny as a skeleton, Petka Markovsky from Odessa,
as it always happens with him,
suddenly disappeared somewhere
giving a secretive ‘Sh-sshh! ‘

And shortly afterward, with much clinking,
he turned up with a huge cardboard box,
already slightly merry,
and it was a sweet clinking the box made
as we woke up to the fact: ‘There she is! She’s apples! ‘
and Markovsky gave us the wink: ‘She’s right! ‘

We made a splash, waving to everyone-
Chartered a deluxe room in the hotel
and sat down as we were on the bed.
Cords flew off the box
and there, in the glittering columns of the bottles,
bulging, stern, cosy,
absolutely hygienic-
triple-distilled eau de cologne stood before us!

And Markovsky rose, lifting his glass,
pulled down his seaman’s jacket,
and began: ‘I’d like to say something…’
‘Then say it! ‘ everyone began to shout.
But before anything else
they wanted to wet their whistles.

Markovsky said: ‘Come on-let’s have a swig!
The doctor told me eau de cologne
is the best thing to keep the wrinkles away.
Let them judge us! -We don’t give a damn!
We used to drink all sorts of wine!
When we were in Germany
we filled the radiators of our tanks
with wine from the Mosel.

We don’t need consumer goods!
We need the wind, the sky!
Old mates, listen to this
in our souls, as though in the safe deposit:
We have the sea, our mothers and young brothers-
All the rest…is rubbish! ‘

Bestriding the earth like a giant,
Markovsky stood with a glass in his hand
that held the foaming seas.
The skipper observed: ‘Everything is shipshape! ‘
and only the boatswain sobbed like a child:
‘But my mother is dead…’

And we all began to burst into tears,
quite easily, quite shamelessly,
as if in the midst of our own families,
mourning with bitter tears
at first for the boatswain’s mother,
and afterward simply for ourselves.

Already a rueful notice hung in the chemist’s shop-
‘No Triple Eau de Cologne’-
but eight of us sea wolves
sobbed over almost all of Russia!
And in our sobs we reeked
like eight barbershops.

Tears, like squalls,
swept away heaps of false values,
of puffed-up names,
and quietly remaining inside us
was only the sea, our mothers and young brothers-
even the mother who was dead…

I wept as though I was being set free,
I wept as if I was being born anew,
a different person from what I’d been,
and before God and before myself,
like the tears of those drunken whalemen,
my soul was pure.

Poem – Being Late

Something dangerous is beginning:
I am coming late to my own self.
I made an appointment with my thoughts-
the thoughts were snatched from me.
I made an appointment with Faulkner-
but they made me go to a banquet.
I made an appointment with history,
but a grass-widow dragged me into bed.
Worse than barbed wire
are birthday parties, mine and others’,
and roasted suckling pigs hold me
like a sprig of parsley between their teeth!
Led away for good
to a life absolutely not my own,
everything that I eat, eats me,
everything that I drink, drinks me.
I made an appointment with myself,
but they invite me to feast on my own spareribs.
I am garlanded from all sides
not by strings of bagels, but by the holes of bagels,
and I look like an anthology of zeros.
Life gets broken into hundreds of lifelets,
that exhaust and execute me.
In order to get through to myself
I had to smash my body against others’,
and my fragments, my smithereens,
are trampled by the roaring crowd.
I am trying to glue myself together,
but my arms are still severed.
I’d write with my left leg,
but both the left and the right
have run off, in different directions.
I don’t know- where is my body?
And soul? Did it really fly off,
without a murmured ‘good-bye! ‘?
How do I break through to a faraway namesake,
waiting for me in the cold somewhere?
I’ve forgotten under which clock
I am waiting for myself.
For those who don’t know who they are,
time does not exist.
No one is under the clock.
On the clock there is nothing.
I am late for my appointment
with me. There is no one.
Nothing but cigarette butts.
Only one flicker-
A lonely, dying, spark…P

Poem – Humor

Tsars, Kings, Emperors,
sovereigns of all the earth,
have commanded many a parade,
but they could not command humor.
When Aesop, the tramp, came visiting
the palaces of eminent personages
ensconced in sleek comfort all day,
they struck him as paupers.
In houses, where hypocrites have
left the smear of their puny feet,
there Hodja-Nasr-ed-Din, with his jests,
swept clean all meanness
like a board of chessmen!
They tried to commission humor-
but humor is not to be bought!
They tried to murder humor,
but humor thumbed his nose at them!
It’s hard to fight humor.
They executed him time and again.
His hacked-off head
was stuck on the point of a pike.
But as soon as the mummer’s pipes
began their quipping tale,
humor defiantly cried:
‘I’m back, I’m here! ‘,
and started to foot a dance.
in an overcoat, shabby and short,
with eyes cast down and a mask of repentance,
he, a political criminal,
now under arrest, walked to his execution.
He appeared to submit in every way,
accepting the life-beyond,
but of a sudden he wriggled out of his coat,
and, waving his hand, did a bolt.
Humor was shoved into cells,
but much good that did.
Humor went straight through
prison bars and walls of stone.
Coughing from the lungs
like any man in the ranks,
he marched singing a popular ditty,
rifle in hand upon the Winter Palace.
He’s accustomed to frowning looks,
but they do him no harm;
and humor at times with humor
glances at himself.
He’s everpresent. Nimble and quick,
he’ll slip through anything, through everyone.
So- glory be to humor.
He- is a valiant man.

Poem – The Mail Cutter

The ice had not even begun to break,
no boat could possibly sail yet,
but the letters lay in a pile at the post office,
with all their requests and instructions.

Among them trying vainly to leave,
in the scrawls of fishermen,
were reproaches, complaints, cries,
awkward confessions of love.

In vain the huskies gazed out to sea,
searching the waves through the fog,
lying like gray hillocks
on the bottoms of overturned boats.

But, like a ghost, dreamed up
from the desperate monotony,
the ice-covered mail boat
showed her gray masts.

She was beaten up and dirty,
but to the fishing village
her chilly, husky voice
sounded like the sweetest music.

And the gloomy sailors, throwing us a line
to the shore, like Vikings,
silently, skillfully
carried canvas sacks full of people’s souls.

And again the ship went out, tiredly,
her hull breaking the ice with difficulty,
and I sat in her dank hold
among the piled sacks.

Tormented, I searched for an answer
with all my restless conscience:
‘Just what am I, in fact,
and where am I going? ‘

Can it be I am like a frail boat,
and that the passions, like the waves, roll
and toss me about? ‘ But my inner voice
answered me: ‘You are a mail boat.

Make speed through the angry waves,
heavy with ice, to all those people
who have been seperated by the ice,
who are waiting to get in touch again.

And like the first sign of the ship
for which people waited so long,
carry onward the undying light
of the duty that links us together.

And along the foaming arctic sea of life,
through all the ice and against the nor’wester,
carry with you those mailbags
full of hopelessness and hopes.

But remember, as you hang on the whistle,
as soon as the storms die down,
steamers, real ships,
will go through these waters, not afraid anymore.

And the fishermen, standing up in the barges,
will look admiringly at them,
and their sleek, velvety whistles
and make them forget your husky voice.

But you, with the stink of fish and blubber,
don’t lower your rigging gloomily.
You’ve done the job on schedule.
Be happy then. You are the mail cutter.’

Thus the inner voice spoke to me,
impressing upon me the burden of prophecy.
And amid the white night of the Arctic Ocean
somehow it was all morning for me.

I didn’t think enviously
of someone else, covered with honours,
I was simply happy that a few things
also depended on me.

And covered in someone’s fur coat,
I was dependent on so much,
and like that letter from Vanka Zhukov,
I dozed on heaps of other letters.

Poem – Breaking Up

I fell out of love: that’s our story’s dull ending,
as flat as life is, as dull as the grave.
Excuse me-I’ll break off the string of this love song
and smash the guitar. We have nothing to save.

The puppy is puzzled. Our furry small monster
can’t decide why we complicate simple things so-
he whines at your door and I let him enter,
when he scratches at my door, you always go.

Dog, sentimental dog, you’ll surely go crazy,
running from one to the other like this-
too young to conceive of an ancient idea:
it’s ended, done with, over, kaput. Finis.

Get sentimental and we end up by playing
the old melodrama, ‘Salvation of Love.’
‘Forgiveness, ‘ we whisper, and hope for an echo;
but nothing returns from the silence above.

Better save love at the very beginning,
avoiding all passionate ‘neves, ‘ ‘forever; ‘
we ought to have heard what the train wheels were shouting,
‘Do not make promises! ‘ Promises are levers.

We should have made note of the broken branches,
we should have looked up at the smokey sky,
warning the witless pretensions of lovers-
the greater the hope is, the greater the lie.

True kindness in love means staying quite sober,
weighing each link of the chain you must bear.
Don’t promise her heaven-suggest half an acre;
not ‘unto death, ‘ but at least to next year.

And don’t keep declaring, ‘I love you, I love you.’
That little phrase leads a durable life-
when remembered again in some loveless hereafter,
it can sting like a hornet or stab like a knife.

So-our little dog in all his confusion
turns and returns from door to door.
I won’t say ‘forgive me’ because I have left you;
I ask pardon for one thing: I loved you before.

Poem – Crane

I KNOW you, Crane:

I, too, have waited,

Waited until my heart

Melted to little pools around my feet!

Comer in the morning ere the crows,

Shunner,

Searcher

Something find for me!

The pennies that were laid upon the eyes

Of old, wise men I knew.

;;;; 

The Little Fox 

THAT sidling creature is a little Fox:

Like other canine he is leashed and led;

He goes upon the sidewalk; houses tower;

Men trample; horses rear; he drags his leash.
Did not I

Once know a lad from Irrus where they leave

Mittens for foxes; where they invite

A fox to a child’s christening; where they have

Foxes as gossips to their boys and girls?
Would that a lad from Irrus now was here

To tell his gossip that a human creature

Has heart for him, and fain would cover up

His bowels of dread, and find some way to bring

His rainy hills around him, the soft grass,

Darkness of ragged hedges, and his earth

The black, damp earth under the roots of trees!

Would that a lad from Irrus now was here

Where houses tower and where horses rear! 

Poem – Family Study 

Always when I think of you

Dawn breaks above Buenos Aires

and the Atlantic has the inexplicable color of your eyes.

Exotic birds

nest on out TV aerial

until the announcer

has a pearly hairdo

and complete blonde smile.

She claims that eternity has already lasted a whole year.

The weather forecast

announces in her place

a rainbow parrot.

For our wedding route

it wishes us little cloudiness

and success at least as large as the discovery of America

or the record flight of the ostrich from Australia

to the zoological gardens of Europe.

Always when I think of you

dawn breaks above Buenos Aires

and the wind whirls the pamphlets

of all the airlines in the world.

The Atlantic does not admit any other continent.

It’s clear as a stone of precious clarity.

Despite its twinkling depth it resembles a question

which posed passionately by your body.

Children search tirelessly for an answer

till now unwritten in books

and cut out colorful pictures from it.

It happens at home

behind whose windows fireworks blaze every evening.

Always when I think of you

dawn breaks above Buenos Aires.

And today, too, the Atlantic is completely upset.

It’s completely bashful

as its accustomed only to invisible phenomena.
(1981) 

The Retreat From Moscow – Victor Marie Hugo

It snowed. A defeat was our conquest red!

For once the eagle was hanging its head.

Sad days! the Emperor turned slowly his back

On smoking Moscow, blent orange and black.

The water burst, avalanche-like, to reign

Over the endless blanched sheet of the plain.

Nor chief nor banner in order could keep,

The wolves of warfare were ‘wildered like sheep.

The wings from centre could hardly be known

Through snow o’er horses and carts o’erthrown,

Where froze the wounded. In the bivouacs forlorn

Strange sights and gruesome met the breaking morn:

Mute were the bugles, while the men bestrode

Steeds turned to marble, unheeding the goad

The shells and bullets came down with the snow

As though the heavens hated these poor troops below.

Surprised at trembling, though it was with cold,

Who ne’er had trembled out of fear, the veterans bold

Marched stern; to grizzled moustache hoar-frost clung

‘Neath banners that in leaden masses hung. 
It snowed,—went snowing still. And chill the breeze

Whistled upon the glassy, endless seas,

Where naked feet on, on forever went,

With naught to eat, and not a sheltering tent.

They were not living troops as seen in war,

But merely phantoms of a dream, afar

In darkness wandering, amid the vapour dim,—

A mystery; of shadows a procession grim,

Nearing a blackening sky, unto its rim.

Frightful, since boundless, solitude behold

Where only Nemesis wove, mute and cold,

A net all snowy with its soft meshes dense,

A shroud of magnitued for host immense;

Till every one felt as if left alone

In a wide wilderness where no light shone,

To die, with pity none, and none to see

That from this mournful realm none should get free.

Their foes the frozen North and Czar,—that, worst.

Cannon were broken up in haste accurst

To burn the frames and make the pale fire high,

Where those lay down who never woke, or woke to die.

Sad and commingled, groups that blindly fled

Were swallowed smoothly by the desert dread. 
‘Neath folds of blankness, monuments were raised.

O’er regiments; and History, amazed,

Could not record the ruin of this retreat,—

Unlike a downfall known before, or the defeat

Of Hannibal, reversed and wrapped in gloom,

Of Atilla, when nations met their doom!

Perished an army,—fled French glory then,

Though there the Emperor! He stood and gazed

At the wild havoc, like a monarch dazed

In woodland hoar, who felt the shrieking saw:

He, living oak, beheld his branches fall, with awe.

Chiefs, soldiers, comrades died. But still warm love

Kept those that rose all dastard fear above,

As on his tent they saw his shadow pass,

Backwards and forwards; for they credited, alas!

His fortune’s star! It could not, could not be

That he had not his work to do—a destiny?

To hurl him headlong from his high estate,

Would be high treason in his bondman, Fate.

But all the while he felt himself alone,

Stunned with disasters few have ever known.

Sudden, a fear came o’er his troubled soul,—

What more was written on the Future’s scroll?

Was this an expiation? It must be, yea!

He turned to God for one enlightening ray.

‘Is this the vengeance, Lord of Hosts?’ he sighed;

But the first murmur on his parched lips died.

‘Is this the vengeance? Must my glory set?’

A pause: his name was called; of flame a jet

Sprang in the darkness; a Voice answered: ‘No!

Not yet.’

Outside still fell the smothering snow.

Was it a voice indeed, or but a dream?

It was the vulture’s, but how like the sea-bird’s scream. 

The Old & The Young Bridgegroom – Victor Marie Hugo

[HERNANI, Act I.]

Listen. The man for whom your youth is destined,

Your uncle, Ruy de Silva, is the Duke

Of Pastrana, Count of Castile and Aragon.

For lack of youth, he brings you, dearest girl,

Treasures of gold, jewels, and precious gems,

With which your brow might outshine royalty;

And for rank, pride, splendor, and opulence,

Might many a queen be envious of his duchess!

Here is one picture. I am poor; my youth

I passed i’ the woods, a barefoot fugitive.

My shield, perchance, may bear some noble blazons

Spotted with blood, defaced though not dishonored.

Perchance I, too, have rights, now veiled in darkness,–

Rights, which the heavy drapery of the scaffold

Now hides beneath its black and ample folds;

Rights which, if my intent deceive me not,

My sword shall one day rescue. To be brief:–

I have received from churlish Fortune nothing

But air, light, water,–Nature’s general boon.

Choose, then, between us two, for you must choose;–

Say, will you wed the duke, or follow me?
DONNA SOL. I’ll follow you.
HERN. What, ‘mongst my rude companions,

Whose names are registered in the hangman’s book?

Whose hearts are ever eager as their swords,

Edged by a personal impulse of revenge?

Will you become the queen, dear, of my band?

Will you become a hunted outlaw’s bride?

When all Spain else pursued and banished me,–

In her proud forests and air-piercing mountains,

And rocks the lordly eagle only knew,

Old Catalonia took me to her bosom.

Among her mountaineers, free, poor, and brave,

I ripened into manhood, and, to-morrow,

One blast upon my horn, among her hills,

Would draw three thousand of her sons around me.

You shudder,–think upon it. Will you tread

The shores, woods, mountains, with me, among men

Like the dark spirits of your haunted dreams,–

Suspect all eyes, all voices, every footstep,–

Sleep on the grass, drink of the torrent, hear

By night the sharp hiss of the musket-ball

Whistling too near your ear,–a fugitive

Proscribed, and doomed mayhap to follow me

In the path leading to my father’s scaffold?
DONNA SOL. I’ll follow you.
HERN. This duke is rich, great, prosperous,

No blot attaches to his ancient name.

He is all-powerful. He offers you

His treasures, titles, honors, with his hand.
DONNA SOL. We will depart to-morrow. Do not blame

What may appear a most unwomanly boldness. 

Poem – Love Is Too Young To Know What Conscience Is – William Shakespeare

Sonnet 151:

 Love is too young to know what conscience is; 

Yet who knows not conscience is born of love? 

Then, gentle cheater, urge not my amiss, 

Lest guilty of my faults thy sweet self prove. 

For thou betraying me, I do betray 

My nobler part to my gross body’s treason; 

My soul doth tell my body that he may 

Triumph in love; flesh stays no farther reason, 

But, rising at thy name, doth point out thee 

As his triumphant prize. Proud of this pride, 

He is contented thy poor drudge to be, 

To stand in thy affairs, fall by thy side. 

No want of conscience hold it that I call, 

Her “love” for whose dear love I rise and fall.