Poetry


O Make Me A Mask

 
O make me a mask and a wall to shut from your spies
Of the sharp, enamelled eyes and the spectacled claws
Rape and rebellion in the nurseries of my face,
Gag of a dumbstruck tree to block from bare enemies
The bayonet tongue in this undefended prayerpiece,
The present mouth, and the sweetly blown trumpet of lies,
Shaped in old armour and oak the countenance of a dunce
To shield the glistening brain and blunt the examiners,
And tear-stained widower grief drooped from the lashes
To veil belladonna and let the dry eyes perceive
Others betray the lamenting lies of their losses
By the curve of the nude mouth or the laugh up the sleeve.

–Dylan Thomas

 

A Crazed Girl

 
That crazed girl improvising her music,
Her poetry, dancing upon the shore,
Her soul in division from itself
Climbing, falling she knew not where,
Hiding amid the cargo of a steamship
Her knee-cap broken, that girsl I declare
A beautiful lofty thing, or a thing
Heroically lost, heroically found.

No matter what disaster occurred
She stood in desperate music wound,
Wound, wound, and she made her triumph
Where the bales and the baskets lay
No common intelligible sound
But sang, ‘O sea-starved hungry sea.’

1937
William Butler Yeats

 

Her Anxiety

 
Earth in beauty dressed
Awaits returning spring.
All true love must die,
Alter at the best
Into some lesser thing.
Prove that I lie.

Such body lovers have,
Such exacting breath,
That they touch or sigh,
Every touch they give,
Love is nearer death.
Prove that I lie.

1930
William Butler Yeats

 

Love’s Loneliness

 
Old fathers, great-grandfathers,
Rise as kindred should.
If ever lover’s loneliness
Came where you stood,
Pray that Heaven protect us
That protect your blood.

The mountain throws a shadow
Thin is the moon’s horn;
What did we remember
Under the ragged thorn?
Dread has followed longing,
And our hearts are torn

1929
William Butler Yeats

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SELF-DEPENDENCE

By Matthew Arnold

1.
Weary of myself, and sick of asking
What I am, and what I ought to be,
At this vessel’s prow I stand, which bears me
Forwards, forwards o’er the starlit sea.

2.
And a look of passionate desire
O’er the sea and to the stars I send:
“Ye who from my childhood up have calmed me,
Calm me, ah, compose me to the end!

3.
“Ah, once more,” I cried, “ye stars, ye waters,
On my heart your mighty charm renew;
Still, still let me, as I gaze upon you,
Feel my soul becoming vast like you!”

4.
From the intense, clear, star-sown vault of heaven,
Over the lit sea’s unquiet way,
In the rustling night-air came the answer:
“Wouldst thou BE as these are? LIVE as they.

5.
“Unaffrighted by the silence round them,
Undistracted by the sights they see,
These demand not that the things without them
Yield them love, amusement, sympathy.

6.
“And with joy the stars perform their shining,
And the sea its long moon-silvered roll;
For self-poised they live, nor pine with noting
All the fever of some differing soul.

7.
“Bounded by themselves, and unregardful
In what state God’s other works may be,
In their own tasks all their powers pouring,
These attain the mighty life you see.”

8.
O air-born voice! long since, severly clear,
A cry like thine in mine own heart I hear:
“Resolve to be thyself; and know that he
Who finds himself loses his misery!”

The Chalk Cross

I am a maidservant. I had an affair
With a man in the SA.
One day before he went off
With a laugh he showed me how they go about
Catching grumblers.
With a stump of chalk from his tunic pocket
He drew a small cross on the palm of his hand.
He told me, with that and in civvies
He’d go to the labour exchanges
Where the unemployed queue up and curse
And would curse with the rest and doing so
As a token of his approval and solidarity
Would pat anyone who cursed on the shoulderblade, whereupon the marked man
White cross on his back, would be caught by the SA.
We had a good laugh about that.
I went with him for three months, then I noticed
That he’d taken over my savings book.
He had said that he’d keep it for me
Because times were uncertain.
When I challenged him, he swore
That his intentions had been honest. Doing so
He laid his hand on my shoulder to calm me down.
I ran away terrified. At home
I looked at my back in the mirror to see if it didn’t bear
A white cross.

Everything Changes

Everything changes. You can make
A fresh start with your final breath.
But what has happened has happened. And the water
You once poured into the wine cannot be
Drained off again.

What has happened has happened. The water
You once poured into the wine cannot be
Drained off again, but
Everything changes. You can make
A fresh start with your final breath.

Great Babel Gives Birth


Great Babel vomited and it sounded like FREEDOM! and coughed and it sounded like JUSTICE! and farted again and it sounded like PROSPERITY! And wrapped in a bloody sheet a squalling brat was carried on to the balcony and shown to the people with a ringing of the bells, and it was WAR.

Finland 1940

We are now refugees in
Finland.

My little daughter
Returns home in the evening complaining that no child
Will play with her. She is German, and comes
From a nation of gangsters.

When I exchange loud words during a discussion
I am told to be quiet. The people here do not like
Loud words from someone
Who comes from a nation of gangsters.

When I remind my little daughter
That the Germans are a nation of gangsters
She is glad with me that they are not loved
And we laugh together.

Understanding

I can hear you saying:
He talks of America
He understands nothing about it He has never been there.
But believe you me
You understand me perfectly well when I talk of America
And the best thing about America is
That we understand it.

An Assyrian tablet
Is something you alone understand
(A dead business of course)
But should we not learn from people
Who have understood how
To make themselves understood?
You, my dear sir
No one understands
But one understands New York.
I tell you:
These people understand what they are doing
So they are understood.

There is no greater crime than leaving

There is no greater crime than leaving.
In friends, what do you count on? Not on what they do.
You never can tell what they will do. Not on what they are.
That
May change. Only on this: their not leaving.
He who cannot leave cannot stay. He who has a pass
In his pocket – will he stay when the attack begins? Perhaps
He will not stay.
If it goes badly with me, perhaps he will stay. But if it goes
Badly with him, perhaps he will leave.
Fighters are poor people. They cannot leave. When the attack
Begins they cannot leave.
He who stays is known. He who has left was not known. What left
Is different from what was here.
Before we go into battle I must know: have you a pass
In your coat pocket? Is a plane waiting for you behind the battlefield?
How many defeats do you want to survive? Can I send you away?
Well, then, let’s not go into battle.

The burning of the books

When the Regime commanded that books with harmful knowledge
Should be publicly burned and on all sides
Oxen were forced to drag cartloads of books
To the bonfires, a banished
Writer, one of the best, scanning the list of the
Burned, was shocked to find that his
Books had been passed over. He rushed to his desk
On wings of wrath, and wrote a letter to those in power
Burn me! he wrote with a flying pen, burn me! Haven’t my books
Always reported the truth? And here you are
Treating me like a liar! I command you:
Burn me!

The Democratic Judge

In Los Angeles, before the judge who examines people
Trying to become citizens of the United Sates
Came an Italian restaurant keeper. After grave preparations
Hindered, though, by his ignorance of the new language
In the test he replied to the question:
What is the 8th Amendment? falteringly:
1492. Since the law demands that applicants know the language
He was refused. Returning
After three months spent on further studies
Yet hindered still by ignorance of the new language
He was confronted this time with the question: Who was
The victorious general in the Civil War? His answer was:
1492. (Given amiably in a loud voice). Sent away again
And returning for a third time, he answered
A third question: For how long a term are our Presidents elected?
Once more with: 1492. Now
The judge, who liked the man, realised he could not
Learn the new language, asked him
How he earned his living and was told: by hard work. And so
At his fourth appearance the judge gave him the question:
When
Was America discovered? And on the strength of his correctly answering
1492, he was granted his citizenship.

The Transformation of the Gods

The old heathen gods – this is a secret –
Were the first converts to Christianity.
Before the whole people they stepped through the grey oak hedges
Mumbled homely prayers and crossed themselves.

Throughout the entire middle ages they took their stand
As if absent-mindedly in the stone niches of God’s house
Wherever godlike figures might be required.

At the time of the French Revolution
They were the first to don the golden masks of pure reason
And as powerful concepts
They stepped, the old bloodsuckers and thought-stiflers,
Across the bent backs of the toiling masses.

Lullabies IV


When in the night I lie and stare unsleeping
Often I turn and reach out for your hand.
How can I make you see through their lying?
I know you’ve already been numbered for wars they’ve already planned.

Your mother, my son, has never pretended
You’re the special son of someone’s special daughter;
But neither did she bring you up with so much hardship
To hang on the barbed wire one day crying for water.

Spark.

i always resented all the years, the hours, the
minutes i gave them as a working stiff, it
actually hurt my head, my insides, it made me
dizzy and a bit crazy — i couldn’t understand the
murdering of my years
yet my fellow workers gave no signs of
agony, many of them even seemed satisfied, and
seeing them that way drove me almost as crazy as
the dull and senseless work.

the workers submitted.
the work pounded them to nothingness, they were
scooped-out and thrown away.

i resented each minute, every minute as it was
mutilated
and nothing relieved the monotonous ever-
structure.

i considered suicide.
i drank away my few leisure hours.

i worked for decades.

i lived with the worst of women, they killed what
the job failed to kill.

i knew that i was dying.
something in me said, go ahead, die, sleep, become
them, accept.

then something else in me said, no, save the tiniest
bit.
it needn’t be much, just a spark.
a spark can set a whole forest on
fire.
just a spark.
save it.

i think i did.
i’m glad i did.
what a lucky god damned
thing.

-charles bukowski

Original text – Neapolitan dialect

Aieressera, oi’ ne’, me ne sagliette,
tu saie addo’?
Addo’ ‘stu core ‘ngrato cchiu’ dispietto farme nun po’!
Addo’ lo fuoco coce, ma si fuie
te lassa sta!
E nun te corre appriesso, nun te struie, ‘ncielo a guarda’!…
Jammo ‘ncoppa, jammo ja’,
funiculi’, funicula’!

Ne’… jammo da la terra a la montagna! no passo nc’e’!
Se vede Francia, Proceta e la Spagna…
Io veco a tte!
Tirato co la fune, ditto ‘nfatto,
‘ncielo se va..
Se va comm’ ‘a lu viento a l’intrasatto, gue’, saglie sa’!
Jammo ‘ncoppa, jammo ja’,
funiculi’, funicula’!

Se n’ ‘e’ sagliuta, oi’ ne’, se n’ ‘e’ sagliuta la capa già!
E’ gghiuta, po’ e’ turnata, po’ e’ venuta…
sta sempe cca’!
La capa vota, vota, attuorno, attuorno,
attuorno a tte!
Sto core canta sempe
nu taluorno
Sposammo, oi’ ne’!
Jammo ‘ncoppa, jammo ja’,
funiculi’, funicula’!

English translation 1

Do you know where I got on, yesterday evening, baby?
Where this ungrateful heart can’t be spiteful to me more!
Where the fire burns, but if you
run away it let you go!
And it doesn’t run after you,
doesn’t tire you, looking at sky!…
Let go on, let go, let go,
funiculi’, funicula’!

We go from the ground to the
mountain, baby! Without walking!
You can see France, Procida and
Spain…
I see you!
Pulled by a rope, no sooner said
than done, we go to the skies..
We go like the wind all of a sudden, go up, go up!
Let go on, let go, let go,
funiculi’, funicula’!

The head has already got on,
baby, got on!
It has gone, then returned, then
come…
It is still here!
The head turns, turns, around,
around,
around you!
This heart always sings one of these days: Get married to me, baby!
Let go on, let go, let go,
funiculi’, funicula’!

English translation 2

Yesterday evening, my love, I went up,
do you know where?
Where this ungrateful heart cannot spite me any more!
Where the fire burns, but if you flee
it lets you be!
And it doesn’t chase you, it doesn’t burn you, to see the sky!…
Let go together, let’s go there,
funicular downhill, funicular uphill!

Let’s go from the ground to the mountain, my love! Without walking!
You can see France, Procida and Spain…
and I see you!
Pulled by a rope, no sooner said than done,
we go to the skies..
We go like the wind all of a sudden, go up, go up!
Let’s go together, let’s go there,
funicular downhill, funicular uphill!

We’ve climbed it, my love, we’ve already climbed to the top!
It has gone, then returned, then come back…
It is still here!
The empty empty summit, around, around,
around you!
This heart still sings
and is not petulant
Let’s be married, my love!
Let’s go together, let’s go there,
funicular downhill, funicular uphill!

Allah, perchance, the secret word might spell;
If Allah be, He keeps His secret well;
 What He hath hidden, who shall hope to find?
Shall God His secret to a maggot tell?

The Koran! well, come put me to the test—
Lovely old book in hideous error drest—
 Believe me, I can quote the Koran too,
The unbeliever knows his Koran best.

And do you think that unto such as you,
A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew,
 God gave the secret, and denied it me?—
Well, well, what matters it! believe that too.

Richard Le Gallienne

The Fifth Wheel

We are with you in the hour when you realise
That you are the fifth wheel
And you hope goes from you.
But we
Do not realise it yet.

You rise in mid-sentence
You say crossly that you want to go
We say: stay! and we realise
That you’re the fifth wheel.
But you sit down.

I know you no longer hear
But
Do not say loudly that the world is bad
Say it softly.

For the four wheels are not too many
But the fifth is
And the world is not bad
But
Full.

–Bertolt Brecht

Bertolt Brecht – 1940

My young son asks me: Must I learn mathematics?
What is the use, I feel like saying. That two pieces
Of bread are more than one’s about all you’ll end up with.
My young son asks me: Must I learn French?
What is the use, I feel like saying. This State’s collapsing.
And if you just rub your belly with your hand and
Groan, you’ll be understood with little trouble.
My young son asks me: Must I learn history?
What is the use, I feel like saying. Learn to stick
Your head in the earth, and maybe you’ll still survive.

Yes, learn mathematics, I tell him.
Learn your French, learn your history!

Short poems by Bertolt Brecht

MOTTO

And I always thought: the very simplest words
Must be enough. When I say what things are like
Everyone’s heart must be torn to shreds.
That you’ll go down if you don’t stand up for yourself
Surely you see that.

MOTTO

This, then, is all. It’s not enough, I know.
At least I’m still alive, as you may see.
I’m like the man who took a brick to show
How beautiful his house used once to be.

CHANGING THE WHEEL

I sit by the road side
The driver changes the wheel.
I do not like the place I have come from.
I do not like the place I am going to.
Why with impatience do I
Watch him changing the wheel?

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