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Voices in the Cave of Being


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Grief of a Girl’s Heart

O Donal Oge, if you go across the sea,
Bring myself with you and do not forget it;
And you will have a sweetheart for fair days and market days,
And the daughter of the King of Greece beside you at night.

It was late last night the dog was speaking of you;
The snipe was speaking of you in her deep marsh.
It is you are the lonely bird through the woods;
And that you may be without a mate until you find me.

You promised me, and you said a lie to me,
That you would be before me where the sheep are flocked;
I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you,
And I found nothing there but a bleating lamb.

You promised me a thing that was hard for you,
A ship of gold under a silver mast;
Twelve towns with a market in all of them
And a fine white court by the side of the sea.

You promised me a thing that is not possible
That you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish;
That you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird;
And a suit of the dearest silk in Ireland.

O Donal Oge, it is I would be better to you
Than a high, proud, spendthrift lady:
I would milk the cow; I would bring help to you;
And if you were hard pressed, I would strike a blow for you.

You have taken the east from me; you have taken the west from me,
You have taken what is before me and what is behind me;
You have taken the moon, you have taken the sun from me,
And my fear is great that you have taken God from me!

Tr. from the Irish by Augusta Gregory.

The Demon Lover

“O where have you been, my long, long love,
This lang seven years and mair?”
“O I’m come to seek my former vows
Ye granted me before.”

“O hold your tongue of your former vows,
For they will breed sad strife;
O hold your tongue of your former vows,
For I am become a wife.”

He turned him right and round about,
And the tear blinded his ee:
“I wad never hae trodden on Irish ground,
If it had not been for thee.

I might hae had a king’s daughter,
Far, far beyond the sea;
I might have had a king’s daughter,
Had it not been for love o’ thee.”

“If ye might have had a king’s daughter,
Yersel ye had to blame.
Ye might have taken the king’s daughter,
For ye kend that I was nane.”

“If I was to leave my husband dear,
And my two babes also,
O what have you to take me to,
If with you I should go?”

“I hae seven ships upon the sea—
The eighth brought me to land—
With four-and-twenty bold mariners,
And music on ever hand.”

She has taken up her two little babes,
Kissed them both cheek and chin:
“O fair ye weel, my ain two babes,
For I’ll never see you again.”

She set her foot upon the ship
No mariners could she behold;
But the sails were o’ the taffetie,
And the masts o’ the beaten gold.

She had not sailed a league, a league,
A league but barely three,
When dismal grew his countenance,
And drumlie grew his ee.

They had not sailed a league, a league,
A league but barely three,
Until she espied his cloven foot,
And she wept right bitterlie.

“O hold your tongue of your weeping,” says he;
“Of your weeping now let me be;
I will shew you how the lilies grow
On the banks of Italy.”

“O what hills are yon, yon pleasant hills,
That the sun shines sweetly on?”
“O yon are the hills of heaven,” he said,
“Where you will never win.”

“O whaten a mountain is yon,” she said,
“All so dreary wi’ frost and snow?”
“O yon is the mountain of hell,” he cried,
“Where you and I will go.”

He struck the tap-mast wi’ his hand,
The fore-mast wi’ his knee,
And he brake that gallant ship in twain,
And sank her in the sea.



A la très-chère, à la très-belle
Qui remplit mon coeur de clarté,
A l’ange, à l’idole immortelle,
Salut en l’immortalité!

Elle se répand dans ma vie
Comme un air impregné de sel,
Et dans mon âme inassouvie
Verse le goût de l’éternel.

Sachet toujours frais qui parfume
L’atmosphère d’un cher réduit,
Encensoir oublié qui fume
En secret à travers la nuit,

Comment, amour incorruptible,
T’exprimer avec vérité?
Grain de musc qui gis, invisible,
Au fond de mon éternité!

A la très-bonne, à la très-belle
Qui fait ma joie et ma santé,
A l’ange, à l’idole immortelle,
Salut en l’immortalité!

Charles Baudelaire


To the most dear and beautiful
Who fills my heart with radiance,
To the angel, the immortal idol,
All hail in immortality.

She pervades my life
Like a wind imbued with salt
And into my hungry soul
Pours the taste of eternity.

Unfading sachet which perfumes
The air of a beloved retreat,
Forgotten censer which fumes
In secret throughout the night.

How, O incorruptible love,
To express you truly?
Grain of musk, lodged invisibly
In the depths of my eternity.

To the most good and beautiful
Who gives me happiness and health;
To the angel, the immortal idol,
All hail in immortality.

Charles Baudelaire
Tr. JF

The Cottage Hospital

At the end of a long-walled garden
in a red provincial town,
A brick path led to a mulberry,
scanty grass at its feet.
I lay under blackening branches
where the mulberry leaves hung down
Sheltering ruby fruit globes
from a Sunday tea-time heat.
Apple and plum espaliers
basked upon bricks of brown;
The air was swimming with insects,
and children played in the street.

Out of this bright intentness
into the mulberry shade
Musca domestica (housefly)
swung from the August light
Slap into slithery rigging
by the waiting spider made
Which spun the lithe elastic
till the fly was shrouded tight.
Down came the hairy talons
and horrible poison blade
And none of the garden noticed
that fizzing, hopeless fight.

Say in what Cottage Hospital
whose pale green walls resound
With the tap upon polished parquet
on inflexible nurses’ feet
Shall I myself be lying
when they range the screens around?
And shall I groan in dying,
as I twist the sweaty sheet?
Or gasp for breath uncrying
as I feel my senses drown’d
While the air is swimming with insects
and children play in the street?

John Betjeman


Give over seeking bastard joy
Nor cast for Fortune’s side-long look.
Indifference can be your toy;
The bitter heart can be your book.
(Its lesson torment never shook.)

In the cold heart, as on a page,
Spell out the gentle syllable
That puts short limit to your rage
And curdles the straight fire of hell,
Compassing all, so all is well.

Read how, though passion sets in storm
And grief’s a comfort, and the young
Touch at the flint when it is warm
It is the dead we live among,
The dead given motion, and a tongue.

The dead, long trained to cruel sport
And the crude gossip of the grave;
The dead who pass in motley sort,
Whom sun nor sufferance can save.
Face them. They sneer. Do not be brave.

Know once for all: their snare is set
Even now; be sure their trap is laid,
And you will see your lifetime yet
Come to their terms, your plans unmade,—
And be belied, and be betrayed.

Louise Bogan

Fra Bank to Bank

Fra bank to bank, fra wood to wood I rin,
Ourhailit with my feeble fantasie;
Like til a leaf that fallis from a tree,
Or til a reed ourblawin with the win.

Twa gods guides me: the any of tham is blin,
Yes and a bairn brocht up in vanitie;
The next a wife ingenrit of the sea,
And lighter nor a dauphon with her fin.

Unhappy is the man for evermair
That tills the sand and sawis in the air;
But twice unhappier is he, I lairn,
That feidis in his hairt a mad desire,
And follows on a woman throw the fire,
Led by a blind and teachit by a bairn.

Mark Alexander Boyd


When I awoke with cold
And looked for you, my dear,
And the dusk inward rolled,
Not light or dark, but drear,

Unabsolute, unshaped,
That no glass can oppose,
I fled not to escape
Myself, but to transpose.

I have so often fled
Wherever I could drink
Dark coffee and there read
More than a man would think

That I say I waste time
For contemplation’s sake:
In an uncumbered clime
Minute inductions wake,

Insight flows in my pen.
I know nor fear not haste.
Time is my own again.
I waste it for the waste.

J.V. Cunningham


Three matches in a folder, you and me.
I sit and smoke, and now there’s only two,
And one, and none: a small finality
In a continuing world, a thing to do.
And you, fast at your book, whose fingers keep
Its single place as you sift down to sleep.

J.V. Cunningham

The Sun Rising

Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late schoolboys, and sour ‘prentices,
Go tell Court-huntsmen that the King will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices;
Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

Thy beams, so reverend, and strong
Why should’st thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long:
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and tomorrow late, tell me,
Whether both th’Indias of spice and mine
Be where thou left’st them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those Kings whom thou saw’st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, All here in one bed lay.

She is all States, and all Princes, I,
Nothing else is.
Princes doe but play us; compared to this,
All honor’s mimic; All wealth alchimie.
Thou sun art half as happy as we,
In that the world’s contracted thus;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy centre is, these walls, thy sphere.

John Donne

Sur les Lagunes

Tra la, tra la, la, la, la laire!
Qui ne connait pas ce motif?
A nos mamans il a su plaire,
Tendre et gai, moqueur et plaintif.

L’air du Carnival de Venise,
Sur les canaux jadis chanté
Et qu’un soupir de folle brise
Dans le ballet a transporté!

Il me semble, quand on le joue,
Voir glisser dans son bleu sillon
Une gondole avec sa proue
Faites en manche de violon.

Sur une gamme chromatique,
Le sein de perles ruisselant,
La Vénus de l’Adriatique
Sort de l’eau sons corps rose et blanc.

Les dômes, sur l’azur des ondes
Suivant la phrase au pur contour,
S’enflent comme des gorges rondes
Que soulève un soupir d’amour.

L’esquif aborde et me dépose,
Jetant son amarre au pilier,
Devant une façade rose,
Sur le marbre d’un escalier.

Avec ses palais, ses gondolas,
Ses mascarades sur la mer,
Ses doux chagrins, ses gaîtés folles,
Tout Venise vit dans cet air.

Une frêle corde qui vibre
Refait sur un pizzicato,
Comme autrefois joyeuse et libre,
La ville de Canaletto!

Théophile Gautier

On the Lagoons

Tra la, tra la, tra la la laire!
Who doesn’t know that melody?
It captivated our mamas,
Tender and gay, mocking and plaintive.

The air of the Venice carnival,
Sung of old along the canals,
And which a breath of sportive wind
Has wafted into the ballet!

As it is played, I seem to see,
Gliding along in a blue furrow,
A gondola with its curious prow
Shaped like the neck of a violin.

And then, on a chromatic scale,
Her bosom shimmering with pearls,
The Venus of the Adriatic
Rises pink and white from the waves.

The domes across the azure water,
Following the pure line of the phrase,
Swell like the rounded forms of breasts
Lifted by a sigh of love.

The skiff lands and deposits me
(Casting its line around a post)
In front of a rose-coloured palace,
On the marble of a flight of steps.

With its palaces, its gondolas,
Its masquerades upon the sea
Its sweet sorrows, its wild mirth
All of Venice lives in that air.

A single string, vibrating,
Restores on a pizzicato,
As it once was, joyous and free,
The city of Canaletto.

Théophile Gautier (1813–1872)
Tr. JF

Counting the Beats

You, love, and I,
(He whispers) you and I,
And if no more than only you and I
What care you or I?

Counting the beats,
Counting the slow heart beats,
The bleeding to death of time in slow heart beats,
Wakeful they lie.

Cloudless day,
Night, and a cloudless day;
Yet the huge storm will burst upon their heads one day
From a bitter sky.

Where shall we be,
(She whispers) where shall we be,
When death strikes home, O where then shall we be
Who were you and I?

Not there but here,
(He whispers) only here,
As we are, here, together, now and here,
Always you and I.

Counting the beats,
Counting the slow heart beats,
The bleeding to death of time in slow heart beats,
Wakeful they lie.

Robert Graves

The Going

Why did you give no hint that night
That quickly after the morrow’s dawn,
And calmly, as if indifferent quite,
You would close your term here, up and be gone
Where I could not follow
With wing of swallow
To gain one glimpse of you ever anon?

Never to bid good-bye,
Or lip me the softest call,
Or utter a wish for a word, while I
Saw morning harden upon the wall,
Unmoved, unknowing
That your great going
Had place that moment, and altered all.

Why do you make me leave the house
And think for a breath it is you I see
At the end of the alley of bending boughs
Where so often at dusk you used to be;
Till in darkening dankness
The yawning blankness
Of the perspective sickens me!

You were she who abode
By those red-veined rocks far West,
You were the swan-necked one who rode
Along the beetling Beeny Crest,
And, reining nigh me,
Would muse and eye me,
While Life unrolled us its very best.

Why, then, latterly did we not speak,
Did we not think of those days long dead,
And ere your vanishing strive to seek
That time’s renewal? We might have said,
“In this bright spring weather
We’ll visit together
Those places that once we visited.”

Well, well! All’s past amend,
Unchangeable. It must go.
I seem but a dead man held on end
To sink down soon. . . . O you could not know
That such swift fleeing
No soul foreseeing—
Not even I—would undo me so!

Thomas Hardy

The Haunter

He does not think that I haunt here nightly:
How shall I let him know
That whither his fancy sets him wandering
I, too, alertly go?—
Hover and hover a few feet from him
Just as I used to do,
But cannot answer the words he lefts me—
Only listen thereto!

When I could answer he did not say them:
When I could let him know
How I would like to join in his journeys
Seldom he wished to go.
Now that he goes and wants me with him
More than he used to do,
Never he sees my faithful phantom
Though he speaks thereto.

Yes, I companion him to places
Only dreamers know,
Where the shy hares print long paces,
Where the night rooks go;
Into old aisles where the past is all to him,
Close as his shade can do,
Always lacking the power to call to him
Near as I reach thereto!

What a good haunter I am, O tell him!
Quickly make him know
If he but sigh since my loss befell him
Straight to his side I go.
Tell him a faithful one is doing
All that love can do
Still that his path may be worth pursuing,
And to bring peace thereto.

Thomas Hardy

Church Monuments

While that my soul repairs to her devotion,
Here I entomb my flesh, that it betimes
May take acquaintance of this heap of dust,
To which the blast of death’s incessant motion,
Fed with the exhalation of our crimes,
Drives all at last. Therefore I gladly trust

My body to this school, that it may learn
To spell his elements, and find his birth
Written in dusty heraldry and lines;
Which dissolution sure doth best discern,
Comparing dust with dust, and earth with earth.
These laugh at jet and marble, put for signs,

To sever the good fellowship of dust
And spoil the meeting: what shall point out them,
When they shall bow, and kneel, and fall down flat
To kiss those heaps which now they have in trust?
Dear flesh, while I do pray, learn here thy stem
And true descent, that, when thou shalt grow fat,

And wanton in thy cravings, thou may’st know
That flesh is but the glass which holds the dust
That measures all our time; which also shall
Be crumbled into dust. Mark here below
How tame these ashes are, how free from lust,—
That thou mayst fit thyself against thy fall.

George Herbert

Morning Swim

Into my empty head there come
a cotton beach, a dock wherefrom

I set out, oily and nude
through mist, in chilly solitude.

There was no line, no roof or floor
to tell the water from the air.

Night fog thick as terry cloth
closed me in its fuzzy growth.

I hung my bathrobe on two pegs.
I took the lake between my legs.

Invaded and invader, I
went overhand on that flat sky.

Fish twitched beneath me, quick and tame.
In their green zone they sang my name

And in the rhythm of the swim
I hummed a two-four-time slow hymn.

I hummed Abide with Me. The beat
rose in the fine thrash of my feet,

rose in the bubbles I put out
slantwise, trailing through my mouth.

My bones drank water; water fell
through all my doors. I was the well

That fed the lake that met my sea
in which I sang Abide with Me.

Maxine Kumin

Everything Tells Me You Are Near

Everything tells me you are near;
The hail-stones bound along and melt,
In white array the clouds appear,
The spring and you our fields have felt.

Paris, I know, is hard to quit;
But you have left it; and ‘twere silly
To throw away more smiles and wit
Among the forests of Chantilly.

Her moss-paved cell your rose adorns
To tempt you; and your cyclamen
Turns back his tiny twisted horns
As if he heard your voice again.

W.S. Landor

The Mower to the Glow-Worms

Ye living lamps, by whose dear light
The nightingale does sit so late,
And studying all the summer-night,
Her matchless songs does meditate;

Ye country comets, that portend
No war, nor prince’s funeral,
Shining unto no higher end
Than to presage the grasses fall;

Ye glow-worms, whose officious flame
To wandering mowers shows the way,
That in the night have lost their aim,
And after foolish fires do stray;

Your courteous lights in vain you waste,
Since Juliana here is come,
For she my mind hath so displaced
That I shall never find my home.

Andrew Marvell

Rites of Autumn

The lights of Autumn grazed across the fields.
Maple leaves that changed behind our backs
Hung luminous around the napes of trees;
A streetlamp, flickering on, destroyed the dusk.
The leaves that dwindled in the north wind waved
To ships we sailed when summer made us brave.
All day the air lay heavy and the fruit
Grew red and round and ripe.

Underbrush lay burning in a ditch
And as the incense circled through the sky
I saw the ascension of the Springtime wish,
And could have wept, but winds were blowing dry.
I thought, the trees ablaze above the street,
Of the gaiety that comes out of defeat,
And how the year had left us big red fruit
Dropping in the orchard of the heart.

The scent of shoots and bramble smoking brought
Ways a summer died where I was born:
Pumpkin gourds that emptied out my thought,
And grinning at me, cobs of Indian corn;
The pheasant tails that streaked across the wind
Came streaking through the wheatfields of the mind.
O sweet woods that watched the wild deer; young,
The spirited were they who cocked a gun.

O milkweed blowing from the milkweed pod.
Remember those who opened out the heart
And flung the fibers of their hearts to God,
When all around them, worry, weathers, war;
The breath of Winter whispering Retreat,
They sang, they sang, they sang just where we weep:
Cervantes, ragged, eating his wild wit;
Mozart playing in a room unlit.

And walking down the late September street,
Where cloud might bring not cherubim, but blight,
Remember with what arms they decked defeat,
For only such can set the heartbeat right,
Whose life was like that moment when a field
Or any sight that loved us once, revealed
How long the moment, and how short the year,
As when, in towns, I see the wild red deer.

Claire McAllister

The Trees are Down

—and he cried with a loud voice:
Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees


They are cutting down the great plane-trees at the end of the gardens.
For days there has been the grate of the saw, the swish of the branches as they fall,
The crash of trunks, the rustle of trodden leaves,
With the “Whoops” and the “Whoas”, the loud common talk, the loud common laughs of the men, above it all.

I remember one evening of a long past Spring
Turning in at a gate, getting out of a cart, and finding a large dead rat in the mud of the drive.
I remember thinking: alive or dead, a rat was a god-forsaken thing,
But at least, in May, that even a rat should be alive.

The week’s work here is as good as done. There is just one bough
On the roped bole, in the fine grey rain,
Green and high
And lonely against the sky.
(Down now!—)
And but for that,
If an old dead rat
Did once, for a moment, unmake the Spring, I might never have thought of him again.

It is not for a moment the Spring is unmade to-day;
Those were great trees, it was in them from root to stem:
When the men with the “Whoops” and the “Whoas” have carted the whole of the whispering loveliness away
Half the Spring, for me, will have gone with them.

It is going now, and my heart has been struck with the hearts of the planes;
Half my life it has beat with these, in the sun, in the rain,
In the March wind, the May breeze,
In the great gales that came over to them across the roofs from the great seas.
There was only a quiet rain when they were dying;
They must have heard the sparrows flying,
And the small creeping creatures in the earth where they were lying—
But I, all day, I heard an angel crying:
“Hurt not the trees”.

Charlotte Mew

In Time of Pestilence

Adieu, farewell earth’s bliss!
This world uncertain is:
Fond are life’s lustful joys,
Death proves them all but toys.
None from his darts can fly;
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

Rich men, trust not in wealth.
Gold cannot buy you health;
Physic himself must fade;
All things to end are made;
The plague full swift goes by;
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

Beauty is but a flower
Which wrinkles will devour;
Brightness falls from the air;
Queens have died young and fair;
Dust hath closed Helen’s eye;
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

Strength stoops unto the grave,
Worms feed on Hector brave;
Swords may not fight with fate;
Earth still hold ope her gate;
Come, come! The bells do cry;
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

Wit with his wantonness
Tasteth death’s bitterness;
Hell’s executioner
Hath no ears for to hear
What vain art can reply;
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

Haste therefore each degree
To welcome destiny;
Heaven is our heritage,
Earth but a player’s stage.
Mount we unto the sky;
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

Thomas Nashe

The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.

At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
For ever and for ever and for ever.
Why should I climb the look out?

At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-to-yen, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.

You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden;
They hurt me. I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
As far as Cho-fu-Sa.

Tr. Ezra Pound and Ernest Fenollosa

Liu Ch’e

The rustling of the silk is discontinued,
Dust drifts over the court-yard,
There is no sound of footfall, and the leaves
Scurry into heaps and lie still,
And she the rejoicer of the heart is beneath them;

A wet leaf that clings to the threshold.

Ezra Pound.

Sonette an Orpheus: I/I

Da stieg ein Baum. O reine Übersteigung!
O Orpheus singt! O hoher Baum im Ohr!
Und alles schwieg. Doch selbst in der Verschweigung
ging neuer Anfang, Wink und Wandlung vor.

Tiere aus Stille drangen aus dem klaren
gelösten Wald von Lager und Genist;
und da ergab sich, daß sie nicht aus List
und nicht aus Angst in sich so leise waren,

sondern aus Hören. Brüllen, Schrei, Geröhr
schien klein in ihren Herzen. Und wo eben
kaum eine Hütte war, dies zu empfangen,

ein Unterschlupf aus dunkelstem Verlangen
mit einem Zugang, dessen Pfosten beben, —
da schufst du ihnen Tempel im Gehör.

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926)

Sonnets to Orpheus: I/I

A tree ascended there. Oh pure transcendence!
Oh Orpheus sings! Oh tall tree in the ear!
And all things hushed. Yet even in that silence
a new beginning, beckoning, change appeared.

Creatures of stillness crowded from the bright
unbound forest, out of their lairs and nests,
and it was not from any dullness, not
from fear, that they were so quiet in themselves,

but from just listening. Bellow, roar, shriek
seemed small inside their hearts. And where there had been
at most a makeshift hut to receive the music,

a shelter nailed up out of their darkest longing,
with an entryway that shuddered in the wind—
you built a temple deep inside their hearing.

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926)
Tr. Stephen Mitchell

Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of
Rainer Maria Rilke
, ed. and trans. Stephen Mitchell (Modern Library, 1995).

Sonette an Orpheus: I/II

Und fast ein Mädchen wars und ging hervor
aus diesem einigen Glück von Sang und Leier
und glänzte klar durch ihre Frühlingsschleier
und machte sich ein Bett in meinem Ohr.

Und schlief in mir. Und alles war ihr Schlaf.
Die Bäume, die ich je bewundert, diese
fühlbare Ferne, die gefühlte Wiese
und jedes Staunen, das mich selbst betraf.

Sie schlief die Welt. Singender Gott, wie hast
du sie vollendet, daß sie nicht begehrte,
erst wach zu sein ? Sieh, sie erstand und schlief.

Wo ist ihr Tod ? O, wirst du dies Motiv
erfinden noch, eh sich dein Lied verzehrte ? …
Wo sinkt sie hin aus mir ?.. Ein Mädchen fast ..

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926)

Sonnets to Orpheus: I/II

And it was almost a girl and came to be
out of this single joy of song and lyre
and through her green veils shone forth radiantly
and made herself a bed inside my ear.

And slept there. And her sleep was everything:
the awesome trees, the distances I had felt
so deeply that I could touch them, meadows in spring:
all wonders that had ever seized my heart.

She slept the world. Singing god, how was that first
sleep so perfect that she had no desire
ever to wake? See: she arose and slept.

Where is her death now? Ah, will you discover
this theme before your song consumes itself?—
Where is she vanishing? … A girl almost . . . .

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926)
Tr. Stephen Mitchell

Sonette an Orpheus: I/XIII

Voller Apfel! Birne und Banane,
Stachelbeere … Alles dieses spricht
Tod und Leben in den Mund … Ich ahne …
Lest es einem Kind vom Angesicht,

wenn es sie erschmeckt. Dies kommt von weit.
Wird euch langsam namenlos im Munde?
Wo sonst Worte waren, fliessen Funde,
Aus dem Fruchtfleisch überrascht befreit.

Wagt zu sagen, was ihr Apfel nennt.
Diese Süsse, die sich erst verdichtet,
um, im Schmecken leise aufgerichtet,

klar zu werden, wach und transparent,
doppeldeutig, sonnig, erdig, hiesig—
O Erfahrung, Fühlung, Freude—, riesig!

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926)

Sonnets to Orpheus: I/XIII

Plump apple, smooth banana, melon, peach,
gooseberry … How all this affluence
speaks death and life into the mouth … I sense …
Observe it from a child’s transparent features

while he tastes. This comes from far away.
What miracle is happening in your mouth?
Instead of words, discoveries flow out
From the ripe flesh, astonished to be free.

Dare to say what “apple” truly is.
This sweetness that feels thick, dark, dense at first;
Then, exquisitely lifted in your taste,

grows clarified, awake and luminous,
double-meaninged, sunny, earthy, real—
Oh knowledge, pleasure—inexhaustible.

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926)
Tr. Stephen Mitchell

Wenige ihr, der einstigen Kindheit Gespielen

Wenige ihr, der einstigen Kindheit Gespielen
in den zerstreuten Gärten der Stadt:
wie wir uns fanden und uns zögernd gefielen
und wie das Lamm mit dem redenden Blatt,

Sprachen als schweigende. Wenn wir uns einmal freuten,
keinem gehörte es. Wessen wars?
Und wie zergings unter allen den gehenden Leuten
und in Bangen des langen Jahrs.

Wagen umrollten uns fremd, vorübergezogen,
Häuser umstanden uns stark, aber unwahr,—und keines
kannte uns je. Was war wirklich im All?

Nichts. Nur die Bälle. Ihre herrlichen Bogen.
Auch nicht die Kinder…Aber manchmal trat eines,
Ach ein vergehendes, unter den fallenden Ball.

In memoriam Egon von Rilke.
Rainer Maria Rilke

You playmates of mine

You playmates of mine in the scattered parks of the city,
Small friends from a childhood of long ago;
How we found and liked one another, hesitantly,
And, like the lamb with the talking scroll,

Spoke with our silence. When we were filled with joy,
It belonged to no one: it was simply there.
And how it dissolved among all the adults who passed by
And in the fears of the endless year.

Wheels rolled past us, we stood and stared at the carriages;
Houses surrounded us, solid but untrue—and none
Of them ever knew us. What in that world was real?

Nothing. Only the balls. Their magnificent arches.
Not even the children…But sometimes one,
Oh a vanishing one, stepped under the plummeting ball.

In memoriam Egon von Rilke
Tr. Stephen Mitchell



On n’est pas sérieux, quand on a dix-sept ans.
—Un beau soir, foin des bocks et de la limonade,
Des cafés tapageurs aux lustres éclatants!
—On va sous les tilleuls verts de la promenade.

Les tilleuls sentent bon dans les bons soirs de juin!
L’air est parfois si doux, qu’on ferme la paupière;
Le vent chargé de bruits,—la ville n’est pas loin,—
A des parfums de vigne et des parfums de bière…


—Voilà qu’on aperçoit un tout petit chiffon
D’azur sombre, encadré d’une petite branche,
Piqué d’une mauvaise étoile, qui se fond
Avec de doux frissons, petite et toute blanche…

Nuits de juin! Dix-sept ans! On se laisse griser.
La sève est du champagne et vous monte à la tête…
On divague; on se sent aux lèvres un baiser
Qui palpite là, comme une petite bête…


Le coeur fou Robinsonne à travers les romans,
—Lorsque, dans la clarté d’un pâle réverbère,
Passe une demoiselle aux petits airs charmants,
Sous l’ombre du faux-col effrayant de son père…

Et, comme elle vous trouve immensément naïf,
Tout en faisant trotter ses petites bottines,
Elle se tourne, alerte et d’un mouvement vif…
—Sur vos lèvres alors meurent les cavatines…


Vous êtes amoureux. Loué jusqu’au mois d’août.
Vous êtes amoureux.—Vos sonnets La font rire.
Tous vos amis s’en vont, vous êtes mauvais gout.
—Puis l’adorée, un soir, a daigné vous écrire!…

—Ce soir-là,…—vous rentrez aux cafés éclatants,
Vous demandez des bocks ou de la limonade…
—On n’est pas sérieux, quand on a dix-septs ans
Et qu’on a des tilleuls verts sur la promenade.

Arthur Rimbaud (1854–1891)



You’re just not serious at seventeen.
—A fine night—good-bye beer and lemonade,
The rowdy cafés, the dazzling chandeliers!
—You’re off under the lime-trees on the promenade.

Lime-trees smell so good on fine June evenings.
Sometimes the air’s so sweet that you close your eyes.
The breeze laden with sounds—the town’s not far—
wafts the fragrancies of vines and beer.


—Look! Up there you can see a tiny scrap
Of dark blue, framed by a little branch,
And pricked by a naughty star that melts there,
Throbbing gently, tiny and pure white.

A June night! Seventeen! You’re becoming tipsy.
The sap is like champagne, and goes to your head.
You ramble. You feel upon your lips a kiss
Which flutters there like a little live thing.


Your wild heart goes on fabulous voyages.
Then, in the pale light of a street-lamp,
A girl with a charming little air passes,
In the shadow of her papa’s awesome high collar.

And since she finds you marvellously naïve,
All the while trotting along in her little boots,
She turns her head, quickly and alertly—
The tunes die on your lips.


You’re in love—taken until August.
You’re in love. Your sonnets make Her laugh.
Your friends all give you up; you’re a bore.
Then the Adored, one evening, deigns to write you.

That night—you’re back in the glittering cafés.
Ordering beer again, or lemonade.
You’re just not serious at seventeen,
With lime-trees out there, green, on the promenade.

Arthur Rimbaud (1854–1891)
Tr. JF

Au Cabaret-Vert, cinq heures du soir

Depuis huit jours, j’avais déchiré mes bottines
Au cailloux des chemins. J’entrais à Charleroi.
—Au Cabaret-Vert: je demandai des tartines
De beurre et du jambon qui fût à moitié froid.

Bienheureux, j’allongeai les jambes sous la table
Verte: je contemplai les sujets très naîfs
De la tapisserie.—Et ce fût adorable,
Quand la fille aux tétons enormes, aux yeux vifs,

—Celle-là, ce n’est pas un baiser qui l’épeure!—
Rieuse, m’apporta des tartines de beurre,
Du jambon tiède, dans un plat colorié,

Du jambon rose et blanc parfumé d’une gousse
D’ail,—et m’emplit la chope immense, avec sa mousse
Que dorait un rayon de soleil arriéré.

Arthur Rimbaud (1854–1891)

At the Green Tavern
5.00 p.m.

For a whole week I’d been wrecking my boots
On those stony roads. I came into Charleroi,
To the Green Tavern; I ordered slabs of bread,
Buttered, and some warmed-up ham.

Contentedly, I stretched my legs out under the green
Table. I studied the artless patterns
On the wallpaper. And it was lovely
When the girl with the big tits and sparkling eyes—

You wouldn’t scare that one with a kiss!—
Laughing, brought me the buttered bread,
And the warm ham, on a coloured dish

(Pink-and-white ham, scented with a clove
Of garlic), and filled a huge beer mug for me, whose foam
Was turned to gold by a late sunbeam.

Arthur Rimbaud (1854–1891)
Tr. JF

Eros Turannos

She fears him, and will always ask
What fated her to choose him;
She meets in his engaging mask
All reasons to refuse him;
But what she meets and what she fears
Are less than are the downward years,
Drawn slowly to the foamless weirs
Of age, were she to lose him.

Between a blurred sagacity,
That once had power to sound him,
And Love, that will not let him be
The Judas that she found him,
Her pride assuages her almost,
As if it were alone the cost.—
He sees that he will not be lost,
And waits and looks around him.

A sense of ocean and old trees
Envelops and allures him;
Tradition, touching all he sees,
Beguiles and reassures him;
And all her doubts of what he says
Are dimmed with what she knows of days—
Till even prejudice delays
And fades, and she secures him.

The falling leaf inaugurates
The reign of her confusion;
The pounding wave reverberates
The dirge of her illusion;
And home, where passion lived and died,
Becomes a place where she can hide,
While all the town and harbor side
Vibrate with her seclusion.

We tell you, tapping on our brows,
The story as it should be,—
As if the story of a house
Were told, or ever could be;
We’ll have no kindly veil between
Her visions and those we have seen,—
As if we guessed what hers have been,
Or what they are or would be.

Meanwhile we do no harm; for they
That with a god have striven,
Not hearing much of what we say,
Take what the god has given;
Though like waves breaking it may be,
Or like a changed familiar tree,
Or like a stairway to the sea
Where down the blind are driven.

Edwin Arlington Robinson

The Woodspurge

The wind flapped loose, the wind was still,
Shaken out dead from tree and hill:
I had walked on at the wind’s will,—
I sat now, for the wind was still.

Between my knees my forehead was,—
My lips, drawn in, said not Alas!
My hair was over in the grass,
My naked ears heard the day pass.

My eyes, wide open, had the run
Of some ten weeds to fix upon;
Among those few, out of the sun,
The woodspurge flowered, three cups in one.

From perfect grief there need not be
Wisdom or even memory;
One thing then learnt remains to me,—
The woodspurge has a cup of three.

D.G. Rossetti


Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Edward Thomas

The Owl

Downhill I came, hungry, and yet not starved;
Cold, yet had heat within me that was proof
Against the North wind; tired, yet so that rest
Had seemed the sweetest thing under a roof.

Then at the inn I had food, fire, and rest,
Knowing how hungry, cold, and tired was I.
All of the night was quite barred out except
An owl’s cry, a most melancholy cry

Shaken out long and clear upon the hill,
No merry note, nor cause of merriment,
But one telling me plain what I escaped
And others could not, that night, as in I went.

And salted was my food, and my repose,
Salted and sobered, too, by the bird’s voice
Speaking for all who lay under the stars,
Soldiers and poor, unable to rejoice.

Edward Thomas

Ballade des Pendus

Freres humains qui après nous vivez,
N’ayez les cuers contre nous endurcis,
Car, se pitié de nous povres avez,
Dieu en aura plus tost de vous mercis.
Vous nous voiez cy attaches cinq, six:
Quant de la chair, que trop avons nourrie,
Elle est pieça devorée et pourrie,
Et nous, les os, devenons cendre et pouldre.
De nostre mal personne ne s’en rie,
Mais priez Dieu que tous nous vueille absouldre!

Se freres vous clamons, pas n’en devez
Avoir desdaing, quoy que fusmes occis
Par justice. Toutefois, vous sçavez
Que tous hommes n’ont pas bon sens rassis;
Excusez nous, puis que sommes transsis,
Envers le fils de la Vierge Marie,
Que sa grace ne soit pour nous tarie,
Nous preservant de l’infernale fouldre.
Nous sommes mors, ame ne nous harie;
Mais priez Dieu que tous nous vueille absouldre!

La pluye nous a debuez et lavez,
Et le soleil dessechiez et noircis;
Pies, corbeaulx, nous ont les yeux cavez,
Et arraché la barbe at les sourcis.
Jamais nul temps nous ne sommes assis;
Puis ça, puis la, comme le vent varie,
A son plaisir sans cesser nous charie,
Plus becquetez d’oiseaulx que dez a couldre.
Ne soiez donc de nostre confrairie,
Mais priez Dieu que tous nous vueille absouldre!

Prince Jhesus, qui sur tous a maistrie,
Garde qu’Enfer n’ait de nous seigneurie;
A luy n’ayons que faire ne que souldre.
Hommes, icy n’a point de mocquerie;
Mais priez Dieu que tous nous vueille absouldre!

François Villon

Ballade of the Gibbet

O brother men who live on after us,
Don’t let your hearts set stonily against us;
If you yourselves can pity us poor wretches
God will the sooner have mercy upon you.
You see us dangling here, three, four, five, six,
As for the flesh which we indulged so much,
It’s shredded, eaten up, and rotted away.
And we the bones will soon be dust and ashes.
Let nobody make fun of our misfortune,
But pray to God that he forgive us all.

If we claim you as brothers, don’t reject us
Scornfully, though we were put to death
By Justice, for you know that as things are
Not everyone is born with the same good sense.
Plead for us, now that we’re dead and gone,
To the son of the ever-blesséd Virgin Mary
That his compassion not cease flowing for us,
Preserving us from the thunderbolts of Hell.
We are the dead, let none of you torment us,
But pray to God that he forgive us all.

The rain has leached and softened up our skin,
And the sun shriveled it and burned it black.
Magpies and crows have winkled out our eyes
And ripped away our eyebrows and our beards.
Never at any moment have we been still,
Spun here and there while the wind shifts about
As the whim takes it, never ceasing to mock us,
Pecked and pocked by birds worse than a thimble.
Don’t you become one of our company,
But pray to God that he forgive us all.

Prince Jesus who has dominion over all ,
Keep Hell from claiming lordship over us,
There truly isn’t anything we owe it.
O men, there’s nothing here for mockery,
But pray to God that he forgive us all.

François Villon
Tr. J.F.

At the San Francisco Airport

To my daughter, 1954

This is the terminal: the light
Gives perfect vision, false and hard;
The metal glitters, deep and bright.
Great planes are waiting in the yard—
They are already in the night.

And you are here beside me, small,
Contained and fragile, and intent
On things that I but half recall—
Yet going whither you are bent.
I am the past, and that is all.

But you and I in part are one:
The frightened brain, the nervous will,
The knowledge of what must be done,
The passion to acquire the skill
To face that which you dare not shun.

The rain of matter upon sense
Destroys me momently. The score:
There comes what will come. The expense
Is what one thought, and something more—
One’s being and intelligence.

This is the terminal, the break.
Beyond this point, on lines of air,
You take the way that you must take;
And I remain in light and stare—
In light, and nothing else, awake.

Yvor Winters

Written in a Copy of Swift’s Poems for Wayne Burns

I promised once if I got hold of
This book, I’d send it on to you.
These are the songs that Roethke told of,
The curious music loved by few.
I think of lanes in Laracor
Where Brinsley MacNamara wrote
His lovely elegy, before
The Yahoos got the Dean by rote.

Only, when Swift-men are all gone
Back to their chosen fields by train
And the drunk Chairman snores alone,
Swift is alive in secret, Wayne:
Singing for Stella’s happiest day,
Charming a charming man, John Gay,
And greeting, now their bones are lost,
Pope’s beautiful, electric ghost.

Here are some songs he lived in, kept
Secret from almost everyone
And laid away, while Stella slept,
Before he slept, and died, alone.
Gently, listen, the great shade passes,
Magnificent, who still can bear,
Beyond the range of horses’ asses,
Nobilities, light, light and air.

James Wright

They Flee from Me

They flee from me, that sometime did me seek
With naked foot, stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them gentle, tame, and meek,
That now are wild, and do not remember
That sometime they put themselves in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range
Busily seeking with a continual change.

Thanked be fortune it hath been otherwise
Twenty times better; but once, in special,
In thin array, after a pleasant guise,
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
And she me caught in her arms long and small,
Therewith all sweetly did me kiss,
And softly said: Dear heart, how like you this?

It was no dream; I lay broad waking.
But all is turned, thorough my gentleness,
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
And I have leave to go of her goodness:
And she also to use newfangleness.
But since that I so kindly am served,
I would fain know what she hath deserved.

Thomas Wyatt

The Wild Swans at Coole

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

W.B. Yeats

An Irish Airman Foresees His Death

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

W.B. Yeats

Sailing to Byzantium


That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.


An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.


O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.


Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

W.B. Yeats


Maxine Kumin’s “Morning Swim” can be found in her Selected Poems, 1960-1990 (N.Y., W.W. Norton, 1997). My thanks to the author and publisher for their permission to reproduce it here.

J.V.Cunningham’s “Coffee” and “Night-piece” can be found in The Collected Poems and Epigrams of J.V. Cunningham (Chicago, Swallow Press, 1971) They are reproduced here by permission of Ohio University Press/Swallow Press.

Yvor Winters’ “At the San Francisco Airport” can be found in his Collected Poems, rev ed. (Alan Swallow, 1960). It is reproduced here by permission of Ohio University Press/Swallow Press.


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