They Were Burning Dead Leaves

They were burning dead leaves.  Must oozed with scent,

tar bubbled and blew.

The moonlight glow behind the thistle bent

like a torn rainbow.

 

The street was a forest, night slid into the heart

of deepest autumn.

A guilty music blew the house aprt

with its fife and drum.

 

To have this again, just this, just the once more:

I would sink below

autumnal earth and place my right hand in your

hand like a shadow.

 

Zsuzsa Rakovszky

 

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The High Hills

The high hills have a bitterness

Now they are not known

and memory is poor enough consolation

For the soul hopeless gone.

Up in the air there beech tangles wildly into the wind –

That I can imagine

But the speed, the swiftness, walking into clarity,

Like last year’s bryony are gone.

 

Ivor Gurney (1954)

Possessions

Sand has the ants, clay ferny weeds for play

But what shall please the wind now the trees are away

War took on Witcombe steep?

It breathes there, and wonders at old  night roarings;

October time at all lights, and the new clearings

For memory are like to weep.

It was right for the beeches to stand over Witcombe reaches,

Until the wind roared and softened and died to sleep.

 

Ivor Gurney (1934)

To His Love

 

 

He’s gone, and all our plans

are useless indeed.

We’ll no more walk on Cotswold

Where the sheep feed

Quietly and take no heed.

 

His body that was so quick

Is not as you

Knew it, on Severn river

Under the blue

Driving our small boat through.

 

You would not know him now…

But still he died

Nobly, so cover him over

with violets of pride

Purple from Severn side.

 

Cover, cover him soon!

And with thick-set

Masses of memoried flowers –

Hide that red wet

Thing I must somehow forget.

Ivor Gurney

The Reproach

You have betrayed me, Eros.

You have sent me

my true love.

 

On a high hill you made

his clear gaze;

my heart was not

so hard as your arrow.

 

What is a poet

without dreams?

I lie awake; I feel

actual flesh upon me

meaning to silence me –

Outside, in the blackness

over the olive trees,

a few stars.

 

I think this is a bitter insult:

that I prefer to walk

the coiled paths of the garden

to walk beside the river

glittering with drops

of mercury. I like to lie

in the wet grass beside the river,

running away, Eros,

not openly, with other men,

but discreetly, coldly –

 

All my life

I have worshiped the wrong gods.

When I watch the trees

on the other side,

the arrow in my heart

is like one of them,

swaying and quivering.

 

Louise Gluck

It’s This Way

I stand in the advancing light,

my hands hungry, the world beautiful.

 

My eyes can’t get enough of the trees –

they’re so hopeful, so green.

 

A sunny road runs through the mulberries,

I’m at the window of the prison infirmary.

 

I can’t smell the medicines –

carnations must be blooming nearby.

 

It’s this way:

being captured is beside the point,

the point is not to surrender.

 

NÂZIM HIKMET

translated from the Turkish by Randy Blasing & Mutlu Konuk

The Place Where We Are Right

From the place where we are right

flowers will never grow

in the spring.

 

The place where we are right

is hard and trampled

like a yard.

 

But doubts and loves

dig up the world

like a mole, a plow.

And a whisper will be heard in the place

where the ruined

house once stood.

 

YEHUDA AMICHAI translated from the Hebrew by Stephen Mitchell

The Layers

I have walked through many lives,

some of them my own,

and I am not who I was,

though some principle of being abides,

from which I struggle not to stray.

When I look behind,

as I am compelled to look

before I can gather strength

to proceed on my journey,

I see the milestones dwindling toward the horizon

and the slow fires trailing

from the abandoned camp-sites,

over which scavenger angels wheel on heavy wings.

Oh, I have made myself a tribe out of my true affections,

and my tribe is scattered!

How shall the heart be reconciled to its feast of losses?

In a rising wind the manic dust of my friends,

those who fell along the way, bitterly stings my face.

Yet I turn, I turn, exulting somewhat,

with my will intact to go wherever I need to go,

and every stone on the road precious to me.

In my darkest night,

when the moon was covered and I roamed through wreckage,

a nimbus-clouded voice directed me:

‘Live in the layers, not on the litter.’

Though I lack the art to decipher it,

no doubt the next chapter in my book

of transformations is already written.

I am not done with my changes.

 

Stanley Kunitz

Donal Og

 

It is 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.

When I go by myself to the Well of Loneliness,
I sit down and I go through my trouble;
when I see the world and do not see my boy,
he that has an amber shade in his hair.

It was on that Sunday I gave my love to you;
the Sunday that is last before Easter Sunday
and myself on my knees reading the Passion;
and my two eyes giving love to you for ever.

My mother has said to me not to be talking with you today,
or tomorrow, or on the Sunday;
it was a bad time she took for telling me that;
it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.

My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe,
or as the black coal that is on the smith’s forge;
or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls;
it was you put that darkness over my life.

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!

 

Augusta, Lady Gregory (1903)

Final Notations

it will not be simple, it will not be long
it will take little time, it will take all your thought

it will take all your heart, it will take all your breath
it will be short, it will not be simple

it will touch through your ribs, it will take all your heart
it will not be long, it will occupy your thought
as a city is occupied, as a bed is occupied
it will take all your flesh, it will not be simple

You are coming into us who cannot withstand you
you are coming into us who never wanted to withstand you
you are taking parts of us into places never planned
you are going far away with pieces of our lives

it will be short, it will take all your breath
it will not be simple, it will become your will

Adrienne Rich