The Nacreous Oughts

26 June 2008

This is not the moon,
nor is this the spring,
of other springs,
and I alone
am still the same.

--Ariwara no Narihira (tr Rexroth)

This is not that moon
And it cannot be this is the spring
Such as the spring I knew;
I am myself the single thing
Remaining as it ever was.

(tr Earl Miner)

This is not that spring,
nor even the selfsame song
so broken-hearted.
I myself am the one thing
staying as it ever was.

(my tr.)

Someone passes,
and while I wonder
if it is he,
the midnight moon
is covered with clouds.

--Lady Murasaki (tr Rexroth)

Night in the garden;
someone passes. I wonder
if it could be him
as the moon, till now unseen,
disappears behind a cloud.

(my new tr.)

Steps in the garden.
And while i wonder whether
it is he i seek,
the terrible plenilune
slides behind a cloud curtain.


The white chrysanthemum
is disguised by the first frost.
If I wanted to pick one
I could find it only by chance.

--Oshikochi no Mitsune (tr Rexroth)

White chrysanthemums,
lost amidst the handiwork
of this first snowfall:
if i tried to pick one i
could find it only by chance.

(my tr.)


I did see the moth go up
To the lighted candle,
Then nothing else besides
A startled flame.

The life of the company
Was only a wink;
The cup departed taking
With it the eye-bedewed.

If a hundred roses boomed
It mattered not;
How long ago was it
That I went to the garden?

--Mohammad Taqi Mir (tr Ahmed Ali)

25 June 2008

    from Paradise Lost (242-263)

"Is this the region, this the soil, the clime,"
Said then the lost Archangel, "this the seat
That we must change for Heav'n, this mournful gloom
For that celestial light? Be it so, since he
Who now is sov'reign can dispose and bid
What shall be right: farthest from him is best
Whom reason hath equaled, force hath made supreme
Above is equals. Farewell happy fields
Where joy forever dwells: Hail, horrors, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new possessor: one who brings
A mind not to be changed by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less than he
Whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th' Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav'n..."

--John Milton

23 June 2008

Pity me not because the light of day
At close of day no longer walks the sky;
Pity me not for beauties passed away
From field and thicket as the the year goes by;
Pity me not the waning of the moon,
Nor that the ebbing tide goes out to sea,
Nor that a man's desire is hushed so soon,
And you no longer look with love on me.
This have I known always: Love is no more
Than the wide blossom which the wind assails,
Than the great tide that treads the shifting shore,
Strewing fresh wreckage gathered in the gales:
Pity me that the heart is slow to learn
What the swift mind beholds at every turn.

--Edna St Vincent Millay

22 June 2008

    "The Lady with the Heron"

I walk athirst
In a month of rain;
Drought I learned
At the feet of a heron.

Green trees, full rivers;
Athirst I went,
With a shrieking bird
In the drawn breath.

At the only spring
When I went for water
I met a lady
And thirst I had none.

I say, at the fountain
There I met a lady,
She led a blue heron
By the beck of her hand.

Moon-wise the owl is,
The wren not tame,
But I unlearned patience
At the feet of a heron.

So deep the water
As those her eyes
Kissed I never
At the lip of April.

Drink, sir, she said,
Of so sweet water.
The bird was blind
That she led by a shadow.

Lady, I said,
Thirst is no longer.
But she led my eyes
By the beck of her hand.

Of her eyes I drank
And no other water.
Hope I unlearned
At the feet of a bird.

And saw no face
When I bent there;
Such saw I never
In other water.

My lips not wet,
Yet was she gone
Leading a heron
By the shade of her hand.

And my eyes thirst
On the birdless air;
Blindness I learned
At the feet of a heron.

--W S Merwin

20 June 2008

    "Wind on the Lyre"

That was the chirp of Ariel
You heard, as overhead it flew,
The farther going more to dwell,
And wing our green to wed our blue;
But whether note of joy or knell,
Not his own Father-singer knew;
Nor yet can any mortal tell,
Save only how it shivers through;
The breast of us a sounded shell,
The blood of us a lighted dew,

--George Meredith

    To his Coy Mistress

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love's day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv'd virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am'rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp'd power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

--Andrew Marvell

    from Doctor Faustus

Was this the face that Launcht a thousand ships,
And burnt the toplesse Towers of Ilium?
Sweet Hellen make me immortall with a kisse:
Her lips sucke forth my soule, see where it flies.
Come Hellen, come, give me my soul againe,
Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lippes,
And all is drosse that is not Helena.

I will be Paris, and for love of thee,
In stead of Troy shall Wittenberg be sack't,
And I will combat with weake Menelaus,
And weare thy colours on my plumèd crest.
Yea, I will wound Achilles in the heele,
And then returne to Hellen for a kisse.
O thou art fairer than the evenings aire,
Clad in the beauty of a thousand starres:
Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter,
When he appear'd to haplesse Semele:
More lovely then the Monarch of the sky,
In wanton Arethusa's azur'd armes,
And none but thou shalt be my Paramour.

--Christopher Marlowe


Your narrow shoulders were meant to redden under
whips, redden under whips, burn in frost.

Your child-hands were meant to lift hot irons,
to lift hot irons and weave ropes.

Your tender feet were meant to walk bare over
glass, walk bare over glass and bloody sand.

Well, and I was meant to burn for you like a
black candle, burn like a black candle and never dare pray.

--Osip Mandelshtam (tr Raffel & Burago)

Better: The Sea-Shell.

19 June 2008

    "Petit Testament"

In the twenty-fifth year of my age
I find myself to be a dromedary
That has run short of water between
One oasis and the next mirage
And having despaired of ever
Making my obsessions intelligible
I am content at last to be
The sole clerk of my metamorphoses.
Begin here:

In the year 1943
I resigned to the living all collateral images
reserving to myself a man's
Inalienable right to be sad
At his own funeral.
(Here the peacock blinks the eyes
of his multipennate tail.)
In the same year
I said to my love (who is living)
Dear we shall never be that verb
Perched on the sole Arabian tree
Not having learnt in our green age to forget
The sins that flow between the hands and feet
(Here the Tree weeps gum tears
Which are also real; I tell you
These things are real)
So I forced a parting
Scrubbing my few dingy words to brightness.

Where I have lived
The bed-bug sleeps in the seam, the cockroach
Inhabits the crack and the careful spider
Spins his aphorisms in the corner.
I have heard them shout in the streets
The chiliasms of the Socialist Reich
And in the magazines I have read
The Popular Front-to-Back.
But where I have lived
Spain weeps in the gutters of Footscray
Guernica is the ticking of the clock
The nightmare has become real, not as belief
But in the scrub-typhus of Mubo.

It is something to be at last speaking
Though in this No-Man's-language appropriate
Only to No-Man's-Land.
Set this down too:
I have pursued rhyme, image, and metre,
Known all the clefts in which the foot may stick,
Stumbled often, stammered,
But in time the fading voice grows wise
And seizing the co-ordinates of all existence
Traces the inevitable graph
And in conclusion:
There is a moment when the pelvis
Explodes like a grenade. I
Who have lived in the shadow that each act
Casts on the next act now emerge
As loyal as the thistle that in session
Puffs its full seed upon the indicative air.
I have split the infinitive. Beyond is anything.

--Ern Malley

    Ses purs ongles très haut dédiant leur onyx

Her chaste nails so highly dedicating their onyx,
Anguish, this midnight torchbearer, saves
many an evening's reverie burned with the phoenix
otherwise bound for no crematory vase.
On the sideboards, in the empty parlor: ptyxless,
gewgaw-banned resounding banality
for the Boss is gone to dip tears from the Styx,
only that--and Nothing will thus be honored...
Near the northerly vacant casement, gilt
convulses as per perhaps the setting
from unicorns bucking fire against an elf;
she, late nude of the mirror, however,
into the vacuum by those edges held
abides among twinklings presently the Seven.

--Stéphane Mallarmé (my tr.)

from Alexandra (302-313):

This, this shall gnaw my heart! then shall I feel
The venom'd pang, the rankling of the soul;
Then when the eagle, bony, gaunt, and grim,
Shall wave his shadowy wings, and plough the winds
On clanging penns, and o'er the subject plain
Wheel his wide-circling flight in many a gyre,
Pounce on his prey, scream loud with savage joy,
And plunge his talons in my brother's breast,
(My best beloved, my father's dear delight,
Our hope, our stay!) then, soaring to the clouds,
Shower down his blood upon his native woods,
And bathe the terrors of his beak in gore.

--Lycophron (tr Royston, 1806)

12 June 2008

    from Pharsalia (V. 219-224)

...and as she was carried back to the common day
out of the sacred radiance she saw destiny in,
a darkness came between. The Healer threw
Stygian Lethe in her guts
so he could grab his secrets. Then the truth
left her breast, and the futures returned to the tripods.
--She fell, to be barely revived.

(my tr; 1983)

Now by degrees the fire aetherial fail'd,
And the dull human sense again prevail'd;
While Phoebus, sudden, in a marky shade,
Hid the past vision from the mortal maid.
Thick clouds of dark oblivion rose between,
And snatch away at once the wondrous scene;
Stretch'd on the ground the fainting princess lies,
While to the Tripod, back, th' informing spirit flies.

--Marcus Annaeus Lucanus (tr Rowe 1718)

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