Fragments from the year 1989
. . . Mute, my head covered, I stand with a pebble on my lips in front of a wall of fire and oblivion counted among the helpers of death . . . Take the ash from me, take the weight from me it's not my fault, let me carry to the other shore of the wound: penitence, pity . . . Dawn, the color of the Seine, color of wormwood and gall
Save Me, Guide Me
Save me, shield me, faithful journey, from my own lies and from our era. Protect me, you, Angel and Guardian, but you, White Cloud, guide me. Keep me from thunder, hurricane, immaculate truth, give me light. Don't overlook me, little dove, when you send us a sign from the heights. Forgive me, twilight, don't pierce me, spear of nightmares. Don't bless me with madness, wake me, morning star.
A Dove in the Distance
A dove in the distance fluttered, flitting through the forest— unable to recover she flew up, flustered, hovering, circling round her lover. She’d thought the thousand years to the Time of the End about to come and was confounded in her designs, and tormented by her lover, over the years was parted from Him—her soul descending...
Why is my beloved so haughty, and why is He so angry with me? Before Him why do I shake like a reed? He's forgotten how I walked in the wilderness after Him—and doesn't respond, though I plead. If He kills me still I will trust in Him. If He hides His face, to His goodness I'll turn. The Lord's favor to His servant will not alter— for how could the finest gold go dim? © Peter Cole. From The...
In the Mountains, Sent to Ch’an Brothers and Sisters
Dharma companions filling mountains, a sangha1 forms of itself: chanting, sitting ch'an2 stillness. Looking out from distant city walls, people see only white clouds. 1A community of Buddhist practitioners. 2Ch'an is the Chinese translation of dhyana, Sanskrit for "sitting meditation." The Ch'an (Zen) Buddhist sect takes that name because it focuses so resolutely on sitting meditation. From Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China, forthcoming...
In Reply to Su, Who Visited My WheelRim River Hermitage When I Wasn’t There to Welcome Him
I live humbly near the canyon's mouth where stately trees ring village ruins. When you came on twisted rocky paths, who welcomed you at my mountain gate? Fishing boats frozen into icy shallows, hunting fires out across cold headlands, and in all this quiet beyond white clouds, wild gibbons heard among distant bells. From Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China, forthcoming from New Directions.
Mourning Yin Yao
Returning you to StoneTower Mountain, we bid farewell among ash-green pine and cyprus, then return home. Of your bones, now buried white cloud, this much remains forever: streams cascading empty toward human realms. From Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China, forthcoming from New Directions.
Adrift on the Lake
Autumn sky illuminates itself all empty distances away toward far human realms, cranes off horizons of sand tracing its clarity into mountains beyond clouds. Crystalline waters quiet settling night. Moonlight leaving idleness everywhere ablaze, I trust myself to this lone paddle, this calm on and on, no return in sight. From Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China, forthcoming from New Directions.
On Returning to WheelRim River
At the canyon's mouth, a far-off bell stirs. Woodcutters and fishermen scarcer still, sunset distant in these distant mountains, I verge on white clouds, returning alone. Frail water-chestnut vines never settle, and light cottonwood blossoms fly easily. Spring grass coloring the east ridge, all ravaged promise, I close my bramble gate. From Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China, forthcoming from New Directions.
In Reply to Vice-Magistrate Chang
In these twilight years, I love tranquility alone. Mind free of our ten thousand affairs, self-regard free of all those grand schemes, I return to my old forest, knowing empty. Soon mountain moonlight plays my ch'in.* Pine winds loosen my robes. Explain this inner pattern behind failure and success? Fishing song carries into shoreline depths. *The ch'in is the ancient stringed instrument that Chinese poets used to accompany the chanting of their poems...
I don't look over my shoulder, no idea where I'm going and not an ounce of fear, falling like fluff from an eiderdown quilt and piercing the afternoon air, real as an hour of solitude or the fragrance of a certain herb: my wounds are healed over and all five senses in sync, harmonized to the birds and the sky, the grimy wall of an underpass with graffiti scratched in a child's hand, announcing I was here. But not only here, my lord, as you know, I go where you want...
Karbala as Court Case
Karbala is a medium-sized city in central Iraq, recently the scene of violent clashes between U.S. troops and Iraqi militants loyal to the young Shi'a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. But for Shi'a Muslims around the world Karbala is both a town and a tragedy, the point at which history began to go wrong. In the year 680 A.D., soldiers of the Sunni Ummayad dynasty, led by the depraved caliph Yazid bin Muwayiah (c 645-683 A.D.), confronted the Prophet Mohammed's grandson Hussein in a...
How to Read a Translation
Among the many pronouncements that have shaped our understanding of literary translation, perhaps none is more often echoed than John Dryden's preface to his version of the Aeneid. "I have endeavoured to make Virgil speak such English," asserted Dryden, "as he would himself have spoken, if he had been born in England, and in this present Age." No doubt Dryden's achievement is to have made many of his contemporaries believe that he had impersonated the Latin poet. But this is...
The Oracles of the Virgin Music is the art which is most nigh to tears and memory.--Oscar Wilde Buried inside us were the sounds of the words our parents managed to utter in the moment of intercourse before they fell silent at the wonder of budding life. Buried inside us were the sounds of the songs we heard in the cradle before our mothers had forgotten the oracles of the Virgin. Buried inside us were the sounds of the grinding of...
Two brothers, the first two brothers. Conceived on the threshold of paradise, so to speak, when Adam and Eve, driven out by the cherubim with the flaming sword that turned every way, took up residence in this our world. Such an origin undoubtedly represents a great mark of distinction compared to subsequent generations. Nevertheless, it carries a side effect, a certain inexperience, a naïve ignorance of what would later become the most common human sentiments. Thus Eve coupled with...
from Songs of Friendship and Love
Snoopy Goes to Kasimov I used to torture myself over the question, I was baffled by it: to what could I attribute the incontrovertible fact of my total lack of literary talent? A fluke of nature? Blind chance? Genetic aberration? And this in a family tree, mind you, that's produced five writers minimum, two of which, in the opinion of their contemporaries, made a sizable contribution to the treasurehouse of Russian belles-lettres. My grandfather, who during his lifetime was honored...
I learn things by myself, which is why it takes so long. I'm asking you to be patient. That's not asking much. I learn by myself, learn to cross the village, it's not every day I recognize you in the timberwork of the roof, the builders' sweat alight in the air even now. The river is sluggish here, the lake is asleep, one's step less heavy, but I'm no longer convinced I've read it right: instructions for painting a woodpecker's wings in red and...
Mourning Meng Hao-jan
My dear friend* nowhere in sight, this Han River keeps flowing east. Now, if I look for old masters here, I find empty rivers and mountains. *Meng Hao-jan was another of China's great poets and Wang Wei's immediate poetic predecessor. From Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China, forthcoming from New Directions.
Cywydd Mawl Brodyr Bod Iwan
For the English translation, please click here. Mae duwiau ym Mod Iwan, duwiau'r gair, brodyr y gân, yn dduwiau traed ar ddaear, duwiau gwyllt, eneidiau gwâr: Gerallt, sydd yn dallt y daith yn ôl i Fadryn eilwaith; ac Edmwnd, Edmwnd a âyr fod twrw'n sân a synnwyr; y dâr mawr, yr adar mân - maen nhw yng nghwmni Ieuan: Bu dau wrth fwrdd Bod Iwan, dau a'u hiaith yn llwch ar dân, mwg o iaith ar y paith...
The Two Boys
Two Romany boys were sent, sent across the great sea. Plato for brawling, Lasho for stealing the purse of a great lady. And when they came to the other land, The land that's over the sea, Plato was quickly hung, but Lasho became husband to a great lady. Do you want to know who the lady was? It was the lady from whom he'd stolen the purse: The boy had a black witching eye, And she had followed him across the great sea.
Oot Here Mae Lane
I lift't the harnesh fae ahint the oul doar, whur it haes hug fae iver I mine, The cullar an' hames maybe ouler than me, an' a bit o' a ravell't oul' rein, An' oul' bridle an' straps that sa' monies a crap, an' an oul snaffle that shines lak' a shillin', I hae cover't some grun, but mae best deys be's done, I'm wake but mae spirit is...