Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sonnets to Orpheus - Rainer Maria Rilke


O you lovers that are so gentle, step occasionally
into the breath of the sufferers not meant for you,
let it be parted by your cheeks,
it will tremble, joined again, behind you.

You have been choosen, you are sound and whole,
you are like the very first beat of the heart,
you are the bow that shoots the arrows, and also their target
in tears your smile would glow forever.

Do not be afraid to suffer, give
the heaviness back to the weight of the earth;
mountains are heavy, seas are heavy.

Even those trees you planted as children
became too heavy long ago - you couldn't carry them now.
But you can carry the winds...and the open spaces...

translated by Robert Bly

Words like, unhappy, misery, was compelled to, suffered and borne are sprinkled liberally throughout the biography of Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) the Czech-born poet. Given that background it is unsurprising that the turning point of his artistic life came on a trip to Russia, a country with as many synonyms for misery as Eskimos have for snow. He died almost completely unknown, no surprise there. But, also no surprise, his reputation as a great poet has grown steadily since then.

I did deliberately choose this poem and this translation to end the Poem of the Day for another year. It has just the right mix of burden and optimism that seems to release the reader into, well, the open spaces.

Thank you all for your support, your comments and your enthusiasm. I hope you enjoyed reading these as much as I enjoyed sending them.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Ballad - Sonia Sanchez

(after the spanish)

forgive me if i laugh
you are so sure of love
you are so young
and i too old to learn of love.

the rain exploding
in the air is love
the grass excreting her
green wax is love
and stones remembering
past steps is love,
but you. you are too young
for love
and i too old.

once. what does it matter
when or who, i knew
of love.
i fixed my body
under his and went
to sleep in love
all trace of me
was wiped away

forgive me if i smile
young heiress of a naked dream
you are so young
and i too old to learn of love.

Sonia Sanchez (b. 1934) has written poems, essays, plays and childrens books. She is a teacher, organizer and lecturer. Among the many honors she has received are the Community Service Award from the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, the Lucretia Mott Award, the Outstanding Arts Award from the Pennsylvania Coalition of 100 Black Women, the Peace and Freedom Award from Women International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), the Pennsylvania Governor's Award for Excellence in the Humanities, a National Endowment for the Arts Award, and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Acrobats - Shel Silverstein

I'll swing
By my ankles,
She'll cling
To your knees
As you hang
By your nose
From a high-up
Just one thing, please,
As we float through the breeze--
Don't sneeze.

Shel Silverstein (1930-1999) was a poet, lyricist and, as any child will tell you, a true philosopher. I may have posted this poem before, I don't care, it amuses me.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Love-Hat Relationship - Aaron Belz

I have been thinking about the love-hat relationship.
It is the relationship based on love of one another's hats.
The problem with the love-hat relationship is that it is superficial.
You don't necessarily even know the other person.
Also it is too dependent on whether the other person
is even wearing the favored hat. We all enjoy hats,
but they're not something to build an entire relationship on.
My advice to young people is to like hats but not love them.
Try having like-hat relationships with one another.
See if you can find something interesting about
the personality of the person whose hat you like.

Aaron Belz (b.1971) revels in the comedic. He has occasionally brought his readings to comedy stages. Read more about him here.

He is also clearly a follower of Emily Litella

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

England 1819 - Percy Bysshe Shelly

An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying king,
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn,--mud from a muddy spring,
Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know,
But leech-like to their fainting country cling,
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow,
A people starved and stabbed in the untilled field,
An army, which liberticide and prey
Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield,
Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay;
Religion Christless, Godless--a book sealed;
A Senate,--Time's worst statute unrepealed,
Are graves, from which a glorious Phantom may
Burst, to illumine our tempestous day.

Percy Bysshe Shelly (1792-1822) was the classic English Romantic poet. Friend of John Keats and Lord Byron, husband of Mary Shelly. When I first read this poem some years ago it had a particularized meaning for me. . Now I think about the uprisings against totalitarianism all around the world.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Hand - Mary Reufle

The teacher asks a question.
You know the answer, you suspect
you are the only one in the classroom
who knows the answer, because the person
in question is yourself, and on that
you are the greatest living authority,
but you don’t raise your hand.
You raise the top of your desk
and take out an apple.
You look out the window.
You don’t raise your hand and there is
some essential beauty in your fingers,
which aren’t even drumming, but lie
flat and peaceful.
The teacher repeats the question.
Outside the window, on an overhanging branch,
a robin is ruffling its feathers
and spring is in the air.

Mary Ruefle (b.1952) travelled through Europe as the child of a military officer father. She has won Guggenheim and NEA Fellowships, among other honors. As a teacher myself I can only say, speak up kids!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Blessing - James Wright

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.
James Wright (1927-1980) won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1972.