Finding time for some beauty and peace.
‘A faire felde ful of folke’ (Piers the Plowman)
This long, low, and flat landscape is where Oxford goes all Dutch,
down to the kitsch January skaters whistling along
with hands neatly folded behind their backs, and little
summer sails almost below the horizon among
the slow clouds in a huge sky, suffused with a muted light.
The flora and fauna here are in a pared-down palette
of greys, browns, and sludge green; the horses, waterbirds, meadow
all conspire with the soft floodplain scene. It’s a peopled place
of course: painted landscapes often need, somewhere, a red smudge.
And we trace our own filmy overlays: the black rainbow
bridge is really chalky pink here, zigzags capping
a wild and tangled world, reflected in a fisheye
distorting lens; the flashbacks that frame family picnics
on the small beaches, barefoot avoiding cowpats; walks
from the Perch to the Trout; a friend playing a farting
sousaphone, lyrically, to curious cows; and the birthday
when we drifted low in early morning mist, transparent
paper-thin wisps over river, grass, the silence broken
only by the balloon’s gasps. Secular, we didn’t ascend,
instead there was a long sigh as the land fell away.
I’m thinking about you. What else can I say?
The palm trees on the reverse
are a delusion; so is the pink sand.
What we have are the usual
fractured coke bottles and the smell
of backed-up drains, too sweet,
like a mango on the verge
of rot, which we have also.
The air clear sweat, mosquitoes
& their tracks; birds & elusive.
Time comes in waves here, a sickness, one
day after the other rolling on;
I move up, it’s called
awake, then down into the uneasy
nights but never
forward. The roosters crow
for hours before dawn, and a prodded
child howls & howls
on the pocked road to school.
In the hold with the baggage
there are two prisoners,
their heads shaved by bayonets, & ten crates
of queasy chicks. Each spring
there’s race of cripples, from the store
to the church. This is the sort of junk
I carry with me; and a clipping
about democracy from the local paper.
Outside the window
they’re building the damn hotel,
nail by nail, someone’s
crumbling dream. A universe that includes you
can’t be all bad, but
does it? At this distance
you’re a mirage, a glossy image
fixed in the posture
of the last time I saw you.
Turn you over, there’s the place
for the address. Wish you were
here. Love comes
in waves like the ocean, a sickness which goes on
& on, a hollow cave
in the head, filling & pounding, a kicked ear.
The world is too much with us; late and soon;
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. –Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness:
there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The first bridge on Constitution. At my feet
the shunting trains trace iron labyrinths.
Steam hisses up and up into the night
which becomes, at a stroke, the Night of the Last Judgment.
From the unseen horizon,
and from the very center of my being,
an infinite voice pronounced these things–
things, not words. This is my feeble translation,
time-bound, of what was a single limitless Word:
“Stars, bread, libraries of East and West,
playing cards, chessboards, galleries, skylights, cellars,
a human body to walk with on the earth,
fingernails, growing at nighttime and in death,
shadows for forgetting, mirrors which endlessly multiply,
falls in music, gentlest of all time’s shapes,
borders of Brazil, Uruguay, horses and morning,
a bronze weight, a copy of Grettir Saga,
algebra and fire, the charge at Junin in your blood,
days more crowded than Balzac, scent of the honeysuckle,
love, and the imminence of love, and intolerable remembering,
dreams like buried treasure, generous luck,
and memory itself, where a glance can make men dizzy–
all this was given to you and, with it,
the ancient nourishment of heroes–
treachery, defeat, humiliation.
In vain have oceans been squandered on you, in vain
the sun, wonderfully seen through Whitman’s eyes.
You have used up the years and they have used up you,
and still, and still, you have not written the poem.”
Jorge Luis Borges
–Translated by Alastair Reid
El primer puente de Constitución y a mis pies
Fragor de trenes que tejían laberintos de hierro.
Humo y silbatos escalaban la noche,
Que de golpe fue el juicio Universal. Desde el invisible horizonte
Y desde el centro de mi ser, una voz infinita
Dijo estas cosas (estas cosas, no estas palabras,
Que son mi pobre traducción temporal de una sola palabra):
—Estrellas, pan, bibliotecas orientales y occidentales,
Naipes, tableros de ajedrez, galerías, claraboyas y sótanos,
Un cuerpo humano para andar por la tierra,
Uñas que crecen en la noche, en la muerte,
Sombra que olvida, atareados espejos que multiplican,
Declives de la música, la más dócil de las formas del tiempo,
Fronteras del Brasil y del Uruguay, caballos y mañanas,
Una pesa de bronce y un ejemplar de la Saga de Grettir,
Álgebra y fuego, la carga de Junín en tu sangre,
Días más populosos que Balzac, el olor de la madreselva,
Amor y víspera de amor y recuerdos intolerables,
El sueño como un tesoro enterrado, el dadivoso azar
Y la memoria, que el hombre no mira sin vértigo,
Todo eso te fue dado, y también
El antiguo alimento de los héroes:
La falsía, la derrota, la humillación.
En vano te hemos prodigado el océano,
En vano el sol, que vieron los maravillados ojos de Whitman;
Has gastado los años y te han gastado,
Y todavía no has escrito el poema.
I’m ten years away from the corner you laugh on
with your pals, Maggie McGeeney and Jean Duff.
The three of you bend from the waist, holding
each other, or your knees, and shriek at the pavement.
Your polka-dot dress blows round your legs. Marilyn.
I’m not here yet. The thought of me doesn’t occur
in the ballroom with the thousand eyes, the fizzy, movie tomorrows
the right walk home could bring. I knew you would dance
like that. Before you were mine, your Ma stands at the close
with a hiding for the late one. You reckon it’s worth it.
The decade ahead of my loud, possessive yell was the best one, eh?
I remember my hands in those high-heeled red shoes, relics,
and now your ghost clatters toward me over George Square
till I see you, clear as scent, under the tree,
with its lights, and whose small bites on your neck, sweetheart?
Cha cha cha! You’d teach me the steps on the way home from Mass,
stamping stars from the wrong pavement. Even then
I wanted the bold girl winking in Portobello, somewhere
in Scotland, before I was born. That glamorous love lasts
where you sparkle and waltz and laugh before you were mine.
Carol Ann Duffy
Somewhere on the other side of this wide night
and the distance between us, I am thinking of you.
The room is turning slowly away from the moon.
This is pleasurable. Or shall I cross that out and say
it is sad? In one of the tenses I singing
an impossible song of desire that you cannot hear.
La lala la. See? I close my eyes and imagine the dark hills
I would have to cross
to reach you. For I am in love with you
and this is what it is like or what it is like in words.
Carol Ann Duffy
Remember the 1340s? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.
You always wore brown, the color craze of the decade,
and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular,
the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework.
Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon,
and at night we would play a game called “Find the Cow.”
Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today.
Where has the summer of 1572 gone? Brocade and sonnet
marathons were the rage. We used to dress up in the flags
of rival baronies and conquer one another in cold rooms of stone.
Out on the dance floor we were all doing the Struggle
while your sister practiced the Daphne all alone in her room.
We borrowed the jargon of farriers for our slang.
These days language seems transparent, a badly broken code.
The 1790s will never come again. Childhood was big.
People would take walks to the very tops of hills
and write down what they saw in their journals without speaking.
Our collars were high and our hats were extremely soft.
We would surprise each other with alphabets made of twigs.
It was a wonderful time to be alive, or even dead.
I am very fond of the period between 1815 and 1821.
Europe trembled while we sat still for our portraits.
And I would love to return to 1901 if only for a moment,
time enough to wind up a music box and do a few dance steps,
or shoot me back to 1922 or 1941, or at least let me
recapture the serenity of last month when we picked
berries and glided through afternoons in a canoe.
Even this morning would be an improvement over the present.
I was in the garden then, surrounded by the hum of bees
and the Latin names of flowers, watching the early light
flash off the slanted windows of the greenhouse
and silver the limbs on the rows of dark hemlocks.
As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past,
letting my memory rush over them like water
rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.
I was even thinking a little about the future, that place
where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,
a dance whose name we can only guess.
At lunchtime I bought a huge orange
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave—
They got quarters and I had a half.
And that orange it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park
This is peace and contentment. It’s new.
The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all my jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I’m glad I exist.
How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.