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John Donne’s poem ‘The Good Morrow’

May 28, 2013

A Psalm of Life – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

October 10, 2011

    TELL me not, in mournful numbers,
        Life is but an empty dream ! —
    For the soul is dead that slumbers,
        And things are not what they seem.

  Life is real !   Life is earnest!
        And the grave is not its goal ;
    Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
        Was not spoken of the soul.

    Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
        Is our destined end or way ;
    But to act, that each to-morrow
        Find us farther than to-day.

  Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
        And our hearts, though stout and brave,
    Still, like muffled drums, are beating
        Funeral marches to the grave.

  In the world’s broad field of battle,
        In the bivouac of Life,
    Be not like dumb, driven cattle !
        Be a hero in the strife !

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant !
        Let the dead Past bury its dead !
    Act,— act in the living Present !
        Heart within, and God o’erhead !

    Lives of great men all remind us
        We can make our lives sublime,
    And, departing, leave behind us
        Footprints on the sands of time ;

  Footprints, that perhaps another,
        Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
    A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
        Seeing, shall take heart again.

    Let us, then, be up and doing,
        With a heart for any fate ;
    Still achieving, still pursuing,
        Learn to labor and to wait

 

Prospice

December 28, 2010
Fear death?—to feel the fog in my throat,
The mist in my face,
When the snows begin, and the blasts denote
I am nearing the place,
The power of the night, the press of the storm,
The post of the foe;
Where he stands, the Arch Fear in a visible form;
Yet the strong man must go:
For the journey is done and the summit attained,
And the barriers fall,
Though a battle’s to fight ere the guerdon be gained,
The reward of it all.
I was ever a fighter, so—one fight more,
The best and the last!
I would hate that Death bandaged my eyes, and forbore,
And made me creep past.
No! let me taste the whole of it, fare like my peers,
The heroes of old,
Bear the brunt, in a minute pay glad life’s arrears
Of pain, darkness and cold.
For sudden the worst turns the best to the brave.
The black minute’s at end,
And the elements’ rage, the fiend voices that rave,
Shall dwindle, shall blend,
Shall change, shall become first a peace out of pain.
Then a light, then thy breast,
O thou soul of my soul! I shall clasp thee again,
And with God be the rest!

By Robert Browning

Requiem: Anna Akhmatov

June 27, 2010

Requiem

Translation by Judith Hemschemeyer¹

 

 

No, not under the vault of alien skies,

And not under the shelter of alien wings –

I was with my people then,

There, where my people, unfortunately, were.

 

1961

 

 

Instead of a Preface

 

     In the terrible years of the Yezhov terror, I spent seventeen months in the prison lines of Leningrad.

     Once, someone “recognized” me. Then a woman with bluish lips standing behind me, who l of course, had never heard me called by name before, woke up from the stupor to which everyone had succumber and whispered in my ear (everyone spoke in whispers there):

     “Can you describe this?”

     And I answered, “Yes, I can.”

     Then something that looked like a smile passed over what had once been her face.

 

     April 1, 1957

     Leningrad

 

 

Dedication

Mountians bow down to this grief,

Mighty rivers cease to flow,

But the prison gates hold firm,

And behind htem are the “prisoners’ burrows”

And mortal woe,

For someone a fresh breeze blows,

For someone the sunset luxuriates –

We wouldn’t know, we are those who everywhere

Hear only the rasp of the hateful key

And the soldiers’ heavy tread.

We rose as if for an early service,

Trudged through the savaged capital

And met there, more lifeless than the dead;

The sun is lower and the Neva mistier,

But hope keeps singing from afar.

The verdict . . . And her tears gush forth,

Already she is cut off from the rest,

As if they painfully wrenched life from her heart,

As if they brutally knocked her flat,

But she goes on . . . Staggering . . . Alone . . .

Where now are my chance firneds

Of those two diabolical years?

What do they imagine is in Siberia’s storms,

What appears to them dimly in the circle of the moon?

I am sending my farewell greeting to them.

 

March 1940

 

 

Prologue

 

               That was when the ones who smiled

                        Were the dead, glad to be at rest.

                        And like a useless appendage, Leningrad

                        Swung from its prisons.

                        And when, senseless from torment,

                        Regiments of convicts marched,

                        And the short songs of farewell

                        Were sung by locomotive whistles.

                        The stars of death stood above us

                        And innocent Russia writhed

                        Under bloody boots

                        And under the tires of the Black Marias.

 

 

I

They led you away at dawn,

I followed you, like a mourner,

In the dark front room the children were crying,

By the icon shelf the candle was dying.

On your lips was the icon’s chill.

The deathly sweat on your brow . . . Unforgettable! –

I will be like the wives of the Streltsy[i]

Howling under the Kremlin towers.

 

1935

 

II

 

               Quietly flows the quiet Don,

               Yellow moon slips into a home.

 

               He slips in with cap askew,

               He sees a shadow, yellow moon.

 

               This woman is ill,

               This woman is alone,

 

               Husband in the grave, son in prison,

               Say a prayer for me.

 

III

 

No, it is not I, it is somebody else who is suffering.

I would not have been able to bear what happened,

Let them shroud it in black,

And let them carry off the lanterns…

                                                   Night.

 

1940

 

IV

 

You should have been shown, you mocker,

Minion of all your friends,

Gay little sinner of Tsarskoye Selo[ii]

What would happen in your life –

How three-hundredth in line, with a parcel,

You would stand by the Kresty prison,

Your fiery tears

Burning through the New Year’s ice.

Over there the prison poplar bends,

And there’s no sound – and over there how many

Innocent lives are ending now…

 

V

 

For seventeen months I’ve been crying out,

Calling you home.

I flung myself at the hangman’s feet,

You are my son and my horror.

Everything is confused forever,

And it’s not clear to me

Who is a beast now, who is a man,

And how long before the execution.

And there are only dusty flowers,

And the chinking of the censer, and tracks

From somewhere to nowhere.

And staring me straight in the eyes,

And threatening impending death,

Is an enormous star.

 

1939

 

VI

 

The light weeks will take flight,

I won’t comprehend what happened.

Just as the white nights

Stared at you, dear son, in prison,

So they are staring again,

With the burning eyes of a hawk,

Talking about your lofty cross,

And about death.

 

1939

 

VII

The Sentence

 

And the stone word fell

On my still-living breast.

Never mind, I was ready,

I will manage somehow.

 

Today I have so much to do:

I must kill memory once and for all,

I must turn my soul to stone,

I must learn to live again –

 

Unless… Summer’s ardent rustling

Is like a festival outside my window.

For a long time I’ve forseen this

Brilliant day, deserted house.

 

June 22, 1939

Fountain House

 

VIII

To Death

 

You will come in anny case – so why not now?

I am waiting for you – I can’t stand much more.

I’ve put out the light and opened the door

For you, so simple and miraculous.

So come in any form you please,

Burst in as a gas shell

Or, like a ganster, steal in with a length of pipe,

Or poison me with your typhus fumes.

Or be that fairy tale you’ve dreamed up,

So sickeningly familiar to everyone –

In which I glimpse the top of a pale blue cap

And the hosue attendant white with fear.

Now it doesn’t matter anymore. The Yenisey swirls,

The North Star shines.

And the final horror dims

The blue luster of beloved eyes.

 

August 19, 1939

Fountain House

 

IX

 

               Now madness half shadows

               My soul with its wing,

               And makes it drunk with fiery wine

               And beckons toward the black ravine.

 

               And I’ve finally realized

               That I must give in,

               Overhearing myself

               Raving as if it were somebody else.

 

               And it does not allow me to take

               Anything of mine with me.

               (No matter how much I plead with it,

               No matter how much I supplicate):

 

               Not the terrible eyes of my son –           

               Suffering turned to stone,

               Not the day of the terror,

               Not the hour I met with him in prison,

 

               Not the sweet coolness of his hands,

               Not the trembling shadow of the lindens,

               Not the far-off, fragile sound –

               Of the final words of consolation.

 

               May 4, 1940

                    Fountain House

 

X

Crucifixion

 

                                                                                                                                       “Do not weep for Me, Mother,

                                                                                                                                        I am in the grave.”

 

1

A choir of angels sang the praises of that

   momentous hour,

And the heavens dissolved in fire.

To his Father He said: “Why hast Thou forsaken me!”

And to his Mother: “Oh, do not weep for Me…”

 

1940

Fountain House

 

2

 

Mary Magdalene beat her breast and sobbed,

The beloved disciple turned to stone,

But where the silent Mother stood, there

No one glanced and no one would have dared.

 

1943

Tashkent

 

Epilogue I

 

               I learned how faces fall,

               How terror darts from under eyelids,

               How suffering traces lines

               Of stiff cuneiform on cheeks,

               How locks of ashen-blonde or black

               Turn silver suddenly,

               Smiles fade on submissive lips

               And fear trembles in a dry laugh.

               And I pray not for myself alone,

               But for all those who stood there with me

               In cruel cold, and in July’s heat,

               At that blind, red wall.

 

Epilogue II

 

Once more the day of remembrance draws near.

I see, I hear, I feel you:

 

The one they almost had to drag at the end,

And the one who tramps her native land no more,

 

And the one who, tossing her beautiful head,

Said, “Coming here’s like coming home.”

 

I’d like to name them all by name,

But the list has been confiscated and is nowhere to

               be found.

 

I have woven a wide mantle for them

From their meager, overheard words.

 

I will remember them always and everywhere,

I will never forget them no matter what comes.

 

And if they gag my exhausted mouth

Through which a hundred million scream,

 

Then may the people remember me

On the eve of my remembrance day.

 

And if ever in this country

They decide to erect a monument to me,

 

I consent to that honor

Under there conditions— that it stand

 

Neither by the sea, where I was born:

My last tie with the sea is broken,

 

Nor in the tsar’s garden near the cherished pine stump,

Where an inconsolable shade looks for me,

 

But here, where I stood for three hundred hours,

And where they never unbolted the doors for me.

 

This, lest in blissful death

I forget the rumbling of the Black Marias,

 

Forget how that detested door slammed shut

And an old woman howled like a wounded animal.

 

And may the melting snow stream like tears

From my motionless lids of bronze,

 

And a prison dove coo in the distance,

And the ships of the Neva sail calmly on.

 

March 1940

The Good-Morrow by John Donne

May 31, 2010

I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? were we not weaned till then,
But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the seven sleepers’ den?
‘Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be.John_Donne_BBC_News
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.
And now good morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.
Let sea discovers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to others, worlds on worlds have shown:
Let us possess one world; each hath one, and is one.
My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we find two better hemishperes,
Without sharp North, without declining West?
Whatever dies was not mixed equally;
If our two loves be one, or thou and I
Love so alike that none do slacken, none can die.

Invictus

May 11, 2010

The title of the movie Invictus (well worth seeing by the way) is based on this poem by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.