Monday morning poem: Lord: it is time.

September 20th, 2010

After a week of travel, I am home, and I find that autumn has met me here.  I traditionally post this poem, “Herbsttag”, by Rainer Maria Rilke, when the moment seems right – it’s a very famous one, the subject of many dozens of English translations.

C. John Holcombe has an extended online essay on the considerations that go into translating such a soft, vivid, metered-and-rhymed poem, which I think is wonderfully worth reading.  Translation is a humbling enterprise, and the shifting colors of the poem are lovely and intriguing to see in variation.

I was really introduced to Rilke through the translations of Stephen Mitchell, who prefers blank verse.  Here is his version.

Autumn Day.

End of Summer

Lord: it is time. The huge summer has gone by.
Now overlap the sundials with your shadows,
and on the meadows let the wind go free.

Command the fruits to swell on tree and vine;
grant them a few more warm transparent days,
urge them on to fulfillment then, and press
the final sweetness into the heavy wine.

Whoever has no house now, will never have one.
Whoever is alone will stay alone,
will sit, read, write long letters through the evening,
and wander the boulevards, up and down,
restlessly, while the dry leaves are blowing.

Trans. Stephen Mitchell
Photo by Jim Wallace


German original:

Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren laß die Winde los.

Befiel den letzten Früchten voll zu sein;
gib ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage
die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird Es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Monday Morning Poem: Low-Tide

June 7th, 2010



These wet rocks where the tide has been,
Barnacled white and weeded brown
And slimed beneath to a beautiful green,
These wet rocks where the tide went down
Will show again when the tide is high
Faint and perilous, far from shore,
No place to dream, but a place to die,–
The bottom of the sea once more.
There was a child that wandered through
A giant’s empty house all day,–
House full of wonderful things and new,
But no fit place for a child to play.

Edna St.Vincent-Millay
photo by junkast

Monday Morning Poem

May 3rd, 2010

I’m Nobody!  Who are you?

Kermit the Frog

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us?
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

Emily Dickinson
photo by Nicole Marti

Monday Morning Poem: Annie Stayed.

November 9th, 2009

My maternal grandfather died a couple of years ago.

We were very fond of each other – he took me to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (a full day and a half drive) from 7th grade through my high school graduation, a gift of immeasurable impact.  He was a bright, curious, caring, and endlessly enthusiastic man. He reacted with genuine joy whenever his didactic little granddaughter held forth on erudite topics.  I still remember his delight upon hearing me tear apart the production of Romeo and Juliet that was one of the first productions we saw together at OSF.

I didn’t ask for anything of his after he passed away; my mother knowingly brought me a few things that meant a lot, but all in all my memories were the most vivid token of our relationship.  Recently, however, his last wife sent my mother a number of his old files.  Including one entire manila folder full of every letter and picture and document I had ever sent him, or that my parents had sent him relating to me.

So I’ve rediscovered verything from short stories I wrote in second grade to novellas I wrote in middle school to graduation notices and e-mails and silly cards.  I haven’t quite had the strength to go through all of it yet, but one thing I did find:  the poem below.  I remember this odd, apocalyptic little poem quite well but had no record of it myself, so knowing that he had it all along is very touching.

And, now that he’s gone, the poem – being as its topic is a girl with a fondness for the departed – takes on a sweet poignance.

Anyway. Here it is.
Laundry day

Annie stayed.

Annie McSalva stood that day
but no one was there to enjoy her stay
only the ghosts had not gone away

Annie remained for the ghosts.

Annie McSalva walked down the streets
her feet tapping sidewalk to various beats
She looked in the theatres, all empty seats

Annie played Hamlet for ghosts.

Annie McSalva read all the books
out loud, in the library, and none gave sharp looks
the ghosts listened well in their crannies and nooks

Annie read on for the ghosts.

Annie McSalva swam in the pond
that led to the gutters and sewers beyond
but nobody stayed to drink that which was fond

to Annie, who swam with the ghosts.

Annie McSalva lay in the sun
and thought that the world had only begun
but the ghosts whispered back that it almost was done

Annie survived with the ghosts.

photo by Nocturnal Bob

Monday Morning Poem: Buffalo Bill

November 2nd, 2009

a pale horse

Buffalo Bill’s
who used to
ride a watersmooth-silver
and break onetwothreefourfive pigeons justlikethat
he was a handsome man
and what I want to know is
how do you like your blue-eyed boy
Mister Death

ee cummings
illustration by bone_doll

Monday Afternoon Poem: Common Cold.

October 12th, 2009

fungal cultures

Go hang yourself, you old M.D.!
You shall not sneer at me.
Pick up your hat and stethoscope,
Go wash your mouth with laundry soap;
I contemplate a joy exquisite
I’m not paying you for your visit.
I did not call you to be told
My malady is a common cold.

By pounding brow and swollen lip;
By fever’s hot and scaly grip;
By those two red redundant eyes
That weep like woeful April skies;
By racking snuffle, snort, and sniff;
By handkerchief after handkerchief;
This cold you wave away as naught
Is the damnedest cold man ever caught!

Give ear, you scientific fossil!
Here is the genuine Cold Colossal;
The Cold of which researchers dream,
The Perfect Cold, the Cold Supreme.
This honored system humbly holds
The Super-cold to end all colds;
The Cold Crusading for Democracy;
The Führer of the Streptococcracy.

Bacilli swarm within my portals
Such as were ne’er conceived by mortals,
But bred by scientists wise and hoary
In some Olympic laboratory;
Bacteria as large as mice,
With feet of fire and heads of ice
Who never interrupt for slumber
Their stamping elephantine rumba.

A common cold, gadzooks, forsooth!
Ah, yes. And Lincoln was jostled by Booth;
Don Juan was a budding gallant,
And Shakespeare’s plays show signs of talent;
The Arctic winter is fairly coolish,
And your diagnosis is fairly foolish.
Oh what a derision history holds
For the man who belittled the Cold of Colds!

Ogden Nash
Photo by petrichor

Monday Morning Poem: Slumber Song

June 15th, 2009

Solar de Mateus - beeld in de vijver - sleeping beauty

Some day, if I should ever lose you,
will you be able then to go to sleep
without me softly whispering above you
like night air stirring in the linden tree?

Without my waking here and watching
and saying words as tender as eyelids
that come to rest weightlessly upon your breast,
upon your sleeping limbs, upon your lips?

Without my touching you and leaving you
alone with what is yours, like a summer garden
that is overflowing with masses
of melissa and star-anise?

Rainer Maria Rilke
trans. Albert Ernest Flemming

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