Elegy Before Death

Cecil Day-Lewis, October 1952

Come to the orangery. Sit down awhile.
The sun is setting: the verandah frames
An illuminated leaf of Italy.
Gold and green and blue, stroke upon stroke,
Seem to tell what nature and man could make of it
If only their marriage were made in heaven. But see,
Even as we hold the picture,
The colors are fading already, the lines collapsing
Fainting into the dream they soon will be.

Again? Again we are baffled who have sought
So long in a melting Now the formula
Of Always. There is no fast dye. Always? –
That is the word the sirens sing
On bone island. Oh stop your ears, and stop
All this vain peering through the haze,
The fortunate haze wherein we change and ripen,
And never mind for what. Let us even embrace
The shadows wheeling away our windfall days.

Again again again, the frogs are screeling
Down by the lilypond. Listen! I’ll echo them –
Gain gain gain … Could we compel
One grain of one vanishing moment to deliver
Its golden ghost, loss would be gain
And Love step naked from illusion’s shell.
Did we but dare to see it,
All things to us, you and I to each other,
Stand in this naked potency of farewell.

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The Last Love

Oh, how, in the ending years
Is love more tender and superstitious —
O shine! O shine, my parting rays
Of the evening sun, of the last heart wishes!

The darkness cuts half of the sky;
And only the West has the roving glow,
Oh, time of evening, do not fly!
Enchantment, be prolonged and slow!

Let blood in veins has a thinner staff,
But a heart preserves the gentle passion —
O you, my last and tender love,
You are my bliss and desperation.

by Fyodor Tyutchev
Translated by Yevgeny Bonver, September, 1995

Notturno

Select a dark night and
in a field, unpeopled, naked
dip into gray twilight.
May the air, having fanned, becalm.
May the stars, winking,
in the cold sky slumber on.
Tell the heart not to count its thumps.
Stop in mid-step and listen!
You’re not alone –
The wings of a bird, heavy, sodden,
drift through the fog.
Listen!
It’s the flight of a predator,
a sovereign avian,
They call that bird Time,
and on its wings is your will,
A passing dream of happiness,
hope’s golden rags.

Innokenty Annensky

Skeptic

In the evening and in the morning, early,
During the day and in the dead of night,
In great heat or freeze, midst hurricane –
I’m always swaying my head side to side,
Now burying my sight deep in the earth,
Now directing my steady gaze at the sky,
Listening intently to the rustle of trees –
As though to read therein my tea-leaved fate.
What way to choose, where leads my path?
Whom should I love and whom pursue?
Walk toward a temple – to pray to God,
Or into the forest – to murder passersby?

by Vladimir Solovyov

The Dark Night of the Soul

Once in the dark of night,
Inflamed with love and yearning, I arose
(O coming of delight!)
And went, as no one knows,
When all my house lay long in deep repose

All in the dark went right,
Down secret steps, disguised in other clothes,
(O coming of delight!)
In dark when no one knows,
When all my house lay long in deep repose.

And in the luck of night
In secret places where no other spied
I went without my sight
Without a light to guide
Except the heart that lit me from inside.

It guided me and shone
Surer than noonday sunlight over me,
And lead me to the one
Whom only I could see
Deep in a place where only we could be.

O guiding dark of night!
O dark of night more darling than the dawn!
O night that can unite
A lover and loved one,
Lover and loved one moved in unison.

And on my flowering breast
Which I had kept for him and him alone
He slept as I caressed
And loved him for my own,
Breathing an air from redolent cedars blown.

And from the castle wall
The wind came down to winnow through his hair
Bidding his fingers fall,
Searing my throat with air
And all my senses were suspended there.

I stayed there to forget.
There on my lover, face to face, I lay.
All ended, and I let
My cares all fall away
Forgotten in the lilies on that day.

By St. John of the Cross
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Dawn Outside the City Walls

You can see the face of everything, and it is white—
plaster, nightmare, adobe, anemia, cold—
turned to the east. Oh closeness to life!
Hardness of life! Like something
in the body that is animal—root, slag-ends—
with the soul still not set well there—
and mineral and vegetable!
Sun standing stiffly against man,
against the sow, the cabbages, the mud wall!
—False joy, because you are merely
in time, as they say, and not in the soul!

The entire sky taken up
by moist and steaming heaps,
a horizon of dung piles.
Sour remains, here and there,
of the night. Slices
of the green moon, half-eaten,
crystal bits from false stars,
plaster, the paper ripped off, still faintly
sky-blue. The birds
not really awake yet, in the raw moon,
streetlight nearly out.
Mob of beings and things!
—A true sadness, because you are really deep
in the soul, as they say, not in time at all!

by Juan Ramón Jiménez
Translated by Robert Bly

But we, like the leaves

But we, like the leaves
That come in the flower of Springtime
When they wax so quickly beneath the sunbeams,
Like them we enjoy the blossoms of youth
For a season but an ell long,
The Gods giving us knowledge
Neither of evil nor of good;
For here beside us stand the black Death-spirits,
The one with the End that is grievous Eld,
The other that which is Death;
And the harvest of youth is as quickly come.

(Mimnermus, a Greek poet, as quoted in Stobeeus’ Anthology)

Before the Dawn

But like love
the archers
are blind

Upon the green night,
the piercing saetas
leave traces of warm
lily.

The keel of the moon
breaks through purple clouds
and their quivers
fill with dew.

Ay, but like love
the archers
are blind!

by Federico Garcia Lorca

Living Water

by Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon
(Translated by William Cowper)

The fountain in its source,
No drought of summer fears;
The farther it pursues its course,
The nobler it appears.

But shallow cisterns yield
A scanty short supply;
The morning sees them amply filled,
At evening they are dry.

Hope

Our lives, discoloured with our present woes,
May still go white and shine with happier hours.
So the pure limped stream, when foul with stains
Of rushing torrents and descending rains,
Works itself clear, and as it runs refines,
till by degrees, the floating mirror shines,
Reflects each flower that on the border grows,
And a new heaven in its fair bosom shows.
by Joseph Addison

The Last Man

an excerpt from Thus Spake Zarahustra, by Friedrich Nietsche (translated by Walter Kaufmann)

Prologue, section 5

When Zarathustra had spoken these words he beheld the people again and was silent.  “There they stand,” he said to his heart; “there they laugh.  They do not understand me; I am not the mouth for these ears.  Must one smash their ears before they learn to listen with their eyes?  Must one clatter like kettledrums and preachers of repentance?  Or do they believe only the stammerer?

“They have something of which they are proud.  What do they call that which makes them proud?  Education they call it; it distinguishes them from goatherds.  That is why they do not like to hear the word ‘contempt’ applied to them.  Let me then address their pride.  Let me speak to them of what is most contemptible: but that is the last man.”

And thus spake Zarathustra to the people: The time has come for men to set himself a goal.  The time has come for man to plant the seed of his highest hope.  His soul is still rich enough.  But one day this soil will be poor and domesticated, and no tall tree will be able to grow in it.  Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer shoot the arrow of his longing beyond man, and the string of his bow will have forgotten how to whir!

“I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.  I say unto you: you still have chaos in yourselves.

“Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to a star.  Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming, he that is no longer able to despise himself.  Behold, I show you the last man.

“‘What is love? What is creation?  What is longing?  What is a star?’ thus asks the last man, and he blinks.

“The earth has become small, and on it hops the last man, who makes everything small.  His race is as ineradicable as the flea-beetle; the last man lives longest…”

East Coker

by T.S. Eliot (part of The Four Quartets)

from section III

O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant,
The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters,
The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers,
Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees,
Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark,
And dark the Sun and Moon, and the Almanach de Gotha
And the Stock Exchange Gazette, the Directory of Directors,
And cold the sense and lost the motive of action.
And we all go with them, into the silent funeral,
Nobody’s funeral, for there is no one to bury.
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away-
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing-
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.

The full text of The Four Quartets, by T.S. Eliot can be found here.

Sturgeon

Here on the tether
The checkered draughts
On leeward vessels
Tacking into the wind,
Skimming like serpents at an Irish Wake,
Here it is taut,
And fraught with danger,
A sturgeon speared
His harpoon nose upturned.
There is a danger in the familiar,
Where contempt is easily bought
With the coin of solidarity,
As brotherly love is confounded
With weakness.
Blessed are the meek,
He who named himself I am said
The weak and troubled,
Broken and bruised;
For weakness needs strength
And sorrow compassion;
But the waves just roll on,
Merciless.

The Delivery of Wainamoinen (Selection from the Kalevala)

strangeflag wainamonenThe Kalevala is the epic poem of Finland.  This selection is from John Martin Crawford’s 1910 translation.


…Thus created were the islands,
Rocks were fastened in the ocean,
Pillars of the sky were planted,
Fields and forests were created,
Checkered stones of many colors,
Gleaming in the silver sunlight,
All the rocks stood well established;
But the singer Wainamoinen,
Had not yet beheld the sunshine,
Had not seen the golden moonlight,
Still remaining undelivered.


Wainamoinen, old and trusty,
Lingering within his dungeon
Thirty summers altogether,
And of winters, also thirty,
Peaceful on the waste of waters,
On the broad sea’s yielding bosom,
Well reflected, long considered,
How unborn to live and flourish
In the spaces wrapped in darkness,
In uncomfortable limits,
Where he had not seen the moonlight,
Had not seen the silver sunshine.


Thereupon these words he uttered,
Let himself be heard in this wise:
“Take, O Moon, I pray thee, take me,
Take me, thou, O Sun above me,
Take me, thou, O Bear of heaven,
From this dark and dreary prison,
From this unbefitting portals,
From this narrow place of resting,
From this dark and gloomy dwelling,
Hence to wander from the ocean,
Hence to walk upon the islands,
On the dry land walk and wander,
Like an ancient hero wander,
Walk in open air and breathe it,
Thus to see the moon at evening,
Thus to see the silver sunlight,
Thus to see the Bear in heaven,
That the stars I may consider.”


(…after freeing himself from his prison, Wainamoinen finally reaches dry land…)


Thus our hero reached the water,
Lasted five years in the ocean,
Six long years, and even seven years,
Till the autumn of the eighth year,
When at last he leaves the waters,
Stops upon a promontory,
On a coast bereft of verdure;
On his knees he leaves the ocean,
On the land he plants his right foot,
On the solid ground his left foot.


Quickly turns his hands about him,
Stands erect to see the sunshine,
Stands to see the golden moonlight,
That he may behold the Great Bear,
That he may the stars consider.
Thus our hero, Wainamoinen,
Thus the wonderful enchanter
Was delivered from his mother,
Ilmatar, the Ether’s daughter.

To His Coy Mistress

by Andrew Marvell

Discover more poems by Andrew Marvell at Luminarium.

Had we but world enough, and time,lovers
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv’d virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am’rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp’d power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Fly, Lays of Mine!

tmficon flylaysFly, lays of mine, but not to any clime
Where happiness and light and love prevail,
But seek the spots where woe and ill and crime
Leave as they pass a noisome serpent trail.

Fly, lays of mine, but not to the ether blue,
Where golden sparks illume the heavenly sphere,
But seek the depths where nothing that is true
Relieves the eye or glads a listening ear.

Fly, lays of mine, but not to fruitful plains
Where spring the harvests by God’s benison
But seek the deserts where for needed rains
Both prayers and curses arise in unison.

Fly, lays of mine, but not to riotous halls,
Where dancing sylphs supply voluptuous songs,
But seek the huts where pestilence appals,
And death completes the round of human wrongs.

Fly, lays of mine, but not to happy wives,
Whose days are one unending flow of bliss,
But seek the maidens whose unfruitful lives
Have known as yet no lover’s passionate kiss.

Fly, lays of mine, and like the nightingales,
Whose liquid liltings charm away the night,
Reveal in song the sweets of summer’s gales,
Of lover’s pleadings and of love’s delight.

And tell my lady, when your quests are o’er,
That I, away from her, my heart’s desire,
Yearn for the blissful hour when I shall pour
Down at her feet a love surcharged with fire.

Mugurditch Beshettashlain