Victor Hugo |
You can see it already: chalks and ochers;
Country crossed with a thousand furrow-lines;
Ground-level rooftops hidden by the shrubbery;
Sporadic haystacks standing on the grass;
Smoky old rooftops tarnishing the landscape;
A river (not Cayster or Ganges, though:
A feeble Norman salt-infested watercourse);
On the right, to the north, bizarre terrain
All angular--you'd think a shovel did it.
So that's the foreground.
An old chapel adds
Its antique spire, and gathers alongside it
A few gnarled elms with grumpy silhouettes;
Seemingly tired of all the frisky breezes,
They carp at every gust that stirs them up.
At one side of my house a big wheelbarrow
Is rusting; and before me lies the vast
Horizon, all its notches filled with ocean blue;
Cocks and hens spread their gildings, and converse
Beneath my window; and the rooftop attics,
Now and then, toss me songs in dialect.
In my lane dwells a patriarchal rope-maker;
The old man makes his wheel run loud, and goes
Retrograde, hemp wreathed tightly round the midriff.
I like these waters where the wild gale scuds;
All day the country tempts me to go strolling;
The little village urchins, book in hand,
Envy me, at the schoolmaster's (my lodging),
As a big schoolboy sneaking a day off.
The air is pure, the sky smiles; there's a constant
Soft noise of children spelling things aloud.
The waters flow; a linnet flies; and I say: "Thank you!
Thank you, Almighty God!"--So, then, I live:
Peacefully, hour by hour, with little fuss, I shed
My days, and think of you, my lady fair!
I hear the children chattering; and I see, at times,
Sailing across the high seas in its pride,
Over the gables of the tranquil village,
Some winged ship which is traveling far away,
Flying across the ocean, hounded by all the winds.
Lately it slept in port beside the quay.
Nothing has kept it from the jealous sea-surge:
No tears of relatives, nor fears of wives,
Nor reefs dimly reflected in the waters,
Nor importunity of sinister birds.
James A Emanuel |
I fish for words
to say what I fish for,
I have caught little pan fish flashing sunlight
(yellow perch, crappies, blue-gills),
lighthearted reeled them in,
filed them on stringers on the shore.
A nice mess, we called them,
and ate with our fingers, laughing.
Once, dreaming of fish in far-off waters,
I hooked a two-foot carp in Michigan,
on nylon line so fine
a fellow-fisher shook his head:
"He'll break it, sure; he'll roll on it and get away.
A quarter-hour it took to bring him in;
back-and-forth toward my net,
syllable by syllable I let him have his way
till he lay flopping on the grass—
beside no other, himself enough in size:
he fed the three of us (each differently)
new strategies of hook, leader, line, and rod.
Working well, I am a deep-water man,
a "Daredevil" silver wobbler
my lure for lake trout in midsummer.
Oh, I have tried the moon, thermometers—
the bait and time and place all by the rule—
fishing for the masterpiece,
the imperial muskellunge in Minnesota,
the peerless pike in Canada.
I have propped a well-thumbed book
against the butt of my favorite rod
and fished from my heart.
Yet, for my labors,
all I have to show
are tactics, lore—
so little I know
of that pea-sized brain I am casting for,
to think it could swim
with the phantom-words
that lure me to this shore.
Marvin Bell |
Gray rainwater lay on the grass in the late afternoon.
The carp lay on the bottom, resting, while dusk took shape
in the form of the first stirrings of his hunger,
and the trees, shorter and heavier, breathed heavily upward.
Into this sodden, nourishing afternoon I emerged,
partway toward a paycheck, halfway toward the weekend,
carrying the last mail and holding above still puddles
the books of noble ideas.
Through the fervent branches,
carried by momentary breezes of local origin,
the palpable Sublime flickered as motes on broad leaves,
while the Higher Good and the Greater Good contended
as sap on the bark of the maples, and even I
was enabled to witness the truly Existential where it loitered
famously in the shadows as if waiting for the moon.
All this I saw in the late afternoon in the company of no one.
And of course I went back to work the next morning.
like anyone, like the rumored angels of high office,
like the demon foremen, the bedeviled janitors, like you,
I returned to my job--but now there was a match-head in
In its light, the morning increasingly flamed through the window
and, lit by nothing but mind-light, I saw that the horizon
was an idea of the eye, gilded from within, and the sun
the fiery consolation of our nighttimes, coming far.
Within this expectant air, which had waited the night indoors,
carried by--who knows?--the rhythmic jarring of brain tissue
by footsteps, by colors visible to closed eyes, by a music
in my head, knowledge gathered that could not last the day,
love and error were shaken as if by the eye of a storm,
and it would not be until quitting that such a man
might drop his arms, that he had held up all day since the dew.
Ted Hughes |
Freezing dusk is closing
Like a slow trap of steel
On trees and roads and hills and all
That can no longer feel.
But the carp is in its depth
Like a planet in its heaven.
And the badger in its bedding
Like a loaf in the oven.
And the butterfly in its mummy
Like a viol in its case.
And the owl in its feathers
Like a doll in its lace.
Freezing dusk has tightened
Like a nut screwed tight
On the starry aeroplane
Of the soaring night.
But the trout is in its hole
Like a chuckle in a sleeper.
The hare strays down the highway
Like a root going deeper.
The snail is dry in the outhouse
Like a seed in a sunflower.
The owl is pale on the gatepost
Like a clock on its tower.
Moonlight freezes the shaggy world
Like a mammoth of ice -
The past and the future
Are the jaws of a steel vice.
But the cod is in the tide-rip
Like a key in a purse.
The deer are on the bare-blown hill
Like smiles on a nurse.
The flies are behind the plaster
Like the lost score of a jig.
Sparrows are in the ivy-clump
Like money in a pig.
Such a frost
The flimsy moon
Has lost her wits.
A star falls.
The sweating farmers
Turn in their sleep
Like oxen on spits.
Robert William Service |
'Twas up in a land long famed for gold, where women were far and rare,
Tellus, the smith, had taken to wife a maiden amazingly fair;
Tellus, the brawny worker in iron, hairy and heavy of hand,
Saw her and loved her and bore her away from the tribe of a Southern land;
Deeming her worthy to queen his home and mother him little ones,
That the name of Tellus, the master smith, might live in his stalwart sons.
Now there was little of law in the land, and evil doings were rife,
And every man who joyed in his home guarded the fame of his wife;
For there were those of the silver tongue and the honeyed art to beguile,
Who would cozen the heart from a woman's breast and damn her soul with a smile.
And there were women too quick to heed a look or a whispered word,
And once in a while a man was slain, and the ire of the King was stirred;
So far and wide he proclaimed his wrath, and this was the law he willed:
"That whosoever killeth a man, even shall he be killed.
Now Tellus, the smith, he trusted his wife; his heart was empty of fear.
High on the hill was the gleam of their hearth, a beacon of love and cheer.
High on the hill they builded their bower, where the broom and the bracken meet;
Under a grave of oaks it was, hushed and drowsily sweet.
Here he enshrined her, his dearest saint, his idol, the light of his eye;
Her kisses rested upon his lips as brushes a butterfly.
The weight of her arms around his neck was light as the thistle down;
And sweetly she studied to win his smile, and gently she mocked his frown.
And when at the close of the dusty day his clangorous toil was done,
She hastened to meet him down the way all lit by the amber sun.
Their dove-cot gleamed in the golden light, a temple of stainless love;
Like the hanging cup of a big blue flower was the topaz sky above.
The roses and lilies yearned to her, as swift through their throng she pressed;
A little white, fragile, fluttering thing that lay like a child on his breast.
Then the heart of Tellus, the smith, was proud, and sang for the joy of life,
And there in the bronzing summertide he thanked the gods for his wife.
Now there was one called Philo, a scribe, a man of exquisite grace,
Carved like the god Apollo in limb, fair as Adonis in face;
Eager and winning in manner, full of such radiant charm,
Womenkind fought for his favor and loved to their uttermost harm.
Such was his craft and his knowledge, such was his skill at the game,
Never was woman could flout him, so be he plotted her shame.
And so he drank deep of pleasure, and then it fell on a day
He gazed on the wife of Tellus and marked her out for his prey.
Tellus, the smith, was merry, and the time of the year it was June,
So he said to his stalwart helpers: "Shut down the forge at noon.
Go ye and joy in the sunshine, rest in the coolth of the grove,
Drift on the dreamy river, every man with his love.
Then to himself: "Oh, Beloved, sweet will be your surprise;
To-day will we sport like children, laugh in each other's eyes;
Weave gay garlands of poppies, crown each other with flowers,
Pull plump carp from the lilies, rifle the ferny bowers.
To-day with feasting and gladness the wine of Cyprus will flow;
To-day is the day we were wedded only a twelvemonth ago.
The larks trilled high in the heavens; his heart was lyric with joy;
He plucked a posy of lilies; he sped like a love-sick boy.
He stole up the velvety pathway--his cottage was sunsteeped and still;
Vines honeysuckled the window; softly he peeped o'er the sill.
The lilies dropped from his fingers; devils were choking his breath;
Rigid with horror, he stiffened; ghastly his face was as death.
Like a nun whose faith in the Virgin is met with a prurient jibe,
He shrank--'twas the wife of his bosom in the arms of Philo, the scribe.
Tellus went back to his smithy; he reeled like a drunken man;
His heart was riven with anguish; his brain was brooding a plan.
Straight to his anvil he hurried; started his furnace aglow;
Heated his iron and shaped it with savage and masterful blow.
Sparks showered over and round him; swiftly under his hand
There at last it was finished--a hideous and infamous Brand.
That night the wife of his bosom, the light of joy in her eyes,
Kissed him with words of rapture; but he knew that her words were lies.
Never was she so beguiling, never so merry of speech
(For passion ripens a woman as the sunshine ripens a peach).
He clenched his teeth into silence; he yielded up to her lure,
Though he knew that her breasts were heaving from the fire of her paramour.
"To-morrow," he said, "to-morrow"--he wove her hair in a strand,
Twisted it round his fingers and smiled as he thought of the Brand.
The morrow was come, and Tellus swiftly stole up the hill.
Butterflies drowsed in the noon-heat; coverts were sunsteeped and still.
Softly he padded the pathway unto the porch, and within
Heard he the low laugh of dalliance, heard he the rapture of sin.
Knew he her eyes were mystic with light that no man should see,
No man kindle and joy in, no man on earth save he.
And never for him would it kindle.
The bloodlust surged in his brain;
Through the senseless stone could he see them, wanton and warily fain.
Horrible! Heaven he sought for, gained it and gloried and fell--
Oh, it was sudden--headlong into the nethermost hell.
Was this he, Tellus, this marble? Tellus .
not dreaming a dream?
Ah! sharp-edged as a javelin, was that a woman's scream?
Was it a door that shattered, shell-like, under his blow?
Was it his saint, that strumpet, dishevelled and cowering low?
Was it her lover, that wild thing, that twisted and gouged and tore?
Was it a man he was crushing, whose head he beat on the floor?
Laughing the while at its weakness, till sudden he stayed his hand--
Through the red ring of his madness flamed the thought of the Brand.
Then bound he the naked Philo with thongs that cut in the flesh,
And the wife of his bosom, fear-frantic, he gagged with a silken mesh,
Choking her screams into silence; bound her down by the hair;
Dragged her lover unto her under her frenzied stare.
In the heat of the hearth-fire embers he heated the hideous Brand;
Twisting her fingers open, he forced its haft in her hand.
He pressed it downward and downward; she felt the living flesh sear;
She saw the throe of her lover; she heard the scream of his fear.
Once, twice and thrice he forced her, heedless of prayer and shriek--
Once on the forehead of Philo, twice in the soft of his cheek.
Then (for the thing was finished) he said to the woman: "See
How you have branded your lover! Now will I let him go free.
He severed the thongs that bound him, laughing: "Revenge is sweet",
And Philo, sobbing in anguish, feebly rose to his feet.
The man who was fair as Apollo, god-like in woman's sight,
Hideous now as a satyr, fled to the pity of night.
Then came they before the Judgment Seat, and thus spoke the Lord of the Land:
"He who seeketh his neighbor's wife shall suffer the doom of the Brand.
Brutish and bold on his brow be it stamped, deep in his cheek let it sear,
That every man may look on his shame, and shudder and sicken and fear.
He shall hear their mock in the market-place, their fleering jibe at the feast;
He shall seek the caves and the shroud of night, and the fellowship of the beast.
Outcast forever from homes of men, far and far shall he roam.
Such be the doom, sadder than death, of him who shameth a home.
Philip Levine |
You pull over to the shoulder
of the two-lane
road and sit for a moment wondering
where you were going
in such a hurry.
The valley is burned
out, the oaks
dream day and night of rain
that never comes.
At noon or just before noon
the short shadows
are gray and hold what little
In the still heat the engine
the real heat is hours ahead.
You get out and step
cautiously over a low wire
fence and begin
the climb up the yellowed hill.
A hundred feet
ahead the trunks of two
rust; something passes over
them, a lizard
perhaps or a trick of sight.
The next tree
you pass is unfamiliar,
the trunk dark,
as black as an olive's; the low
out, gnarled and dull: a carob
or a Joshua tree.
A sudden flaring-up ahead,
bird rises from nowhere,
underneath its wings, and is gone.
You hear your own
breath catching in your ears,
a roaring, a sea
sound that goes on and on
until you lean
forward to place both hands
-- fingers spread --
into the bleached grasses
and let your knees
Your breath slows
and you know
you're back in central
on your way to San Francisco
or the coastal towns
with their damp sea breezes
even a hint of.
you must cross
the Pacheco Pass.
expect you, and yet
you remain, still leaning forward
into the grasses
that if you could hear them
would tell you
all you need to know about
the life ahead.
Out of a sense of modesty
or to avoid the truth
I've been writing in the second
person, but in truth
it was I, not you, who pulled
the green Ford
over to the side of the road
and decided to get
up that last hill to look
back at the valley
he'd come to call home.
I can't believe
that man, only thirty-two,
less than half
my age, could be the person
fashioning these lines.
That was late July of '60.
I had heard
all about magpies, how they
snooped and meddled
in the affairs of others, not
birds so much
If you dared
to remove a wedding
ring as you washed away
the stickiness of love
or the cherished odors of another
man or woman,
as you turned away
from the mirror
having admired your new-found
potency -- humming
"My Funny Valentine" or
"Body and Soul" --
to reach for a rough towel
or some garment
on which to dry yourself,
he would enter
the open window behind you
that gave gratefully
onto the fields and the roads
bathed in dawn --
he, the magpie -- and snatch
up the ring
in his hard beak and shoulder
his way back
into the currents of the world
on his way
to the only person who could
change your life:
a king or a bride or an old woman
asleep on her porch.
Can you believe the bird
stood beside you
just long enough, though far
smaller than you
but fearless in a way
a man or woman
could never be? An apparition
with two dark
and urgent eyes and motions
so quick and precise
they were barely motions at all?
When he was gone
you turned, alarmed by the rustling
of oily feathers
and the curious pungency,
and were sure
you'd heard him say the words
that could explain
the meaning of blond grasses
burning on a hillside
beneath the hands of a man
in the middle of
his life caught in the posture
heard that a magpie could talk,
so I waited
for the words, knowing without
the least doubt
what he'd do, for up ahead
an old woman
waited on her wide front porch.
behind her house played
in a silted pond
poking sticks at the slow
carp that flashed
in the fallen sunlight.
only once in your life, and though
too quickly, you pray for
heat to pass.
It does, and
the year turns
before it holds still for
even a moment.
Beyond the last carob
or Joshua tree
the magpie flashes his sudden
wings; a second
flames and vanishes into the pale
July 23, 1960.
I lean down
closer to hear the burned grasses
whisper all I
need to know.
The words rise
around me, separate
A yellow dust
rises and stops
caught in the noon's driving light.
Three ants pass
across the back of my reddened
Everything is speaking or singing.
We're still here.
Philip Levine |
Filaments of light
slant like windswept rain.
The orange seller hawks
into the sky, a man with a hat
stops below my window
and shakes his tassels.
in Tetuan, the room filling
with the first colors, and water running
in a tub.
A row of sparkling carp
iced in the new sun, odor
of first love, of childhood,
the fingers held to the nose,
or hours while the clock hummed.
The fat woman in the orange smock
places tiny greens at mouth
and tail as though she remembered
or yearned instead for forests, deep floors
of needles, and the hushed breath.
Blue nosed cannisters
as fat as barrels silently
"Nitro," he says.
On the roof he shows me
where Reuban lay down
to ****-off and never woke.
"We're takin little whiffs
all the time.
of glass work their way
through the canvas gloves
Lifting my black glasses
in the chemical light, I stop
to squeeze one out and the asbestos
glows like a hand in moonlight
or a face in dreams.
Pinpoints of blue
along the arms, light rushing
down across the breasts
missing the dry shadows
and rises on her knees
and smiles and far down
to the sudden embroidery of curls
the belly smiles
that three times stretched slowly moonward
in a hill of child.
Sun through the cracked glass,
bartender at the cave end
peeling a hard-boiled egg.
in the afternoon,
the dogs asleep, the river
must bridge seven parched flats
to Cordoba by nightfall.
It will never make it.
never make it.
Like the old man
in gray corduroy asleep
under the stifled fan, I have
no more moves,
stranded on an empty board.
From the high hill
behind Ford Rouge, we could see
the ore boats pulling
down river, the rail yards,
and the smoking mountain.
East, the city spreading
Clair, miles of houses,
factories, shops burning
in the still white snow.
"Share this with your brother,"
he said, and it was always winter
and a dark snow.
Thomas Hardy |
In Casterbridge there stood a noble pile,
Wrought with pilaster, bay, and balustrade
In tactful times when shrewd Eliza swayed.
On burgher, squire, and clown
It smiled the long street down for near a mile
But evil days beset that domicile;
The stately beauties of its roof and wall
Passed into sordid hands.
Condemned to fall
Were cornice, quoin, and cove,
And all that art had wove in antique style.
Among the hired dismantlers entered there
One till the moment of his task untold.
When charged therewith he gazed, and answered bold:
"Be needy I or no,
I will not help lay low a house so fair!
"Hunger is hard.
But since the terms be such -
No wage, or labour stained with the disgrace
Of wrecking what our age cannot replace
To save its tasteless soul -
I'll do without your dole.
Life is not much!
Dismissed with sneers he backed his tools and went,
And wandered workless; for it seemed unwise
To close with one who dared to criticize
And carp on points of taste:
To work where they were placed rude men were meant.
He aged, sank, sickened, and was not:
And it was said, "A man intractable
And curst is gone.
" None sighed to hear his knell,
None sought his churchyard-place;
His name, his rugged face, were soon forgot.
The stones of that fair hall lie far and wide,
And but a few recall its ancient mould;
Yet when I pass the spot I long to hold
As truth what fancy saith:
"His protest lives where deathless things abide!"
Amy Lowell |
Goaded and harassed in the factory
That tears our life up into bits of days
Ticked off upon a clock which never stays,
Shredding our portion of Eternity,
We break away at last, and steal the key
Which hides a world empty of hours; ways
Of space unroll, and Heaven overlays
The leafy, sun-lit earth of Fantasy.
Beyond the ilex shadow glares the sun,
Scorching against the blue flame of the sky.
Brown lily-pads lie heavy and supine
Within a granite basin, under one
The bronze-gold glimmer of a carp; and I
Reach out my hand and pluck a nectarine.
Carolyn Forche |
By way of a vanished bridge we cross this river
as a cloud of lifted snow would ascend a mountain.
She has always been afraid to come here.
It is the river she most
remembers, the living
and the dead both crying for help.
A world that allowed neither tears nor lamentation.
The matsu trees brush her hair as she passes
beneath them, as do the shining strands of barbed wire.
Where this lake is, there was a lake,
where these black pine grow, there grew black pine.
Where there is no teahouse I see a wooden teahouse
and the corpses of those who slept in it.
On the opposite bank of the Ota, a weeping willow
etches its memory of their faces into the water.
Where light touches the face, the character for heart is written.
She strokes a burnt trunk wrapped in straw:
I was weak and my skin hung from my fingertips like cloth
Do you think for a moment we were human beings to them?
She comes to the stone angel holding paper cranes.
Not an angel, but a woman where she once had been,
who walks through the garden Shukkei-en
calling the carp to the surface by clapping her hands.
Do Americans think of us?
So she began as we squatted over the toilets:
If you want, I'll tell you, but nothing I say will be enough.
We tried to dress our burns with vegetable oil.
Her hair is the white froth of rice rising up kettlesides, her mind also.
In the postwar years she thought deeply about how to live.
The common greeting dozo-yiroshku is please take care of me.
All hibakusha still alive were children then.
A cemetery seen from the air is a child's city.
I don't like this particular red flower because
it reminds me of a woman's brain crushed under a roof.
Perhaps my language is too precise, and therefore difficult to understand?
We have not, all these years, felt what you call happiness.
But at times, with good fortune, we experience something close.
As our life resembles life, and this garden the garden.
And in the silence surrounding what happened to us
it is the bell to awaken God that we've heard ringing.