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Brevity

Old Rhythm, old Metre

these days I don’t draw

very deep breaths. There isn’t

much left to say.

 

Rhyme, my old cymbal,

I don’t clash you as often,

or trust your old promises

of music and unison.

 

I used to love Keats, Blake.

Now I try haiku

for its honed brevities,

its inclusive silences.

 

Issa. Shiki. Buson. Bashō.

Few words and with no rhetoric.

Enclosed by silence

as is the thrush’s call.

 

Judith Arundell Wright

Biography for the Use of Birds

I was born in the century of the death of the rose

when the motor had already driven out the angels.

Quito watched as the last stagecoach rolled away,

and at its passing trees ran by in perfect order,

and also hedges and houses of new parishes,

at the threshold of the countryside

where cows were slowly chewing silence

as wind spurred on its swift horses.

 

My mother, clothed in the setting sun,

stored her youth deep in a guitar

and only on certain evenings would she show it to her children,

wrapped in music, light, and words.

I loved the hydrography of rain,

yellow fleas on apple trees,

and toads that rang two or three times

their thick wooden bells.

 

The great sail of the air manoeuvred endlessly.

The cordillera was a shore of the sky.

A storm came, and as drums rolled

its drenched regiments charged;

but then the sun’s golden patrols

restored translucent peace to the fields.

I watched men embrace barley,

horsemen sink into sky,

and laden wagons pulled by lowing oxen

travel down to the mango-fragrant coast.

 

There was a valley with farms

where dawn set off a trickle of roosters,

and to the west was a land where sugarcane

waved its peaceful banner, and cacao trees

stored in coffers their secret fortunes,

and the pineapple girded on its fragrant cuirass,

the nude banana its silken tunic.

 

It has all passed, in successive waves,

just as the useles ciphers of sea foam pass.

Entangled in seaweed, the years went by slowly

as memory became scarcely a water-lily,

its drowned face

looming up between two waters.

The guitar is only a coffin for songs

as the cock wit hits head wound laments.

And all the earth’s angels have emigrated,

even the dark brown angel of the cacao tree.

 

Jorge Carrera Andrade

 

Translation from the Spanish by Steven Ford Brown

On a Certain Lady at Court

I know a thing that’s most uncommon;

(Envy, be silent, and attend!)

I know a reasonable woman,

Handsome and witty, yet a friend.

 

Not warp’d by passion, awed by rumour,

Not grave through pride, nor gay through folly;

An equal mixture of good-humour,

And sensible soft melancholy.

 

‘Has she no faults then (Envy says), Sir?’

Yes , she has one, I must aver:

When all the world conspires to praise her

The woman’s deaf, and does not hear.

Alexander Pope

Herr Heinrich von Rugge, Codex Palatinus Germanicus 848, fol. 122r., [detail], Große Heidelberger Liederhandschrift (Codex Manesse), Zürich, ca. 1304-1340. The Codex Manesse, or Große Heidelberger Liederhandschrift, is a Liederhandschrift (a medieval songbook), the single most comprehensive source of Middle High German Minnesang poetry, written and illustrated between 1304 and 1340, source: digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de. and commons.wikimedia.org.

Start

Often the start went wrong,

the bang wasn’t loud enough

or it wasn’t heard,

and the competitors, sent back again and again to their places,

covered themselves with ashes, broke

their legs and threw sand into

the spectators’ eyes.

 

The track, the whole stadium,

was often red with blood,

the start went wrong so many times.

 

Once

a man with the starting-gun

out of fear of the imminent disaster

fired not into the air

but through his head.

As though by a miracle this time

all the runners won.

 

The death of the shot man

was hardly noticed.

 

Ever since, tradition demands,

whoever signals the start

puts the weapon to his forehead.

 

The instrument that brought in so many gold medals

has landed up with me.

 

Already the runners rest

their left knee on the chalk line,

their eyes have run on far ahead,

their nostrils quiver.

 

All they’re waiting for is the bang.

It’s all up to me.

 

Marin Sorescu

 

Translation from the Romanian by Michael Hamburger 

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