melting & burning

Allegory Of The Cave – Stephen Dunn
November 23, 2012, 8:40 am
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He climbed toward the blinding light
and when his eyes adjusted
he looked down and could see

his fellow prisoners captivated
by shadows; everything he had believed
was false. And he was suddenly

in the 20th century, in the sunlight
and violence of history, encumbered

by knowledge. Only a hero

would dare return with the truth.
So from the cave’s upper reaches,
removed from harm, he called out

the disturbing news.
What lovely echoes, the prisoners said,
what a fine musical place to live.

He spelled it out, then, in clear prose
on paper scraps, which he floated down.
But in the semi-dark they read his words

with the indulgence of those who seldom read:
It’s about my father’s death, one of them said.
No, said the others, it’s a joke.

By this time he no longer was sure
of what he’d seen. Wasn’t sunlight a shadow too?
Wasn’t there always a source

behind a source? He just stood there,
confused, a man who had moved
to larger errors, without a prayer.


The Strangest Creature On Earth – Nazim Hikmet
November 23, 2012, 8:36 am
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You’re like a scorpion, my brother,
you live in cowardly darkness
like a scorpion.
You’re like a sparrow, my brother,
always in a sparrow’s flutter.
You’re like a clam, my brother,
closed like a clam, content,
And you’re frightening, my brother,
like the mouth of an extinct volcano.
Not one,

not five–
unfortunately, you number millions.
You’re like a sheep, my brother:
when the cloaked drover raises his stick,
you quickly join the flock
and run, almost proudly, to the slaughterhouse.
I mean you’re strangest creature on earth–
even stranger than the fish
that couldn’t see the ocean for the water.
And the oppression in this world
is thanks to you.
And if we’re hungry, tired, covered with blood,
and still being crushed like grapes for our wine,
the fault is yours–
I can hardly bring myself to say it,
but most of the fault, my dear brother, is yours.

The Sonnets to Orpheus XIII – Rilke
April 14, 2012, 9:57 pm
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Be ahead of all parting, as though it already were
behind you, like the winter that has just gone by.
For among these winters there is one so endlessly winter
that only by wintering through it all will your heart survive.

Be forever dead in Eurydice-more gladly arise
into the seamless life proclaimed in your song.
Here, in the realm of decline, among momentary days,
be the crystal cup that shattered even as it rang.

Be-and yet know the great void where all things begin,
the infinite source of your own most intense vibration,
so that, this once, you may give it your perfect assent.

To all that is used-up, and to all the muffled and dumb
creatures in the world’s full reserve, the unsayable sums,
joyfully add yourself, and cancel the count.
Translated by Stephen Mitchell

The Double – Dostoevsky
February 15, 2011, 10:27 pm
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(a passage i loved when i read it on 30 Aug 2005)

“I tell you what is it is, madam, if you care to know. Nowadays, madam, nobody lives in a hut, or anything of that sort. No, indeed. And in our industrial age there’s no getting on without morality, a fact of which you are a fatal example, madam . . . You say we must get a job as a register clerk and live in a hut on the sea-shore. In the first place, madam, there are no register clerks on the sea-shore, and in the second place we can’t get a job as a register clerk. For supposing, for example, I send in a petition, present myself – saying a register clerk’s place or something of the sort . . . and defend me from my enemy . . . they’ll tell you, madam, they’ll say, to be sure . . . we’ve lots of register clerks, and here you are not at Madame Falbalas’, where you learnt the rules of good behaviour of which you are a fatal example. Good behaviour, madam, means staying at home, honouring your father and not thinking about suitors prematurely. Suitors will come in good time, madam, that’s so! Of course, you are bound to have some accomplishments, such as playing the piano sometimes, speaking French, history, geography, scripture and arithmetic, that’s the truth of it! And that’s all you need. Cooking, too, cooking certainly forms part of the education of a well-behaved girl! But as it is, in the first place, my fine lady, they won’t let you go, they’ll raise a hue and cry after you, and then they’ll lock you up in a nunnery. How will it be then, madam? What will you have me do then? Would you have me, madam, follow the example of some stupid novels, and melt into tears on a neighbouring hillock, gazing at the cold walls of your prison house, and finally die, following the example of some wretched German poets and novelists. Is that it, madam? But, to begin with, allow me to tell you, as a friend, that things are not done like that, and in the second place I would have given you and your parents, too, a good thrashing for letting you read French books; for French books teach you no good. There’s a poison in them . . . a pernicious poison, madam! Or do you imagine, allow me to ask you, or do you imagine that we shall elope with impunity, or something of that sort . . . that was shall have a hut on the shore of the sea and so on; and that we shall begin billing and cooing and talking about our feelings, and that so we shall spend our lives in happiness and content; and then there would be little ones – so then we shall . . . shall go to our father, the civil councillor, Olsufy Ivanovitch, and say, ‘we’ve got a little one, and so, on this propitious occasion remove your curse, and bless the couple.’ No, madam, I tell you again, that’s not the way to do things, and for the first thing there’ll be no billing and cooing and please don’t reckon on it. Nowadays, madam, the husband is the master and a good, well-brought-up wife should try and please him in every way. And endearments, madam, are not in favour, nowadays, in our industrial age; the day of Jean Jacques Rousseau is over. The husband comes home, for instance, hungry from the office, and asks, ‘Isn’t there something to eat, my love, a drop of vodka to drink, a bit of salt fish to eat?’ So then, madam, you must have the vodka and the herring ready. Your husband will eat it with relish, and he won’t so much as look at you, he’ll only say ‘Run into the kitchen, kitten,’ he’ll say, ‘and look after the dinner, and at most, once a week, he’ll kiss you, even then rather indifferently . . . That’s how it will be with us, my young lady! Yes, even then indifferently. . . . That’s how it will be, if one considers it, if it has come to one’s looking at the thing in that way. . . . And how do I come in? Why have you mixed me up in your caprices? ‘The noble man who is suffering for your sake and will be dear to your heart for ever,’ and so on. but in the first place, madam, I am not suited to you, you know yourself, I’m not a great hand at compliments, I’m not fond of uttering perfumed trifles for the ladies. I’m not fond of lady-killers, and I must own I’ve never been a beauty to look at. You won’t find any swagger or false shame in me, and I tell you so now in all sincerity. This is the fact of the matter: we can boast of nothing but a straightforward, open character and common sense; we have nothing to do with intrigues. I am not one to intrigue, I say so and I’m proud of it – that’s the fact of the matter! . . . I wear no mask among straightforward people, and to tell you the whole truth. . . .”

Human beings – Yevtushenko
February 7, 2011, 5:41 pm
Filed under: poem | Tags: ,

С. Преображенскому

Людей неинтересных в мире нет.
Их судьбы — как истории планет.
У каждой все особое, свое,
и нет планет, похожих на нее.

А если кто-то незаметно жил
и с этой незаметностью дружил,
он интересен был среди людей
самой неинтересностью своей.

У каждого — свой тайный личный мир.
Есть в мире этом самый лучший миг.
Есть в мире этом самый страшный час,
но это все неведомо для нас.

И если умирает человек,
с ним умирает первый его снег,
и первый поцелуй, и первый бой…
Все это забирает он с собой.

Да, остаются книги и мосты,
машины и художников холсты,
да, многому остаться суждено,
но что-то ведь уходит все равно!

Таков закон безжалостной игры.
Не люди умирают, а миры.
Людей мы помним, грешных и земных.
А что мы знали, в сущности, о них?

Что знаем мы про братьев, про друзей,
что знаем о единственной своей?
И про отца родного своего
мы, зная все, не знаем ничего.

Уходят люди… Их не возвратить.
Их тайные миры не возродить.
И каждый раз мне хочется опять
от этой невозвратности кричать.




Human Beings
To S. Preobrazhensky 

All humans are noteworthy. Their lives
Resemble those of planets in the skies.
Each is specific and unique indeed,
No planet is identical to it.

If someone lived an unobtrusive life,
And unobtrusiveness was in his line,
People took interest in him because
Such an uninteresting man he was.

Each human has his own inmost world
With the happiest moment to be recalled,
With the most frightful moment to shake off;
But those are things that we know nothing of.

And when a person draws his final breath
Everything goes the way of all the earth
For with the death he takes along with him
First snow, first kiss, first battle – everything.

It’s true that bridges, paintings, books, machines
Remain, along with other things,
It’s true that many things are here to stay,
But something is to perish anyway.

Such is the rule of game, in other words,
It’s people that decease, not their worlds.
We have remembrances of people, well, then
What did we actually know about them?

What do we know of our brothers, friends,
Of our only one, whom heaven sends?
And, knowing our own father on the whole,
We don’t know anything about him at all.

Thus people pass away, and they will not return.
Their inmost worlds will never be reborn.
And every time my heart just screams
About this irretrievable course of things.