Sunday, February 3, 2019

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Year by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

What can be said in New-Year rhymes,
That’s not been said a thousand times?

The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.

We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.

We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.

We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our brides, we sheet our dead.

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that’s the burden of the year.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Thomas Mann by Wislawa Szymborska

Dear mermaids, it was bound to happen.
Beloved fauns and honourable angels,
evolution has emphatically cast you out.
Not that it lacks imagination, but
you with your Devonian tail fins and alluvial breasts,
your fingered hands and cloven feet,
your arms alongside, not instead of, wings,
your, heaven help us, horns sprouted out of spite,
illegitimate beaks, this morphogenetic potpourri, those
finned or furry frills and furbelows, the couplets
pairing human/heron with such cunning
that their offspring knows all, is immortal, and can fly,
you must admit that it would be a nasty joke,
excessive, everlasting, and no end of bother,
one that mother nature wouldn't like and won't allow.

And after all she does permit a fish to fly,
deft and defiant.  Each such ascent
consoles our rule-bound world, reprieves it
from necessity's confines--more
than enough for the world to be a world.

And after all she does permit us baroque gems
like this: a platypus that feeds its chicks on milk.
She might have said no--and which one of us would know
that we'd been robbed?

                    But the best is that
she somehow missed the moment when a mammal turned up
with its hand miraculously feathered by a fountain pen.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Returning Birds by Wislawa Zsymborska

This spring the birds came back again too early.
Rejoice, O reason: instinct can err, too.
It gathers wool, it dozes off -- and down they fall
into the snow, into a foolish fate, a death
that doesn't suit their well-wrought throats and splendid claws,
their honest cartilage and conscientious webbing,
the heart's sensible sluice, the entrails' maze,
the nave of ribs, the vertebrae in stunning enfilades,
feathers deserving their own wing in any crafts museum,
the Benedictine patience of the beak.

This is not a dirge -- no, it's only indignation.
An angel made of earthbound protein,
a living kite with glands straight from the Song of Songs,
singular in air, without number in the hand,
its tissues tied into a common knot
of place and time, as in an Aristotelian drama
unfolding to the wings' applause,
falls down and lies beside a stone,
which in its own archaic, simpleminded way
sees life as a chain of failed attempts.

On Death, Without Exaggeration by Wislawa Szymborska

It can't take a joke, 
find a star, make a bridge. 
It knows nothing about weaving, mining, farming, 
building ships, or baking cakes.
In our planning for tomorrow, 
it has the final word, 
which is always beside the point.

It can't even get the things done 
that are part of its trade: 
dig a grave, 
make a coffin, 
clean up after itself.

Preoccupied with killing, 
it does the job awkwardly, 
without system or skill. 
As though each of us were its first kill.

Oh, it has its triumphs, 
but look at its countless defeats, 
missed blows, 
and repeat attempts!

Sometimes it isn't strong enough 
to swat a fly from the air. 
Many are the caterpillars 
that have outcrawled it.

All those bulbs, pods, 
tentacles, fins, tracheae, 
nuptial plumage, and winter fur 
show that it has fallen behind 
with its halfhearted work.

Ill will won't help 
and even our lending a hand with wars and coups d'etat 
is so far not enough.

Hearts beat inside eggs. 
Babies' skeletons grow. 
Seeds, hard at work, sprout their first tiny pair of leaves 
and sometimes even tall trees fall away.

Whoever claims that it's omnipotent 
is himself living proof 
that it's not.

There's no life 
that couldn't be immortal 
if only for a moment.

always arrives by that very moment too late.

In vain it tugs at the knob 
of the invisible door. 
As far as you've come 
can't be undone. 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Nothing Twice by Wislawa Szymborska

Nothing can ever happen twice.
In consequence, the sorry fact is
that we arrive here improvised
and leave without the chance to practice. 

Even if there is no one dumber,
if you’re the planet’s biggest dunce,
you can’t repeat the class in summer:
this course is only offered once. 

No day copies yesterday,
no two nights will teach what bliss is
in precisely the same way,
with precisely the same kisses. 

One day, perhaps some idle tongue
mentions your name by accident:
I feel as if a rose were flung
into the room, all hue and scent. 

The next day, though you’re here with me,
I can’t help looking at the clock:
A rose? A rose? What could that be?
Is it a flower or a rock? 

Why do we treat the fleeting day
with so much needless fear and sorrow?
It’s in its nature not to stay:
Today is always gone tomorrow. 

With smiles and kisses, we prefer
to seek accord beneath our star,
although we’re different (we concur)
just as two drops of water are. 

The End and the Beginning by Wislawa Zsymborska

After every war
someone has to clean up.

Things won’t
straighten themselves up, after all.

Someone has to push the rubble
to the side of the road,
so the corpse-filled wagons
can pass.

Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.

Someone has to drag in a girder
to prop up a wall.
Someone has to glaze a window,
rehang a door.

Photogenic it’s not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.

We’ll need the bridges back,
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.

Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls the way it was.
Someone else listens
and nods with unsevered head.
But already there are those nearby
starting to mill about
who will find it dull.

From out of the bushes
sometimes someone still unearths
rusted-out arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.

Those who knew
what was going on here
must make way for
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.

In the grass that has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.