Category Archives: Poetry

The first human listeners

… WHEN WILL, when will, when will they let it suffice,
the complaining, explaining? Have we not had masters to splice
human words, compose them? Why all this new endeavour?

Do not, do not, do not books for ever
hammer at people like perpetual bells?
When, between two books, silent sky appears: be glad…
or a patch of plain earth in the evening.

Louder than gale, louder than sea swell, men
have roared and yelled… what preponderance of stillness
must reside in the cosmic spaces, when
the cricket is audible still to yelling mankind.
When stars, the silent, shine for us in the yelled-at heavens!

Oh, if they spoke to us, the remotest, ancient, most ancient forbears!
And we: listeners at last. The first human listeners.

— Rilke (trans. M. Hamburger)

Abandoned bare on the heart’s mountains

Abandoned bare on the heart’s mountains. Look, how small there,
look: the last little village of words, and higher,
but also how small, a last
homestead of feeling. Familiar to you?
Abandoned bare on the heart’s mountains. Rock base
under your hands. True, something blossoms
here; from silent erosion
an unknowing herb breaks into blossom, singing.
But the knowing man? He who began to know
and is silent now, abandoned bare on the heart’s mountains.
True, with awareness intact many a creature
moves about, many a mountain animal lives secure,
changes and stays. And the great bird at home here
circles the pure negation of peaks. — But
homeless here on the heart’s mountains…

— Rilke (trans. M. Hamburger)

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Not a believer inside the mosque, am I
Nor a pagan disciple of false rites
Not the pure amongst the impure
Neither Moses, nor the Pharoh

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Not in the holy Vedas, am I
Nor in opium, neither in wine
Not in the drunkard`s intoxicated craze
Niether awake, nor in a sleeping daze

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

In happiness nor in sorrow, am I
Neither clean, nor a filthy mire
Not from water, nor from earth
Neither fire, nor from air, is my birth

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Not an Arab, nor Lahori
Neither Hindi, nor Nagauri
Hindu, Turk, nor Peshawari
Nor do I live in Nadaun

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Secrets of religion, I have not known
From Adam and Eve, I am not born
I am not the name I assume
Not in stillness, nor on the move

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

I am the first, I am the last
None other, have I ever known
I am the wisest of them all
Bulleh! do I stand alone?

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

— Bulleh Shah

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Not a believer inside the mosque, am I
Nor a pagan disciple of false rites
Not the pure amongst the impure
Neither Moses, nor the Pharoh

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Not in the holy Vedas, am I
Nor in opium, neither in wine
Not in the drunkard`s intoxicated craze
Niether awake, nor in a sleeping daze

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

In happiness nor in sorrow, am I
Neither clean, nor a filthy mire
Not from water, nor from earth
Neither fire, nor from air, is my birth

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Not an Arab, nor Lahori
Neither Hindi, nor Nagauri
Hindu, Turk, nor Peshawari
Nor do I live in Nadaun

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Secrets of religion, I have not known
From Adam and Eve, I am not born
I am not the name I assume
Not in stillness, nor on the move

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

I am the first, I am the last
None other, have I ever known
I am the wisest of them all
Bulleh! do I stand alone?

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

— Bulleh Shah

I should be glad of another death

Were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

— T.S. Eliot, from ‘Journey of the Magi’

The fire goes down easily

He never described himself as a poet or his work as poetry. The fact that the lines do not come to the edge of the page is no guarantee. Poetry is a verdict, not an occupation. He hated to argue about the techniques of verse. The poem is a dirty, bloody, burning thing that has to be grabbed first with bare hands. Once the fire celebrated Light, the dirt Humility, the blood Sacrifice. Now the poets are professional fire-eaters, freelancing at any carnival. The fire goes down easily and honours no one in particular.

— Leonard Cohen, The Favourite Game

A magic cure

I get up too late
The day is lost
I don’t bless the rooster
I don’t raise my hands to the water
Then it’s dark
and I look into all the spots
on rue St-Denis
I even talk religion
to the other wastrels
who, like me, are after new women
In bed I fall asleep
in the middle of a Psalm
which I am reading
for a magic cure

— Leonard Cohen

A deep happiness

A deep happiness
     has seized me
My Christian friends say
that I have received
     the Holy Spirit
It is only the truth of solitude
It is only the torn anemone
fastened to the rock
     its root exposed
to the off-shore wind
O friend of my scribbled life
your heart is like mine —
your loneliness
     will bring you home

— Leonard Cohen

Lachrimae antiquae novae

 Crucified Lord, so naked to the world,
you live unseen within that nakedness,
consigned by proxy to the judas-kiss
of our devotion, bowed beneath the gold,

 

with re-enactments, penances foretold:
scentings of love across a wilderness
of retrospection, wild and objectless
longings incarnate in the carnal child.

 

Beautiful for themselves the icons fade;
the lions and the hermits disappear.
Triumphalism feasts on empty dread,

 

fulfilling triumphs of the festal year.
We find you wounded by the token spear.
Dominion is swallowed with your blood.

 

— Geoffrey Hill

Desire

It is terrible to desire and not possess, and terrible to possess and not desire.

— Yeats

‘One cannot lose what one has not possessed.’
So much for that abrasive gem.
I can lose what I want. I want you.

— Geoffrey Hill