Friday, June 27, 2008

Death Will Come and Will Have Your Eyes by Cesare Pavese

Cesare Pavese's "Death Will Come and Will Have Your Eyes" was among the poems found in his desk after his suicide. Considering the circumstances, it's strikingly haunting.

Death will come and will have your eyes—
this death that accompanies us
from morning till evening, unsleeping,
deaf, like an old remorse
or an absurd vice. Your eyes
will be a useless word,
a suppressed cry, a silence.
That’s what you see each morning
when alone with yourself you lean
toward the mirror. O precious hope,
that day we too will know
that you are life and you are nothingness.

Death has a look for everyone.
Death will come and will have your eyes.
It will be like renouncing a vice,
like seeing a dead face reappear in the mirror,
like listening to a lip that’s shut.
We’ll go down into the maelstrom mute.

--Translated by Geoffrey Brock

Cesare Pavese (1908-1950), a poet, novelist and critic, was a major Italian author of the 20th Century.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World by Sherman Alexie

This week, a poem by American Indian poet Sherman Alexie. Grief Calls Us is funny, unpretentious and bluntly human.   Notice how smoothly the poem springboards into the abstract in the last three stanzas, where the poet's anger finally comes forward.

Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World

The eyes open to a blue telephone
In the bathroom of this five-star hotel.

I wonder whom I should call? A plumber,
Proctologist, urologist, or priest?

Who is most among us and most deserves
The first call? I choose my father because

He's astounded by bathroom telephones.
I dial home. My mother answers. "Hey, Ma,

I say, "Can I talk to Poppa?" She gasps,
And then I remember that my father

Has been dead for nearly a year. "Shit, Mom,"
I say. "I forgot he’s dead. I’m sorry—

How did I forget?" "It’s okay," she says.
"I made him a cup of instant coffee

This morning and left it on the table—
Like I have for, what, twenty-seven years—

And I didn't realize my mistake
Until this afternoon." My mother laughs

At the angels who wait for us to pause
During the most ordinary of days

And sing our praise to forgetfulness
Before they slap our souls with their cold wings.

Those angels burden and unbalance us.
Those fucking angels ride us piggyback.

Sherman Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, is the author of many books and was a three time World Poetry Slam Champion.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Blessing by James Wright

This week's poem is a quiet but ecstatic encounter with nature. I love the ending. Wright often steps away with a beautiful bang.

The Blessing

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

James Wright was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio, on December 13, 1927. His father worked for fifty years at a glass factory, and his mother left school at fourteen to work in a laundry; neither attended school beyond the eighth grade. In 1972, his Collected Poems received the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He died in New York City in 1980.

Friday, June 06, 2008

"There is a pleasure in the pathless woods" by George Gordon, Lord Byron

Byron is well-known for satirical work like Don Juan (wherein he rhymed "Juan" with "new one"), but I admire his quiet, passionate poetry just as much. "There is a pleasure..." is an excerpt from a long, partly autobiographical poem entitled Childe Harold's Pilgrimage.

The poem is a Spenserian stanza (named for its inventor Edmund Spenser), and Byron manages the form brilliantly. It features an internal rhyming couplet--which he makes sing--and the final line has an extra beat which helps emphasize the ending.

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne'er express, yet cannot all conceal.

One of the great poets of the British Romantic Period, Lord Byron was born in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1788. With the publication of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, he became quite famous. He lived passionately (and scandalously) until his death in 1824.