Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Poetry Session — Feb 26, 2018

Catherine Stoll-Simon, Thommo

A surprisingly large turnout  seven members plus a guest  at the first poetry session of the year underscores the love for poetry among our readers. Physical absence no longer seems a hurdle to participation, for Joe & KumKum have been virtually present throughout their sojourn in USA. They send their recorded voice files, podcasts we may say, that are played at the beginning of the meeting.

Contrary to the notion of a general decline in poetry, KRG members evince a lively interest. Sunil who expressed an unease with poetry formerly, seems now a convert, a real poetry fan. He read from the poems of a Polish poet, Czesław Miłosz. 

Saras and Shoba

The presence of KRG's guest of the evening, the French artist, poet, and writer, Catherine Stoll-Simon added to the interest. She is in Fort Kochi preparing an exhibition of sacred dresses, the first of which is titled Christ in New York, on view at the Kashi Art Gallery on Quieros Street, Fort KochiPriya has written an article on her work in The Hindu, and introduced Catherine, whom she met during the course of her journalistic exploration.


Although Saras has had to move to Nemmara she will try to visit Kochi on the appointed dates for our sessions. We salute her for her commitment and loyalty, and would sorely miss her if she was not present. Pamela meanwhile on a visit to Delhi sent us news of the Delhi Literature Festival (http://delhiliteraturefestival.org/) she attended.

Pamela at Delhi Literature Festival on Feb 24, 2018

Here is a group picture of the readers after the event at the Yacht Club:

Preeti, Saras, Zakia, Catherine Stoll-Simon, Shoba, Priya (Front) Sunil, Thommo (back)

The session began by playing Joe’s reading of the  pic poem, The Conference of the Birds, by the Iranian poet Farid ud-Din AttarAttar was a renowned poet who lived in Iran. He was born in Nishapur, where another poet Joe recited from earlier, Omar Khayyam, was born.  
The epic poem of 4,455 lines is about a Quest, undertaken by the birds in this poem for the wondrous king known as Simorgh. It is orchestrated by a hoopoe who serves as the motivator and mentor for the rest. The hoopoe, who summons them to the quest may represent a sheik or holy man among Muslims.
The traveling birds have to traverse Valleys swarming with dangers – Valley of the Quest, Valley of Love, of Knowledge, of Detachment, of Unity, of Wonderment, and finally the Valley of Poverty and Annihilation. Each is symbolic of a stage in the journey where one sheds something, or realizes something, or becomes perplexed. Many of the birds perish along the way from different causes. In the end only thirty birds make it to see the Simorgh, and to their consternation the birds learn that they themselves are the Simorgh; ‘Simorgh’ in Farsi means thirty (si) birds (morgh). 
They ask (but inwardly; they make no sound)
This epic poem is an allegorical summary of the Sufi teaching that the divine lies within each believer’s soul. God is all that truly exists; everything else, including our worldly selves, is merely a shadow of His or Her presence.
   Attar traveled through all the seven cities of love
Catherine Stoll-Simon
The documentary-maker Merrily Weisbord from Montreal travelled to India in  1995 to meet Kamala Das. Over the next  14 years their friendship grew and they shared experiences. The result is The Love Queen of Malabar: Memoir of a Friendship with Kamala Das:
The epic poem of 4,455 lines is about a Quest, undertaken by the birds in this poem for the wondrous king known as Simorgh. It is orchestrated by a hoopoe who serves as the motivator and mentor for the rest. The hoopoe, who summons them to the quest, speaks:
You can listen to KumKum reading Muriel Spark's poems at this link.
This happens on an average one year
that there are always 
But usually that shoe that I 
deadens all our pain,
Having a Coke with You
Full Account and Record of the KRG Poetry Session Feb 26, 2018

Present: Shobha, Preeti, Zakia, Priya, Sunil, Thommo, Saraswathy

Guest: Catherine Stoll Simon
Virtually Present: Joe, Kumkum
Absent: Ankush (?), Pamela (away to Delhi), Hemjit (unwell)

Farid ud-Din Attar (ca. 1148 to 1220)

The Conference of the Birds is an epic poem by Attar. The original is written in rhyming couplets of eleven syllables; the husband-and-wife team of Dick Davis and Afkham Darbandi has turned it into rhyming couplets of iambic pentameters in their translation of 1984, revised in 2011. Dick Davis was a British poet and translator who was a professor at Ohio State University. Theirs is a lovely story:

Dick Davis and his wife, Afkham Darbandi, met in Iran when he was hospitalised

But the epic, like all epics is interspersed with entertaining stories, some of which are told by the hoopoe to keep up the spirits of the birds, and some are inserted by the poet to amuse his readers. There is the story of Leili and Majnun (whom we know in India as Laila & Majnu). Also the story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers, which is in the Koran. There is a wonderful story of love bestowed and scorned, and then repented of in the story of the Sheikh and the Christian girl in Rome. 

Here is another example, a story illustrating how lovers may become one:

The lover who saved his beloved from drowning
A girl fell in a river – in a flash
Her lover dived in with a mighty splash,
And fought the current till he reached her side.
When they were safe again, the poor girl cried:
“By chance I tumbled in, but why should you
Come after me and hazard your life too?”
He said: “I dived because the difference
Of ‘I’ and ‘you’ to lovers makes no sense –
A long time passed when we were separate,
But now that we have reached this single state
When you are me and I am wholly you,
What use is it to talk of us as two?”
All talk of two implies plurality –
When two has gone there will be Unity.

Mantiq al-Tayr, The Language of the Birds, by Farid ud-Din Attar 
Scene from a Persian miniature. The hoopoe, center right, instructs the other birds on the Sufi path

They eventually come to understand that the majesty of that Beloved is like the sun that can be seen reflected in a mirror. Yet, whoever looks into that mirror will also behold his or her own image. Here is the verse describing their puzzlement:

The meaning of these mysteries that confound
Their puzzled ignorance — how is it true
That ‘we’ is not distinguished here from ‘you’? 
And silently their shining Lord replies: 
‘I am a mirror set before your eyes, 
And all who come before my splendour see 
Themselves, their own unique reality; 
You came as thirty birds and therefore saw 
These selfsame thirty birds, not less nor more; 
If you had come as forty, fifty – here 
An answering forty, fifty, would appear; 
Though you have struggled, wandered, travelled far, 
It is yourselves you see and what you are.’

Jalal ud-Din Rumi in the 13th century and Hafez in the 14th were later poets in Iran who were indebted to Attar’s work. Rumi, who is far better known in the West (though not so in Iran) said this about Attar:

   While I am only at the bend of the first alley.

Catherine said that as she was interested in Sufism she had heard of the poet. Priya said she loved Joe’s choice of reading from an epic work, as she too had chosen to read from what has been called “the greatest epic poem in English” — Paradise Lost by Milton. The poem reminded her of Aristophanes’ comic play, Birds.

Catherine Stoll-Simon was our guest of the evening. She has visited Fort Kochi several times and has been in residence with the Kashi Art Gallery for two months as an artist, preparing an exhibition. The exhibition has installations of dresses collectively called, Dressed With The Sacred, that opens at Kashi Art Cafe on March 2, 2018 and runs for a month.  One among them, called Christ in New York depicts an imaginative recreation of the cloak worn by Christ against a backdrop of the Manhattan skyline. 

Catherine Stoll-Simon imaginatively recreates the tunic worn by Christ
and encourages viewers to look inwards

Catherine works with simple organic materials - sack-cloth, clay, etc. Priya writes about Catherine in her article in The Hindu: “In her long career, she was drawn towards Sufi subjects and spent several years in Tunisia, in Morocco. She lived on and off in the desert, four months a year, for nearly 12 years with groups of Bedouins, and wrote poems about her experiences. The desert life is central to her works.”

Here is her bio taken from Catherine's website http://catherinestoll.free.fr
Catherine is a graduate of French literature and art classes from the city of Paris. She is a journalist, writer and photographer who engages in several plastic art activities.

She is a peripatetic traveler, passionate about cultures and the literatures of black Africa and the Maghreb. From 1993 to 1999, she was a member of the Board of Directors of Cercle Amadou Hampâté Bâ in Paris whose magazine she curates. She believes with Theodore Monod that “in Africa, every time an old man dies, it is a library that burns.”

Catherine participated in the year of Algeria in France in 2002; and was the co-author of the texts of the exhibition “Emir Abd-el-Kader, a man, a destiny, a message” presented at the Institute of the Arab World, in more than thirty French cities.

She has written many articles (especially for Qantara, the magazine of the IMA) on the Sahara. She has participated several times in the work of the Chair of the University of Tunis for the dialogue of civilizations and religions. She organizes conferences (Egyptian Cultural Center, Embassy of Tunisia ...) on her travels and books.

She is a member of the International Foundation “Deserts of the World.”

She has had many exhibitions of her artistic work in Paris and elsewhere and participated at the International Photography Meeting in Ghar el Melh (Tunisia) in in June 2008.

Here are some books published by Catherine:
- Le cercle intime (2000); Le Petit Véhicule;
- Goût de lumière (2005); House of Poetry of Tunis; bilingual French-Arabic edition;
- Mise en être, ontological poems (2006), The Scribe-L'Harmattan;
- Si Mahmoud ou la renaissance d’Isabelle Eberhardt (Essai); Zellige in France (2006-2007), Tarik Editions in Morocco, Alpha Editions in Algeria and Elyzad in Tunisia.

Catherine Stoll-Simon divides her time mostly between Paris and the Tunisian Sahara. She also works as a therapist, certified professional coach and trainer.
Catherine spoke about her works in literature and poetry. She was a journalist before she took to serious writing and has to her credit seven published books. The theme of her poems is mainly Nature in stress.

She said there was an urgent need for humans to act in order to save Nature from our selfish ways that are depleting natural resources and damaging the planet. In her poems the wind, earth, animals, and the monkey, all speak about being disrespected by humans. She said that she would particularly want children to read her poems.

Her poem, Dancing Dunes, in French, translated into English by her, is about the desert in North Africa and was published by House of Poetry in Tunisia. The House of Poetry is an old Ottoman period house, a nice place to read poetry, she said. Her poems have been published in French and translated into Arabic.

Priya said she loved the phrases “their agglomerated grains,” and “curved rhythms” of the sand dunes. Zakia found the poetry read in French pleasing to her ear. Everyone enjoyed listening to the exchange, in French, between Shoba, who used to teach French in Rajagiri School and now instructs at the Alliance Française in Kochi, and Catherine who hails from Paris.

Catherine spoke, at length, of her association with the North African desert where she has lived, on and off, for 12 years, going there four times a year. She has a deep relationship with the desert, which has given her solace and meaning during difficult times in her life.

Asked whether Catherine liked the desert or living in Fort Kochi more, she gave a diplomatic reply but added that her paternal ancestry was from the French Antilles, where many Indians live and has similarities to Fort Kochi.

Victor Marie Hugo (1802 - 1885)

Thommo chose to read Victor Hugo’s poems and said he made the choice because a French artist and poet was gracing our reading. Victor Hugo is better known as a novelist but he has two collections of poems — Contemplations and Legend of the Ages

Mount Vesuvius in Eruption, 1817, by M.W. Turner, Yale Center for British Art

Thommo read Vesuvius and Albert Dürer and showed photographs relating to both the poems. The group discussed the earth-shattering volcanic eruption and the city of Pompeii, which was buried under volcanic ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. Thommo said that it is now a tourist destination and remarkably well-preserved in time.

Of the artist and engraver, Dürer, who worked in Venice, Thommo said that his intricate woodcuts had inspired Hugo to pen the poem.

Albrecht Dürer, self portrait, aged 28

Catherine recalled that one day she was reading a poem on poor people by Victor Hugo at age nine in the kitchen when her father walked in. He asked her to read it to him. Hugo is an excellent poet, she said. The bio below is mostly taken from the Wikipedia entry https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victor_Hugo

Victor Marie Hugo was a French poet, novelist, and dramatist of the Romantic movement, considered one of the greatest and best-known among French writers. Many of his works were set to music; for example, Notre-Dame de Paris and Les Misérables. He campaigned for social causes such as the abolition of capital punishment. His work touches on the moral and social issues of the times.

Hugo's eldest and favourite daughter, Léopoldine, died aged 19 in 1843 and that inspired many poems, including a cry from the heart, À Villequier. Hugo espoused the literary movement of Romanticism in France of which Chateaubriand was the leading light. He published his first novel in 1823, and a second one there years later. Volumes of poetry ensued. His first collection of poetry (Odes et poésies diverses) was published in 1822 when he was only 20 years old and earned him a royal pension from Louis XVIII.  His first mature work of fiction was Le Dernier jour d'un condamné (The Last Day of a Condemned Man) which brought to the fore his social conscience and had a profound effect on later writers as diverse as Dickens and Camus. It was a precursor to his famous novel Les Misérables, published in 1862 after much maturation in his brain. Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame) was published in 1831 and quickly translated into other languages across Europe. 

In spite of his reputation as an advocate of social justice, Hugo’s blind spots regarding French colonialism in Africa and his obvious feeling of white superiority to Africans, cannot be dismissed. 

Though brought up as a Catholic, he had an antipathy toward the Church for its not siding with the working classes. Towards the end of his life he declared optimistically: “In the twentieth century war will be dead, the scaffold will be dead, hatred will be dead, frontier boundaries will be dead, dogmas will be dead; man will live.” 

As the physicist Niels Bohr said in his own Yogi Berra style, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future.”

Hugo was much celebrated and glorified in his lifetime by the French nation. Wikipedia notes: “On 27 June, 1881 one of the largest parades in French history was held. Marchers stretched from the Avenue d'Eylau, where the author was living, down the Champs-Élysées, and all the way to the centre of Paris. The paraders marched for six hours past Hugo as he sat at the window inside his house.”

Hugo's death from pneumonia on 22 May 1885, at the age of 83, generated intense national mourning, for he was revered as a towering figure in literature.

Apropos of something, Sunil remarked that people like him, Fort Kochi residents, are so few now that they are rare museum pieces; he is one of those left behind in the general exodus from FK and its conversion into a tourism hotspot with home-stays, hotels, and curio shops. 

Muriel Spark, born 1918
Muriel Spark is the poet KumKum chose for today’s reading. She was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on February 1, 1918. She married Sidney Spark in 1937, but the marriage did not last long; she had a son and carried her husband's surname for the rest of her life. 

Muriel Spark became a serious writer after her divorce. She provided money for her son's support, though he was looked after by her own mother. Muriel and her son never got along well.

She wrote novels, short stories, poems and essays. Her writings were popular in England, USA and other English-speaking countries. She lived in London, New York, Rome and Tuscany during different phases of her long creative life. She died in 2006 in Tuscany, having lived the last 35 years of her life there with her sculptor friend Penelope Jardine. 

Muriel Spark's writings bore evidence of her sharp wit, elegant prose and thought-provoking imagination. Though she was better known for her novels, she wrote poems even before she began to write novels, and continued all her life. KumKum read two poems for KRG's February 2018 Session.

Kum Kum’s recording was played and everyone enjoyed the two short poems of Muriel Spark.

Sunil, was his usual witty self and remarked on these lines of Spark’s poem What the Stranger Wondered:
I do not think
She has anything in the bank.
Sunil said it was a very Malayali thought— the woman sitting alone while a stranger wonders about her bank balance. Saras concurred, saying people in Kerala ask very personal and intimate questions of a stranger without batting an eyelid. When she came to live here, after marriage, having grown up in North India (Allahabad) she was frequently accosted with the question, vishesham entha? At first she did not quite get what was meant until she learnt that it was a way of asking a newly married woman if she was pregnant. On the other hand entha parupaadi is the Malayali version of the innocuous ‘what’s up’?

Kamala Das (1934-2009)
Saras introduced the poet Kamala Das with the essay by Sheryl Sebastian:

Saras chose to read Kamala Das, as her biopic Aami directed by Kamal, is playing to full theatres in Kerala. Kamala Das has been read before and members aired many, mostly controversial, stories again — based on hearsay or real-life encounters with her. Saras said she did not much like the film but Priya said she had read very good reviews and the director had stuck to the real story of her life. A member said that the many sexual relationships Kamala Das had were shown in the film metaphorically. Her liaisons with men were depicted as her playing Gopika to Lord Krishna! Gopika, nayika, kavita ... whatever.

By way of quick introduction Saras said Kamala Das or Madhvikutty was married at the age of 15 and had a conflicted life. Members spoke of her controversial conversion to Islam and the reasons behind it. Kamala Das, as everyone said, never ceases to excite and inspire readers.

In Malayalam Kamala Das wrote short stories under the pen name Madhavikutty; her wrote poems in English under the name Kamala Das. About taking the surname Das she said: “I took my husband’s name to make him feel that he belonged, to make him respectable.” For in Nair society the lineage is matriarchal, the man is secondary; but her three sons took the name of the mother’s house, Nalapat, and kept Das as the middle name.

She was born into a writing family. Her father was, V.M. Nair, a former editor of Mathrubhumi, the prominent Malayalam weekly. Her mother, Balamani Amma, was a poet in Malayalam. With that kind of lineage she too got the writer’s bug very early. And although married off at the age of fifteen, she did not wait until she had finished raising children and performing all the wifely duties society expects, before turning her hand to literary pursuits. She worked at night after the day’s chores; her husband encouraged her, since it brought in additional income. He was Reserve Bank officer in Bombay.

She started early in Calcutta where during some earlier time her father (V.M. Nair, that is) was in charge of sales at Walford Transport Company which had a showroom on Chowringhee for expensive cars. At the age of twenty she published her first poetry collection (all the poetry she published was in English). Her chief subject was love, in all it’s forms; she was a confessional poet on the face of it — but whether these are actual exploits and experiences or imagined adventures she writes about, one can only guess; perhaps a bit of both.

Sheryl Sebastian notes that her writing consisted of vivid descriptions of menstruation, puberty, love, lust, lesbian encounters, child marriage, infidelity and physical intimacy. Kamala Das said poetry does not sell in India (does it sell anywhere?). But when she wrote her premature autobiography in Malayalam titled Enthe Katha (My Story) in 1973 the public lapped it up since it did cover her alleged encounters with men with a degree of unaccustomed frankness. It would appear that Mr Das was bisexual, and didn’t mind her taking up with other men. Much later it was translated into English with additions. The autobiography according to K. Satchidanandan, the poet, “honestly captures a woman’s inner life in all its sad solitude, its desperate longing for real love and its desire for transcendence, its tumult of colours and its turbulent poetry.”

Weisbord relates the the events of the poet's last years, including the scandal when she converted to Islam for love and renewal.

Kamala Das received many literary awards during her life, including the Sahitya Akademi Award for poetry. In 1999 she converted to Islam. It is understood she was deceived by a Muslim League MP who said he would marry her if she converted; she did convert but the man had other things on his mind, and was married already; so the brave gesture was a vain one. They say she died chanting Krishna under her burkha-covered face.

That’s what some say: read the article by our former reader Minu Ittyipe in the magazine Outlook India (https://www.outlookindia.com/magazine/story/through-the-authors-veil/297748). But Kamala Das’ family thinks otherwise. Madhav Das Nalapat, her eldest son, says his mother never wanted to return to Hinduism. In any event, she was buried with state honors at the Palayam Jama Masjid at Thiruvananthapuram.

In Feb 2018 Aami, a film based on her life, was released, with the well-know Malayalam actress, Manju Warrier, in the lead role.

Pablo Neruda (1904 – 1973)
Shoba chose a lovely poem by Pablo Neruda. Priya remarked that Shoba always chose something simple and charming. Shoba wanted to read a Spanish poet as she is learning Spanish. The poem was written by Neruda when he was in exile in Burma. Shoba said that not much is talked about this time in his life.

Neruda has been recited at least three times before by Pamela, Joe, and Minu (a former reader). Therefore, his bio is available at several places on our blog:

In the last reference above Joe wondered why Veinte Poemas de Amor (Twenty Poems of Love) never figured in past readings of Neruda. He made good that deficit by reading a couple of poems from the collection. “They are erotic, there’s no doubt, and when the poet was asked, he admitted to two girls being responsible for the evocation in the poems, Marisol and Marisombra. The world has to thank them.”

This was the line Sunil liked particularly from that reading:
Love’s so brief, forgetting so prolonged.
(Es tan corto el amor, y es tan largo el olvido.)

Shoba read a simple unsentimental poem written by Neruda when his dog died. The poet affirms (as several Popes have declared):
Yes, I believe in a heaven for all dogdom
where my dog waits for my arrival
waving his fan-like tail in friendship.

The poet expresses his great feeling of loss, and at the same time recognizes the particular friendship which made his dog so worthy and unique for him:
… with those eyes so much purer than mine,
he'd keep on gazing at me
with a look that reserved for me alone
all his sweet and shaggy life,
always near me, never troubling me,
and asking nothing.

It is a poem for all masters and mistresses who suffer this irreparable loss.

Vera Pavlova (born 1963, Moscow)
Zakia read Russian poet Vera Pavlova and said she liked the fact that these short small poems were poignant, like “zoom on to something special.”

Here is a biography of Vera Pavlova’s poetic achievements that was written for the 2009 Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam.

Vera Pavlova was born in Moscow. She studied at the Schnittke Academy of Music, sang in a church choir, majored in the history of music, and three years later launched her literary career with revealing poems that confronted many readers with repressed memories, concealed experiences and latent longings. Pavlova’s poetic persona put an end to the acute division that had previously been prevalent in Russia: high-flown, strait-laced ‘poetry for the soul’ as opposed to lewd street ballads.

The same inclination to build a bridge between black and white is apparent from the titles of her collections of poetry: Heavenly Beast, Worldwide, The Intimate Diary of a Nerd, Wise Morons – though nowhere do Pavlova's texts seem grey.

If there was something to desire became a subway poem
pasted on the New York City Transit system, MTA

She has a thorough command of all registers of Russian and effortlessly inserts outer and inner rhymes in order to get across her living, changing, always surprising message – mostly in an extremely compact form, on paper, in plays or via new media such as text-messaging. Pavlova's delivery, unlike Joseph Brodsky's, is not tuneful; rather, it is reminiscent of the measured performances of the poet Marina Tsvetaeva and of the way in which Rachmaninov would deliver the most emotional passages of his own composition as soberly as possible.

Pavlova shuns publicity. To put it in her own words:

I shall never be interviewed:
on my scale that is below my "do";
nor shall I ever interview anyone:
that would be beyond my "ti",
for nobody can pose
my questions to me,
and I have but one question for nobody,
but no way to pose it!
(translated by Steven Seymour)

Nor does she need any publicity: her performances pack the halls and she counts both inexperienced readers and prominent literati among her fans. About Pavlova, the controversial conceptual writer Vladimir Sorokin has said, “I’ve got the idea that there is no one like her around, and I think she's already become part of Russian poetry and thus no longer belongs to herself.”

The above notes are copyright © Nina Targan Mouravi (Translated by John Irons)

You can read about the husband-wife team that brings her poems to the English reading world in this article:

Czesław Miłosz (1911 - 2004)
Sunil read from the Polish Nobel poet Czesław Miłosz. This line from his poem Ars Poetica was discussed:
That’s why poetry is rightly said to be dictated by a daimonion

Priya asked if Miłosz was poking fun at poetry groups just as Charles Burokswi made fun of reading groups. Catherine replied that the poet is being ironical and pessimistic.
The politics behind the second poem Campo dei Fiori, of Giordano Bruno being burnt at stake for his free thinking, were discussed briefly .

Czesław Miłosz was born in Lithuania in 1911 but his family spoke Polish for centuries. He was fluent in Russian, French and English. In youth a Catholic, he became an atheist for a while but returned to the faith later on. He studded in Poland at Stefan Batory University and spent time in Paris. In 1930 when he published his first poems in the university review, Alma Mater Vilnensis, he said he did not aspire to the title of a writer. He formed a group of poets and came out with his first volume of poetry in 1934. He acknowledged his classical education at a Catholic University in these words: “It is good in childhood to hear words of Latin liturgy, to translate Ovid in high school, to receive a good training in Roman Catholic dogmatics and apologetics. It is a blessing if one receives from fate school and university studies in such a city as Vilno.”

He got a law degree and spent further time in Paris. He was not part of the resistance to Nazi run during WWII in Warsaw and saw the ghetto uprising there as doomed. He acknowledges the evil of the Holocaust but enlarges its meaning: Holocaust which began to be applied to Jews … also had as victims millions of Poles, Russians, Ukrainians and prisoners of other nationalities. He warns against burying truth in archives and living in the often fake present of TV shows.

After the war he became cultural attache to the Polish embassy in Washington, D.C. representing the Communist regime, but after a few years he resigned his diplomatic job. He tried to emigrate to USA at the time but failed to get admission. Miłosz's 1953 book, The Captive Mind, is still used as a reference text in totalitarianism and reflects his experience with the Communist regime.

In 1960 Miłosz emigrated to the United States, and became a U.S. citizen later. In 1961 he was appointed Professor in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1980 Miłosz was awarded the Noble Prize in Literature. The citation read “Miłosz who with uncompromising clear-sightedness voices man's exposed condition in a world of severe conflicts.”

In his Nobel lecture he spoke of two Europes, one enlightened, and the other which had descended into darkness in the East. It was his good fortune to be born in a small country, Lithuania, he said.

He wrote religious verse also, but it was not straightforward religious poetry (Six Lectures in Verse, 1994) and incurred the critique of his fellow Pole, Pope John Paul II. The poet died on 14 August 2004 at his Kraków home, aged 93. He was buried in Kraków's Skałka Roman Catholic Church.

Read an article on the poet as the Century’s Witness at

Campo dei Fiori Market in Rome

The poem, Campo dei Fiori, concerns the auto-da-fé of the Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno in the 16th century as a heretic in piazza of the same name in Rome, but it refers equally to the Nazi atrocity against the Jews barricaded in the Jewish ghetto of Warsaw during WWII. Many Polish citizens carried on, indifferent to the ongoing pogrom. Miłosz says “the main theme of the poem is the vulnerability and aloneness of the dying person.” 

Stamp issued for the poet's 100th birth anniversary in 2011

In Ars Poetica? he propounds the unforeseen spontaneity that should attend poetry:
In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent:
a thing is brought forth which we didn’t know we had in us,
That’s why poetry is rightly said to be dictated by a daimonion,

Further on is another view:
The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.

Here is another article, this time from Ireland, on the occasion of a Centenary celebration in 2011 in Dublin:

His death became a national story in the newspapers and on radio and television in Poland. Even after having spent more than 30 years in the US, he was still a poet who belonged to his own nation, Poland.

Poem by Czeslaw Milosz on the Memorial of Fallen in 1970 Shipyards Workers. Gdansk, Poland

There is a monument erected to the protesters who were killed in the Gdansk Shipyard when strikes and protests against the sudden increase in the prices of food in 1970. An extract from a poem of Miłosz is engraved at the base:
You who wronged a simple man
Bursting into laughter at the crime,
Do not feel safe. The poet remembers...
... You can kill one, but another is born.
The words are written down, the deed, the date.

Frank O’Hara - Bio of the poet

Everyone looked forward to Preeti’s choice of poems as she has introduced the group to fresh, new poets several times. This time Frank O’Hara was her choice and her selection of his poems was enjoyed. Preeti said she liked the poet for his interest in a wide variety of things; hence, his poems were rich in imagery and allusions.

On March 27, 1926, Frank (Francis Russell) O’Hara was born in Maryland. He grew up in Massachusetts, and later studied piano at the New England Conservatory in Boston from 1941 to 1944. O’Hara then served in the South Pacific and Japan as a sonarman on the destroyer USS Nicholas during World War II.

Following the war, O’Hara studied at Harvard College, where he majored in music and worked on compositions and was deeply influenced by contemporary music, his first love, as well as visual art. He also wrote poetry at that time and read the work of Arthur Rimbaud, Stéphane Mallarmé, Boris Pasternak, and Vladimir Mayakovsky.

While at Harvard, O’Hara met John Ashbery and soon began publishing poems in the Harvard Advocate. Despite his love of music, O’Hara changed his major and left Harvard in 1950 with a degree in English. He then attended graduate school at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and received his MA in 1951. That autumn, O’Hara moved into an apartment in New York. He was soon employed at the front desk of the Museum of Modern Art and began to write seriously.

O’Hara’s early work was considered both provocative and provoking. In 1952, his first volume of poetry, A City in Winter, attracted favorable attention; his essays on painting and sculpture and his reviews for ArtNews were considered brilliant. O’Hara became one of the most distinguished members of the New York School of poets, which also included John Ashbery, James Schuyler, and Kenneth Koch.

O’Hara’s association with painters Larry Rivers, Jackson Pollock, and Jasper Johns, also leaders of the New York School, became a source of inspiration for his highly original poetry. He attempted to produce with words the effects these artists had created on canvas. In certain instances, he collaborated with the painters to make “poem-paintings," paintings with word texts.

O’Hara’s most original volumes of verse, Meditations in an Emergency (1956) and Lunch Poems (1964), are impromptu lyrics, a jumble of witty talk, journalistic parodies, and surrealist imagery.

O’Hara continued working at the Museum of Modern Art throughout his life, curating exhibitions and writing introductions and catalogs for exhibits and tours. On July 25, 1966, while vacationing on Fire Island, Frank O’Hara was killed in a sand buggy accident. He was forty years old.

John Milton (1608-1674)
Priya was on last at the session, reading the prologue, Lines 1-26, of John Milton’s epic, Paradise Lost. As it was already 15 minutes beyond the time, she gave a hurried explanation of the poem’s design, subject matter, and the the belief system underlying the epic poem. She compared it with Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid, quoting salient lines from the prologue.

She said that she would like to take the group through the entire epic during the year 2018 and would read key stanzas from the 12 books comprising the poem in the subsequent poetry sessions.

Zakia said she looked forward to reading an epic poem this year, inspired by the choices of Priya and Joe.

Milton is one of the poets who has been read many times at KRG and so there are several sessions you can link to by doing a Search on the home page of the KRG blog, using the Search box with the term ‘Milton.’ A very extensive bio of Milton from the time when Talitha read from Paradise Lost is here:

That was the occasion when Joe and Talitha had an extended exchange concerning the greatness and the defects of Mitlon as it comes across in Paradise Lost and in his other poems. It spilled over into e-mail after the session, and drew in the opinions of literary critics such as T.S. Eliot, who wrote two well-known essays on Milton. Talitha as a staunch defender of Milton commended his poetry and praised his style. Joe as a boyhood aficionado of Il Penseroso and L’Allegro, thought Milton was sustained by a constant elevation of style whose net effect borders on rhetorical fustian. Readers in search of an understanding of Milton can refer to the link above.

Joe also quoted A.E. Housman’s famous line from No. 62 in A Shropshire Lad:
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.


Farid ud-Din Attar (ca. 1148 to 1220) The Conference of the Birds 

A likeness of Attar

Attar's mausoleum in Nishapur

You can listen to Joe reading the excerpts from Attar at this link.

It was in China, late one moonless night,
The Simorgh first appeared to human sight –
He let a feather float down through the air,
And rumours of its fame spread everywhere;
If this same feather had not floated down,
The world would not be filled with His renown –
It is a sign of Him, and in each heart
There lies this feather’s hidden counterpart.
But since no words suffice, what use are mine
To represent or to describe this sign?
Whoever wishes to explore the Way,
Let him set out – what more is there to say?

The birds are reluctant voyagers and each trots out an excuse; for example, here is the exchange with the peacock:

The peacock’s excuse and the hoopoe’s answer
Next came the peacock, splendidly arrayed
In many-coloured pomp; this he displayed
As if he were some proud, self-conscious bride
Turning with haughty looks from side to side.
“The Painter of the world created me,”
He shrieked, “but this celestial wealth you see
Should not excite your hearts to jealousy.
I was a dweller once in paradise;
There the insinuating snake’s advice
Deceived me – I became his friend, disgrace
Was swift and I was banished from that place.
 My dearest hope is that some blessèd day
A guide will come to indicate the way
Back to my paradise. 
How could I seek the Simorgh out when I
Remember paradise?” 

And in reply
The hoopoe said: “These thoughts have made you stray
Further and further from the proper Way;
You think your monarch’s palace of more worth
Than Him who fashioned it and all the earth.
The home we seek is in eternity;
The Truth we seek is like a shoreless sea,
Of which your paradise is but a drop.
This ocean can be yours; why should you stop
Beguiled by dreams of evanescent dew?
The secrets of the sun are yours, but you
Content yourself with motes trapped in its beams.
Turn to what truly lives, reject what seems –
Which matters more, the body or the soul?
Be whole: desire and journey to the Whole

All the birds protest but the hoopoe convinces the motley flock – parrot, duck, partridge, hawk, heron, owl.

How could they gain the Simorgh? Such a goal
Belongs to those who discipline the soul.
The hoopoe counselled them: “The world holds few
As worthy of the Simorgh’s throne as you,
But you must empty this first glass; the wine
That follows it is love’s devoted sign.
If petty problems keep you back – or none –
How will you seek the treasures of the sun?
In drops you lose yourselves, yet you must dive
Through untold fathoms and remain alive.
This is no journey for the indolent –
Our quest is Truth itself, not just its scent!”

The birds are convinced and become enthusiastic. 
An ancient secret yielded to the birds
 When they understood the hoopoe’s words --
Their kinship with the Simorgh was now plain
And all were eager to set off again.
The homily returned them to the Way
And with one voice the birds were heard to say:
 “Tell us, dear hoopoe, how we should proceed --
 Our weakness quails before this glorious deed.”
“A lover,” said the hoopoe, now their guide,
 “Is one in whom all thoughts of Self have died;
Those who renounce the Self deserve that name;
 Righteous or sinful, they are all the same!
Your heart is thwarted by the Self’s control;
 Destroy its hold on you and reach your goal.
 Give up this hindrance, give up mortal sight,
 For only then can you approach the light.

The journey is arduous and involves traversing many realms of peril — a bird protests:
 One of the birds let out a helpless squeak:
“I can’t go on this journey, I’m too weak.
 Dear guide, I know I can’t fly any more;
 I’ve never tried a feat like this before.
The hoopoe said: “Your heart’s congealed like ice;
 When will you free yourself from cowardice?
The world is filth and sin, and homeless men
 Must enter it and homeless leave again.
They die, as worms, in squalid pain; if we
 Must perish in this quest, that, certainly,
 Is better than a life of filth and grief.

There lie before them Valleys swarming with dangers Valley of the Quest, Valley of Love, of Knowledge, of Detachment, of Unity, of Wonderment, and finally the Valley of Poverty and Annihilation. Each is symbolic of a stage in the journey where one sheds something, or realizes something, or becomes perplexed. Many of the birds perish along the way from different causes. In the end only thirty birds make it, and they find a book in which all their actions are set out:
The chastened spirits of the birds became
Like crumbled powder and they shrank with shame.
Then as by shame their spirits were refined
Of all the world’s weight, they began to find
A new life flow towards them from that bright
Celestial and ever-living light –
There in the Simorgh’s radiant face they saw
Themselves, the Simorgh of the world – with awe
They gazed, and dared at last to comprehend
They were the Simorgh and the journey’s end.
Then, as they listened to the Simorgh’s words,
A trembling dissolution filled the birds–
The substance of their being was undone,
And they were lost like shade before the sun;
Neither the pilgrims nor their guide remained.
The Simorgh ceased to speak, and silence reigned.

There is a pun in Farsi at this point that is impossible to translate: si morgh means thirty birds. Hence the Simorgh is si morgh; the thirty birds are themselves the Divine. This is the ultimate illumination they receive.

This epic poem is an allegorical summary of the Sufi teaching that the divine lies within each believer’s soul. God is all that truly exists; everything else, including our worldly selves, is merely a shadow of His or Her presence.

Jalal ud-Din Rumi in the 13th century and Hafez in the 14th were later poets in Iran who were certainly indebted to Attar’s work. Attar was the Sufi poet, of whom Rumi, who is far better known in the West (though not so in Iran) said:
Attar traveled through all the seven cities of love
While I am only at the bend of the first alley.

Muriel Spark, born 1918

in four. But always throughout my 
mysteries in life. That shoes
see is a man's, old, worn, the sole
my awe and my sad pity. 
Berkeley, 1968
Warsaw, 1943

The Lonely Shoe Lying On The Road
One sad shoe that someone has probably flung
out of a car or truck. Why only one?

life, my travels, I see it like 
a memorandum. Something I have 
forgotten to remember,

do not always go in pairs, any more
than we do. That one fits;
the other, not. That children can 
thoughtlessly and in a merry fashion
chuck out someone's shoe, split up
someone's life.

parted from the upper.
Then why did the owner keep the other,
keep it to himself? Was he
afraid (as I so often am with 
inanimate objects) to hurt its feelings?
That one shoe in the road invokes 

What the Stranger Wondered (Part 3 of the poem ‘A Tour of London’)
Where does she come from
Sipping coffee alone in London?

The shoes, the hair — I do not think
She has anything in the bank.

Has she a man, where is he then,
Why is she sitting at half-past ten

Reading a book alone in London?
Where does the money come from

That lets her be alone and sipping
Not with a man, not in a job, not with a dog
to the grocer tripping?

Victor Marie Hugo (1802 - 1885)

The Eruption Of Vesuvius
When huge Vesuvius in its torment long,
Threatening has growled its cavernous jaws among,
When its hot lava, like the bubbling wine,
Foaming doth all its monstrous edge incarnadine,
Then is alarm in Naples.

With dismay,
Wanton and wild her weeping thousands pour,
Convulsive grasp the ground, its rage to stay,
Implore the angry Mount—in vain implore!
For lo! a column tow'ring more and more,
Of smoke and ashes from the burning crest
Shoots like a vulture's neck reared from its airy nest.

Sudden a flash, and from th' enormous den
Th' eruption's lurid mass bursts forth amain,
Bounding in frantic ecstasy. Ah! then
Farewell to Grecian fount and Tuscan fane!
Sails in the bay imbibe the purpling stain,
The while the lava in profusion wide
Flings o'er the mountain's neck its showery locks untied.

It comes—it comes! that lava deep and rich,
That dower which fertilizes fields and fills
New moles upon the waters, bay and beach.
Broad sea and clustered isles, one terror thrills
As roll the red inexorable rills;
While Naples trembles in her palaces,
More helpless than the leaves when tempests shake the trees.

Prodigious chaos, streets in ashes lost,
Dwellings devoured and vomited again.
Roof against neighbor-roof, bewildered, tossed.
The waters boiling and the burning plain;
While clang the giant steeples as they reel,
Unprompted, their own tocsin peal.

Yet 'mid the wreck of cities, and the pride
Of the green valleys and the isles laid low,
The crash of walls, the tumult waste and wide,
O'er sea and land; 'mid all this work of woe,
Vesuvius still, though close its crater-glow,
Forgetful spares—Heaven wills that it should spare,
The lonely cell where kneels an aged priest in prayer.

To Albert Dürer
Through ancient forests—where like flowing tide
The rising sap shoots vigor far and wide,
Mounting the column of the alder dark
And silv'ring o'er the birch's shining bark—
Hast thou not often, Albert Dürer, strayed
Pond'ring, awe-stricken—through the half-lit glade,
Pallid and trembling—glancing not behind
From mystic fear that did thy senses bind,
Yet made thee hasten with unsteady pace?
Oh, Master grave! whose musings lone we trace
Throughout thy works we look on reverently.
Amidst the gloomy umbrage thy mind's eye
Saw clearly, 'mong the shadows soft yet deep,
The web-toed faun, and Pan the green-eyed peep,
Who deck'd with flowers the cave where thou might'st rest,
Leaf-laden dryads, too, in verdure drest.
A strange weird world such forest was to thee,
Where mingled truth and dreams in mystery;
There leaned old ruminating pines, and there
The giant elms, whose boughs deformed and bare
A hundred rough and crooked elbows made;
And in this sombre group the wind had swayed,
Nor life—nor death—but life in death seemed found.
The cresses drink—the water flows—and round
Upon the slopes the mountain rowans meet,
And 'neath the brushwood plant their gnarled feet,
Intwining slowly where the creepers twine.
There, too, the lakes as mirrors brightly shine,
And show the swan-necked flowers, each line by line.
Chimeras roused take stranger shapes for thee,
The glittering scales of mailèd throat we see,
And claws tight pressed on huge old knotted tree;
While from a cavern dim the bright eyes glare.
Oh, vegetation! Spirit! Do we dare
Question of matter, and of forces found
'Neath a rude skin-in living verdure bound.
Oh, Master—I, like thee, have wandered oft
Where mighty trees made arches high aloft,
But ever with a consciousness of strife,
A surging struggle of the inner life.
Ever the trembling of the grass I say,
And the boughs rocking as the breezes play,
Have stirred deep thoughts in a bewild'ring way.
Oh, God! alone Great Witness of all deeds,
Of thoughts and acts, and all our human needs,
God only knows how often in such scenes
Of savage beauty under leafy screens,
I've felt the mighty oaks had spirit dower—
Like me knew mirth and sorrow—sentient power,
And whisp'ring each to each in twilight dim,
Had hearts that beat—and owned a soul from Him!

John Milton  (1608-1674)

John Milton ca. 1629

Paradise Lost – John Milton – 1667 (about human disobedience and the consequent loss of Paradise into which the first human was placed)
Book 1 begins thus:

OF MAN’S first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
Brought death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing, Heavenly Muse, that, on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That Shepherd who first taught the chosen seed
In the beginning how the heavens and earth
Rose out of Chaos: or, if Sion hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa’s brook that flowed
Fast by the oracle of God, I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventrous song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above the Aonian mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.
And chiefly Thou, O Spirit, that dost prefer
Before all temples the upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for Thou know’st; Thou from the first
Wast present, and, with mighty wings outspread,
Dove-like sat’st brooding on the vast Abyss,
And mad’st it pregnant: what in me is dark
Illumine, what is low raise and support;
That, to the highth of this great argument,
I may assert Eternal Providence,
And justify the ways of God to men.

Here is a brief overview taken from a study guide prepared by the New Arts Library (http://www.paradiselost.org/5-overview.html)
In the mid-seventeenth century, John Milton was a successful poet and political activist. He wrote scathing pamphlets against corruption in the Anglican Church and its ties to King Charles. In Milton’s day Puritanism meant having politically radical views. And at one point Milton was actually jailed for recording them on paper. Paradise Lost, as much as anything, is a series of arguments put forth by the characters, which in turn ultimately expresses Milton’s personal truth. It is, in that sense, a Puritanical work.
Milton had contemplated the composition of an epic poem for many years. For his subject matter he chose the fundamentals of Christian theology. By the time he began writing Paradise Lost in the late 1650’s, Milton had become blind. He dictated the entire work to secretaries.

Paradise Lost has many of the elements that define epic form. It is a long, narrative poem; it follows the exploits of a hero (or anti-hero); it involves warfare and the supernatural; it begins in the midst of the action, with earlier crises in the story brought in later by flashback; and it expresses the ideals and traditions of a people. It has these elements in common with the Aeneid, the Iliad, and the Odyssey.

The poem is in blank verse, that is, non-rhyming verse. In a note he added to the second printing, Milton expresses contempt for rhyming poetry. Paradise Lost is composed in the verse form of iambic pentameter—the same used by Shakespeare. In this style, a line is composed of five long, unaccented syllables, each followed by a short, accented one.
The first edition of Paradise Lost was published in 1667, in ten chapters or books. In 1674 Milton reorganized the poem into twelve books, by dividing two of the longer books into four. He also added an introductory prose “argument” summarizing the plot of each book, to prepare readers for the complex poetry that was to follow. Part of that complexity is due to the many analogies and digressions into ancient history and mythology throughout the poem.

The central story line is built around a few paragraphs in the beginning of Genesis—the story of Adam and Eve. The epic also uses elements from many other parts of the Bible, particularly involving Satan’s role. Focusing his poem on the events surrounding the fall of Adam and Eve, Milton intended, in his words, to “justify the ways of God to men,” by tracing the cause and result for all involved.

In the last two books of the epic, Milton includes almost a complete summary of Genesis. This lengthy section may seem anti-climactic, but Milton's mission was to show not only what caused man's fall, but also the consequences upon the world, both bad and good. A concept central to this tale is that of the “felix culpa” or fortunate fall. This is the philosophy that the good which ultimately evolves as a result of the fall—God's mercy, the coming of Christ, redemption and salvation—leaves us in a better place, with opportunity for greater good than would have been possible without the fall.

For centuries critics have both praised and derided Paradise Lost. A common observation is that, in his portrayal of the thoughts and motivations of Satan, Milton seems to unwittingly cast him as the hero. Nevertheless, the general consensus holds that Paradise Lost remains the greatest epic poem in the English language.

In 1671, Milton published Paradise Regained. The title suggests some sort of sequel, but, although a great work in its own right, Paradise Regained is a very different kind of poem, shorter and more contemplative than action oriented, and therefore less popular than the earlier work. It centers around the confrontation between Jesus and Satan in the wilderness.

Milton presents ‘Arguments’ for each book of Paradise Lost. Here is a simplified version taken from the study guide referred to above (http://www.paradiselost.org/5-sum-simp.html) 

BOOK I Argument
A brief introduction mentions the fall of Adam and Eve caused by the serpent, which was Satan, who led the angels in revolt against God and was cast into hell. The scene then opens on Satan lying dazed in the burning lake, with Beelzebub, next in command, beside him. Satan assembles his fallen legions on the shore, where he revives their spirits by his speech. They set to building a palace, called Pandemonium. There the high ranking angels assemble in council.

BOOK II Argument
A debate is held whether or not to attempt recovery of heaven. A third proposal is preferred, concerning an ancient prophecy of another world which was to be created, where the devils may seek to enact their revenge. Satan alone undertakes the voyage to find this world. He encounters Sin and Death, his offspring, guarding hell's gates. Sin unlocks the gate, and Satan embarks on his passage across the great gulf of chaos between heaven and hell, till he sights the new universe floating near the larger globe, which is heaven.

There is no need for extensive commentary — the great epic speaks for itself. Instead, I’ll quickly mention where each passage falls in the story, and then let you read for yourself.

We must begin, of course, with the invocation—and do not fail to notice how much conscious craftsmanship is packed in here. Start with the very first sentence, in which we are already primed to expect a narrative of “the fruit” of humanity’s subjection to the rule of Dis, the fictional City of Hell:

Note: Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heaven. (line 263)

Total number of lines  in Book 1: 798

The reproduction below of Book 2 is taken from the same New Arts Library Study Guide to Paradise Lost (http://www.paradiselost.org/lmg/Book-1)

1. High on a Throne of Royal State, which far
2. Outshon the wealth of Ormus and of Ind,
3. Or where the gorgeous East with richest hand
4. Showrs on her Kings Barbaric Pearl and Gold,
5. Satan exalted sat, by merit rais'd
6. To that bad eminence; and from despair
7. Thus high uplifted beyond hope, aspires
8. Beyond thus high, insatiate to pursue
9. Vain Warr with Heav'n, and by success untaught
10. His proud imaginations thus displaid
11. Powers and Dominions, Deities of Heav'n,
12. For since no deep within her gulf can hold
13. Immortal vigor, though opprest and fall'n,
14. I give not Heav'n for lost. From this descent
15. Celestial vertues rising, will appear
16. More glorious and more dread then from no fall,
17. And trust themselves to fear no second fate:
18. Mee though just right, and the fixt Laws of Heav'n
19. Did first create your Leader, next free choice,
20. With what besides, in Counsel or in Fight,
21. Hath bin achievd of merit, yet this loss
22. Thus farr at least recover'd, hath much more
23. Establisht in a safe unenvied Throne
24. Yielded with full consent. The happier state
25. In Heav'n, which follows dignity, might draw
26. Envy from each inferior; but who here
27. Will envy whom the highest place exposes
28. Formost to stand against the Thunderers aim
29. Your bulwark, and condemns to greatest share
30. Of endless pain? where there is then no good
31. For which to strive, no strife can grow up there
32. From Faction; for none sure will claim in Hell
33. Precedence, none, whose portion is so small
34. Of present pain, that with ambitious mind
35. Will covet more. With this advantage then
36. To union, and firm Faith, and firm accord,
37. More then can be in Heav'n, we now return
38. To claim our just inheritance of old,
39. Surer to prosper then prosperity
40. Could have assur'd us; and by what best way,
41. Whether of open Warr or covert guile,
42. We now debate; who can advise, may speak.
43. He ceas'd, and next him Moloc, Scepter'd King
44. Stood up, the strongest and the fiercest Spirit
45. That fought in Heav'n; now fiercer by despair:
46. His trust was with th' Eternal to be deem'd
47. Equal in strength, and rather then be less
48. Care'd not to be at all; with that care lost
49. Went all his fear: of God, or Hell, or worse
50. He reck'd not, and these words thereafter spake.
51. My sentence is for open Warr: Of Wiles,
52. More unexpert, I boast not: them let those
53. Contrive who need, or when they need, not now.
54. For while they sit contriving, shall the rest,
55. Millions that stand in Arms, and longing wait
56. he Signal to ascend, sit lingring here
57. Heav'ns fugitives, and for thir dwelling place
58. Accept this dark opprobrious Den of shame,
59. The Prison of his Tyranny who Reigns
60. By our delay? no, let us rather choose
61. Arm'd with Hell flames and fury all at once
62. O're Heav'ns high Towrs to force resistless way,
63. Turning our Tortures into horrid Arms
64. Against the Torturer; when to meet the noise
65. Of his Almighty Engin he shall hear
66. Infernal Thunder, and for Lightning see
67. Black fire and horror shot with equal rage
68. Among his Angels; and his Throne it self
69. Mixt with Tartarean Sulphur, and strange fire,
70. His own invented Torments. But perhaps
71. The way seems difficult and steep to scale
72. With upright wing against a higher foe.
73. Let such bethink them, if the sleepy drench
74. Of that forgetful Lake benumm not still,
75. That in our proper motion we ascend
76. Up to our native seat: descent and fall
77. To us is adverse. Who but felt of late
78. When the fierce Foe hung on our brok'n Rear
79. Insulting, and pursu'd us through the Deep,
80. With what compulsion and laborious flight
81. We sunk thus low? Th' ascent is easie then;
82. Th' event is fear'd; should we again provoke
83. Our stronger, some worse way his wrath may find
84. To our destruction: if there be in Hell
85. Fear to be worse destroy'd: what can be worse
86. Then to dwell here, driv'n out from bliss, condemn'd
87. In this abhorred deep to utter woe;
88. Where pain of unextinguishable fire
89. Must exercise us without hope of end
90. The Vassals of his anger, when the Scourge
91. Inexorably, and the torturing hour
92. Calls us to Penance? More destroy'd then thus
93. We should be quite abolisht and expire.
94. What fear we then? what doubt we to incense
95. His utmost ire? which to the highth enrag'd,
96. Will either quite consume us, and reduce
97. To nothing this essential, happier farr
98. Then miserable to have eternal being:
99. Or if our substance be indeed Divine,
100. And cannot cease to be, we are at worst
101. On this side nothing; and by proof we feel
102. Our power sufficient to disturb his Heav'n,
103. And with perpetual inrodes to Allarme,
104. Though inaccessible, his fatal Throne:
105. Which if not Victory is yet Revenge.

Kamala Das (1934-2009)
Forest Fire
Of late I have begun to feel a hunger 
To take in with greed, like a forest fire that 
Consumes and with each killing gains a wilder, 
Brighter charm, all that comes my way. Bald child in 
Open pram, you think I only look, and you 
Too, slim lovers behind the tree and you, old 
Man with paper in your hand and sunlight in 
Your hair... My eyes lick at you like flames, my nerves 
Consume ; and, when I finish with you, in the 
Pram, near the tree and, on the park bench, I spit
Out small heaps of ash, nothing else. But in me 
The sights and smells and sounds shall thrive and go on 
And on and on. In me shall sleep the baby 
That sat in prams and sleep and wake and smile its 
Toothless smile. In me shall walk the lovers hand 
In hand and in me, where else, the old shall sit 
And feel the touch of sun. In me, the street-lamps 
Shall glimmer, the cabaret girls cavort, the 
Wedding drums resound, the eunuchs swirl coloured 
Skirts and sing sad songs of love, the wounded moan, 
And in me the dying mother with hopeful 
Eyes shall gaze around, seeking her child, now grown 
And gone away to other towns, other arms."

Summer in Calcutta
What is this drink but 
The April sun, squeezed 
Like an orange in 
My glass? I sip the 
Fire, I drink and drink 
Again, I am drunk 
Yes, but on the gold 
of suns, What noble 
venom now flows through 
my veins and fills my 
mind with unhurried 
laughter? My worries 
doze. Wee bubbles ring 
my glass, like a brides 
nervous smile, and meet 
my lips. Dear, forgive 
this moments lull in 
wanting you, the blur 
in memory. How 
brief the term of my 
devotion, how brief 
your reign when i with 
glass in hand, drink, drink, 
and drink again this 
Juice of April suns.

Pablo Neruda (1904 – 1973) 

A Dog Has Died
My dog has died.
I buried him in the garden
next to a rusted old machine.

Some day I'll join him right there,
but now he's gone with his shaggy coat,
his bad manners and his cold nose,
and I, the materialist, who never believed
in any promised heaven in the sky
for any human being,
I believe in a heaven I'll never enter.
Yes, I believe in a heaven for all dogdom
where my dog waits for my arrival
waving his fan-like tail in friendship.

Ai, I'll not speak of sadness here on earth,
of having lost a companion
who was never servile.
His friendship for me, like that of a porcupine
withholding its authority,
was the friendship of a star, aloof,
with no more intimacy than was called for,
with no exaggerations:
he never climbed all over my clothes
filling me full of his hair or his mange,
he never rubbed up against my knee
like other dogs obsessed with sex.

No, my dog used to gaze at me,
paying me the attention I need,
the attention required
to make a vain person like me understand
that, being a dog, he was wasting time,
but, with those eyes so much purer than mine,
he'd keep on gazing at me
with a look that reserved for me alone
all his sweet and shaggy life,
always near me, never troubling me,
and asking nothing.

Ai, how many times have I envied his tail
as we walked together on the shores of the sea
in the lonely winter of Isla Negra
where the wintering birds filled the sky
and my hairy dog was jumping about
full of the voltage of the sea's movement:
my wandering dog, sniffing away
with his golden tail held high,
face to face with the ocean's spray.

Joyful, joyful, joyful,
as only dogs know how to be happy
with only the autonomy
of their shameless spirit.

There are no good-byes for my dog who has died,
and we don't now and never did lie to each other.

So now he's gone and I buried him,
and that's all there is to it.
Pablo Neruda

(Translated, from the Spanish, by Alfred Yankauer)

Vera Pavlova (born 1963, Moscow)  

Am I lovely? Of course!
Am I lovely? Of course!
Breathlessly I taste
the subtle compliment 
of a handmade caress.
Chop me into tiny bits,
caress and tame my soul, 
that godly swallow
you love to no end.
I am in love, hence free to live

I am in love, hence free to live
I am in love, hence free to live
by heart, to ad lib as I caress.
A soul is light when full,
heavy when vacuous.
My soul is light. She is not afraid
to dance the agony alone,
for I was born wearing your shirt,
will come from the dead with that shirt on.

When the very last grief
When the very last grief
I will follow you there
on the very next train,
not because I lack strength 
to ponder the end result,
but maybe you forgot to bring
pills, a necktie, razor blades . . . 

Catherine Stoll-Simon
Catherine Stoll-Simon

Dancing dunes

Ochre lovers
Goddess Mothers of sand
With elusive bodies

Fleshes lying so closed
Of mineral heart

The only ones to listen to it  beating
The only ones to listen to it arising
Praising the bare ground
With their curved rhythmes

Dunes are dancing
A narrow embracing
Of unknown origin

Diligent to marry silts and grounds
Tirelessly I
In blond and bent waves
They repete I love you, Earth, I love you

Dunes are dancing
A narrow embracing
Of unknown origin

Harem of round hips devored by light
They go tattooed of chanting signs
Traces of love from little breezes
Who scratch them
With their  nomadic songs
Without  injure

Within them where are the end and the begining ?

Temporary prostrates
Beautiful because  ignoring to be 

proud to let  themselves build
proud to desappear 

sure, further
to reborn

Dunes are dancing
A narrow embracing
Of unknown origin

And the learned mystery
Of  their agglomarated grains
Escapes our eyes

Without respite
They form thez transform they mix
And  vanish

And without respite
They stay alive

Made of the same sand

[Translation by Catherine STOLL-SIMON
from Taste of light
published in french and Arabic 
by House of Poetry in Tunis (Tunisie, North Africa  (2005)]

Czesław Miłosz (1911 - 2004)
Ars Poetica? 
I have always aspired to a more spacious form   
that would be free from the claims of poetry or prose   
and would let us understand each other without exposing   
the author or reader to sublime agonies.   

In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent:   
a thing is brought forth which we didn’t know we had in us,   
so we blink our eyes, as if a tiger had sprung out   
and stood in the light, lashing his tail.   

That’s why poetry is rightly said to be dictated by a daimonion,   
though it’s an exaggeration to maintain that he must be an angel.   
It’s hard to guess where that pride of poets comes from,   
when so often they’re put to shame by the disclosure of their frailty.   

What reasonable man would like to be a city of demons,   
who behave as if they were at home, speak in many tongues,   
and who, not satisfied with stealing his lips or hand,   
work at changing his destiny for their convenience?   

It’s true that what is morbid is highly valued today,   
and so you may think that I am only joking   
or that I’ve devised just one more means   
of praising Art with the help of irony.   

There was a time when only wise books were read,   
helping us to bear our pain and misery.   
This, after all, is not quite the same   
as leafing through a thousand works fresh from psychiatric clinics.   

And yet the world is different from what it seems to be   
and we are other than how we see ourselves in our ravings.
People therefore preserve silent integrity,   
thus earning the respect of their relatives and neighbors.   

The purpose of poetry is to remind us   
how difficult it is to remain just one person,   
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,   
and invisible guests come in and out at will.

What I'm saying here is not, I agree, poetry,   
as poems should be written rarely and reluctantly,   
under unbearable duress and only with the hope   
that good spirits, not evil ones, choose us for their instrument.

(Translated by Czeslaw Milosz And Lillian Vallee)

Campo dei Fiori
In Rome on the Campo dei Fiori
baskets of olives and lemons,
cobbles spattered with wine
and the wreckage of flowers.
Vendors cover the trestles
with rose-pink fish;
armfuls of dark grapes
heaped on peach-down.

On this same square
they burned Giordano Bruno.
Henchmen kindled the pyre
close-pressed by the mob.
Before the flames had died
the taverns were full again,
baskets of olives and lemons
again on the vendors' shoulders.

I thought of the Campo dei Fiori
in Warsaw by the sky-carousel
one clear spring evening
to the strains of a carnival tune.
The bright melody drowned
the salvos from the ghetto wall,
and couples were flying
high in the cloudless sky.

At times wind from the burning
would drift dark kites along
and riders on the carousel
caught petals in midair.
That same hot wind
blew open the skirts of the girls
and the crowds were laughing
on that beautiful Warsaw Sunday.

Someone will read as moral
that the people of Rome or Warsaw
haggle, laugh, make love
as they pass by the martyrs' pyres.
Someone else will read
of the passing of things human,
of the oblivion
born before the flames have died.

But that day I thought only
of the loneliness of the dying,
of how, when Giordano
climbed to his burning
he could not find
in any human tongue
words for mankind,
mankind who live on.

Already they were back at their wine
or peddled their white starfish,
baskets of olives and lemons
they had shouldered to the fair,
and he already distanced
as if centuries had passed
while they paused just a moment
for his flying in the fire.

Those dying here, the lonely
forgotten by the world,
our tongue becomes for them
the language of an ancient planet.
Until, when all is legend
and many years have passed,
on a new Campo dei Fiori
rage will kindle at a poet's word.

(Translated by David Brooks And Louis Iribarne)

Frank O’Hara (1926 — 1966) 

Why I Am Not a Painter
I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
“Sit down and have a drink” he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. “You have SARDINES in it.”
“Yes, it needed something there.”
“Oh.” I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is 
finished. “Where’s SARDINES?”
All that’s left is just
letters, “It was too much," Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a 
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.

is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles

and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them
                                                                                                              I look
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together for the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully
as the horse
                               it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I’m telling you about it

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