Monthly Archives: November 2008

Nov. 24, 2008

Yello, scholars.

What with all the beatnik guessing games, presidential poesy, and Urdu
translations, we’ve haven’t had a nice tasty love poem in a while. And
today’s selection one goes even one better: it’s a sex poem. 

So whaddya know about Arthur Rimbaud? I know that he died at age 37. I know
that his most famous poem, the hallucinatory “Bateau Ivre” (The Drunken
Boat) is about 65 lines too long for a format such as this reading group. I
recall that after a brief apprenticeship and affair with French symbolist
master Paul Verlaine, the older poet–who was quite a drinker–shot Rimbaud,
then 18, in the wrist. But the weirdest thing I learned about Rimbaud I
learned a couple summers ago while vacationing in east Africa and reading
Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari: that in 1880, after deserting the Dutch
colonial army and working for a construction firm in Cyprus, Arthur Rimbaud
moved to what is now Ethiopia, lived with a native woman as his wife (though
not formally married), and worked for various local interests in a capacity
that Theroux describes as more or less gun-running. He struck up a close
friendship with the father of the future Haile Selassie, father of the
modern Ethiopian nation. The archetypical enfant terrible of surrealist
verse died in 1891 in Marseille, having returned to France for treatment on
a misdiagnosed and cancerous leg. What a life.

I apologize that I do not have a French original for this one.

Happy Thanksgiving, all. -ed.


trans. Walter Wykes

She was only half-dressed
And equally bare  <> trees
Their few leaves against the window pane
Playfully and with reckless abandon.

Sprawling half naked in my desk chair,
Hands pressed modestly against her pale breasts,
She tapped small, delicate feet on the floor
Betraying sweet anticipation.

Her body was the colour of wax, and I watched
As an eager little ray of light
Fluttered across her laughing lips,
Across her peeking breast, like an insect on the rose-bush.

I knelt and kissed her little ankles.
She laughed softly and produced
A perfect string of clear trills,
A delightful crystal laugh.

Her delicate feet disappeared 
Underneath her: “Stop! You’re so naughty!”
Yet the first act of daring permitted,
She pretended to punish me only with a laugh!

I rose and kissed her eyelids softly.
They trembled beneath my lips, poor things:
And she tossed her head back, eyes shining…
“You’re not trying to take advantage of me … are you?

“If you are, darling, you know I’ll have to–“
But I silenced the protest, dipping my mouth to her breast,
Which caused an explosion of ringing laughter
And she opened herself willingly…

She was only half-dressed
And equally bare trees tossed
Their few leaves against the window pane
Playfully and with reckless abandon.

Monday’s Verse, Nov. 17, 2008

Dear readers,

I got this poem on a tip from a friend, so had to do a quick wikipedia search on its author. Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984) is considered one of the greatest modern Urdu poets, having been born in the Punjab region of what would become Pakistan about halfway through his life. He was deeply involved in politics and journalism. A staunch communist, he was the first Asian poet to be awarded the Lenin prize, in 1963.

Here is a poem of his first in the original, and then in translation. I’m sorry I don’t have the name of the translator.

It is a national poem, a poem that seems to hail a great moment, but the tone is different from last week’s poem, no? What would you say is the tonal range here? -ed.


The original Urdu

nisaar mai.n terii galiyo.n ke ae watan, kiey jahan
chalii hai rasm ki koii na sar uThaa ke chale
jo koii chaahanewaalaa tawaaf ko nikale
nazar churaa ke chale, jism-o-jaa.N bachaa ke chale

hai ahl-e-dil ke liye ab ye nazm-e-bast-o-kushaad
ki sang-o-Khisht muqayyad hai.n aur sag aazaad

bahot hai.n zulm ke dast-e-bahaanaa-juu ke liye
jo cha.nd ahl-e-junuu.N tere naam levaa hai.n
bane hai.n ahl-e-hawas muddaii bhii, mu.nsif bhii
kise wakiil kare.n, kis se mu.nsifii chaahe.n

magar guzaranewaalo.n ke din guzarate hai.n
tere firaaq me.n yuu.N subh-o-shaam karate hai.n

bujhaa jo rauzan-e-zi.ndaa.N to dil ye samajhaa hai
ki terii sitaaro.n se bhar gaii hogii
chamak uThe hai.n salaasil to hamane jaanaa hai
ki ab sahar tere ruKh par bikhar gaii hogii

Garaz tasavvur-e-shaam-o-sahar me.n jiite hai.n
giraft-e-saayaa-e-diwaar-o-dar me.n jiite hai.n

yuu.n hii hameshaa ulajhatii rahii hai zulm se Khalq
na unakii rasm naii hai, na apanii riit naii
yuu.n hii hameshaa khilaaye hai.n hamane aag me.n phuul
na unakii haar naii hai na apanii jiit naii

isii sabab se falak kaa gilaa nahii.n karate
tere firaaq men ham dil buraa nahii.n karate

Gar aaj tujhase judaa hai.n to kal baham ho.nge
ye raat bhar kii judaaii to koii baat nahii.n
Gar aaj auj pe hai taala-e-raqiib to kyaa
ye chaar din kii Khudaaii to koii baat nahii.n

jo tujhase ahd-e-wafaa ustavaar rakhate hain
ilaaj-e-gardish-e-lail-o-nihaar rakhate hai.

Nisar Main teri Galiyon par Ay Watan…. by Faiz Ahmed Faiz

I yearn for your sacred streets, O beloved nation!
Where the ritual has been invented– that no one shall walk with their head held high
If at all one takes a walk, a pilgrimage
One must walk, eyes lowered, the body crouched in fear

The heart in a tumultuous wrench at the sight
Of stones and bricks locked away and mongrels breathing free

In this tyranny that has many an excuse to perpetuate itself
Those crazy few that have nothing but thy name on their lips
Facing those power crazed that both prosecute and judge, wonder
To whom does one turn for defence, from whom does one expect justice?

But those whose fate it is to live through these times
Spend their days in thy mournful memories

When hope begins to dim, my heart has often conjured
Your forehead sprinkled with stars
And when my chains have glittered
I have imagined that dawn must have burst upon thy face

Thus one lives in the memories of thy dawns and dusks
Imprisoned in the shadows of the high prison walls

Thus always has the world grappled with tyranny
Neither their rituals nor our rebellion is new
Thus have we always grown flowers in fire
Neither their defeat, nor our final victory, is new!

Thus we do not blame the heavens
Nor let bitterness seed in our hearts

We are separated today, but one day shall be re-united
This separation that will not last beyond tonight, bears lightly on us
Today the power of our exalted rivals may touch the zenith
But these four days of omniscience too shall pass

Those that love thee keep, beside them
The cure of the pains of a million heart- breaks

Monday’s Verse: Nov. 10, 2008

Readers, sorry ’bout last week, I was, um, busy. Who better to read on the first Monday after Tuesday but Walt Whitman, most inclusive, most civic-minded, of all American poets. Yes, this is a poem about death, but it is also a celebration (I’ll let someone else explain of whom). Note how the emotional tone ranges from mournful to exultant–how does he do that? For me at least, I had emotions spanning such a range for most of last week.* You?

best as always,


*An Onion headline read, “After Election, Fervent Obama Supporters Must Face the Emptiness of Their Own Lives.”

O Captain my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up–for you the flag is flung for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribboned wreaths for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.