book excerptise:   a book unexamined is wasting trees

A book of luminous things: an international anthology of poetry

Czeslaw Milosz

Milosz, Czeslaw;

A book of luminous things: an international anthology of poetry

Harcourt 1996-09-30 (hardcover)

ISBN 9780151001699 / 0151001693

topics: |  poetry | anthology | nobel-1980 | anthology

a superb anthology, very high on my "where-the-page-falls-open" test. almost all the poems work for me. and they are all new - from a surprisingly diverse set of cultures, mostly eastern europe and china.


The 326 poems are grouped into eleven themes -
   - nature - birds, flowers, insects, weather, etc.(40)
   - the moment (38 poems)
   - people among people - portraits, tense moments (36)
   - woman's skin - love, physicality (36)
   - situations (34)
   - places (32)
   - travel (32) [travel by train, by boat...]
   - nonattachment -a detached view, not quite mystic (30)
and shorter sections on "secret of a thing" (24),
"history" (16), "epiphany" (8),

The arrangement works- quite often the juxtaposed poems do converse, as in
the beautiful selection of poems on train travel.

	Any linear arrangement of texts is a problematic thing,  but
I feel that like all else about this book, there is clear evidence of
considerable thought and passion that has gone into this, and surely this
is to be welcomed by any reader...

Most popular poets in Luminous things

Czeslaw's favourite poets, at least those selected
the most, appear to be:

 12    Anna Swir 	[Polish poet WW2 nurse, 1909-1984)  (wiki)
 11    Walt Whitman
 11    Po Chü-I 	[Chinese Tang poet Bai Juyi; Henan / Xian, 772-846]  (wiki, poems)
 11    Tu Fu  	[Chinese Tang poet; Henan / Xian, 712-770]  (wiki)
 10    Wang Wei 	[Chinese Tang poet, Shanxi / Xian, 699-759]  (wiki)
  7    Jean Follain  	[French author, poet, and lawyer, 1903-1971]  (wiki)
  5    Wislawa Szymborska  [Polish poet, 1923- ]  (wiki)
  5    Steve Kowit 	[US poet, NYC/Calif. 1938- ] (bio,poems)
  5    Denise Levertov
  5    Blaise Cendrars [Swiss-French novelist / poet, 1900-1961]  (wiki, critique)
  4    Rolf Jacobsen   [Norwegian poet, 1907-1994]  (wiki)
  4    Robinson Jeffers  [US poet 1887-1962]  (wiki)
  4    Kenneth Rexroth
  3    Aleksander Wat  [Polish poet, 1900-1967]  (wiki)

Thus the coverage is either European (20th century), or ancient Chinese
(Tang dynasty).  There are a couple of middle-eastern poets, none from
south asia.

Error in attributing a poet

There is an error of attribution in the book.  The poem "When he pressed his
lips" is by an ancient Sanskrit woman poet, Vikatanitamba translated by
Steve Kowit.  Here, the poem appears under Kowit's name, and that it is a
translation is quite lost.  The text does bear the notation "after
Vikatanitamba" at the bottom, but to me it seems like a vestigial
eurocentric bias; how many poets would translate dante and give only a note
like this?

That the poem is a translation and not an inspired re-creation is clear if we
compare nother translations of this work, by Octavio Paz and by Daniel
Ingalls (both given below).

Thus, Vikatanitamba should have been acknowledged in the list of poets, and
Steve Kowit also needs to make this explicit.  Hopefully this may be fixed
in a later edition...


Except for this small south asian complaint, the anthology is superb - a
complete delight!

Part of what makes this anthology work is also the brief introductions to
each piece, where Milosz sets the tone and links it up with the otherwise
disparate neighbours.


Adam Zagajewski (Poland, 1945-): Moths p.19

Moths watched us through
the window. Seated at the table,
we were skewered by their lambent gazes,
harder than their shattering wings.
You'll always be outside,
past the pane. And we'll be here within,
more and more in. Moths watched us
through the window, in August.

poems:      poetryfoundation
wikipedia : Adam Zagajewski

Zbigniew Machej : Orchards in July p.29

			[tr. Czeslaw Milosz and Robert Hass]

Waters from cold springs
and glittering minerals
tirelessly wander.
Patient, unceasing,
they overcome granite, layers
of hungry gravel, iridescent
precincts of clay. If they abandon
themselves to the black
roots it's only to go
up, as high as possible
through wells hidden
under the bark of fruit trees. Through
the green touched with gray, of leaves,
fallen petals of white
flowers with rosy edges,
apples heavy with sweet redness
and their bitterish seeds.
O, waters from cold
springs and glittering
minerals. You are awaited
by a cirrus with a fluid
sunny outline
and by an abyss of blue
which has been rinsed
in the just wind.

Anna Swir (1909-1984)

Polish poet Anna Swirszczynska, who joined the Polish Resistance during
WW2.  Towards the end of the war, The resistance launched the Warsaw
Uprising, a sharp push to evict the germans before the red army, thus
underscoring polish sovereignty.  In the event, Soviet troops actually did
not enter warsaw for many months and the resistance surrendered in 63 days
after nearly 200,000 polish deaths (about 3000 per day).  More than 80% of
Warsaw was destroyed, mostly by fire.  Anna served as a nurse during this
period, and the grueling scenes of this period form the basis for some of
her poetry.

Anna Swir has the most poems in this book.  Czeslaw obviously feels she is
underappreciated in English; all the poems have been translated by Czeslaw
and Nathan.

The Sea And The Man (Anna Swir) p.47

		(tr. Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan)

You will not tame this sea
either by humility or rapture.
But you can laugh
in its face.

was invented by those
who live briefly
as a burst of laughter.

The eternal sea
will never learn to laugh.

Anna Swir : I Wash the Shirt 204

For the last time I wash the shirt
of my father who died.
The shirt smells of sweat. I remember
that sweat from my childhood,
so many years
I washed his shirts and underwear,
I dried them
at an iron stove in the workshop,
he would put them on unironed.

From among all bodies in the world,
animal, human,
only one exuded that sweat.
I breathe it in
for the last time. Washing this shirt
I destroy it
only paintings survive him
which smell of oils.

The Greatest Love : Anna Swir 219

		(tr. Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan)

She is sixty. She lives
the greatest love of her life.

She walks arm-in-arm with her dear one,
her hair streams in the wind.
Her dear one says:
"You have hair like pearls."

Her children say:
"Old fool."

Blaise Cendrars (1887-1961)

from introduction to the theme Travel:

The buoyant mood of the period just preceding World War I, called in France
"La Belle Epoque," is present in French poets such as Valery Larbaud and
Blaise Cendrars. Larbaud invented a figure of an international traveller, a
millionaire, Barnabooth, and published his presumed poems in 1908. Cendrars
(in reality a Swiss, born Ferdinand Sauser) drew the images of his largely
descriptive poems from both America and Russia. In 1912 he published his
famous poem "Easter in New York," as important for modern poetry as is
"Zone," by his friend Guillaume Apollinaire. In 1913 he wrote his long poem
entitled "Prose of the Transsiberian Railway and of little Jeanne of France."
His postwar poems were snapshots from different continents, often collages.

Blaise Cendrars : Fish Cove

			tr. from French: Monique Chefdor, p.79

The water is so clear and so calm
Deep at the bottom you can see the white bushes of coral
The prismatic sway of hanging jellyfish
The yellow pink lilac fish taking flight
And at the foot of the wavy seaweeds the azure
	sea cucumbers and the urchins green and purple

Blaise Cendrars : Aleutian Islands

			tr. from French: Monique Chefdor, p.79

High Cliffs lashed by icy polar winds
In the center of lush meadows
Reindeer elks musk-oxen
The Arctic foxes the beavers
Brooks swarming with fish
A low beach has been prepared to breed fur seals
On top of the cliff are collected the eider's nests
Its feathers are worth a real fortune

Large and sturdy buildings which shelter a
considerable number of traders
All around a small garden where all vegetation
able to withstand the severe climate has
been brought together
mountain ash pine tree Arctic willows
bed of heather and Alpine plants

Bay spiked with rocky islets
In groups of five or six the seals bask in the sun
Or stretching out on the sand
They play together howling in that kind of hoarse tone
that sounds like a dog's bark
Next to the Eskimos' hut is a shed where
the skins are treated

Blaise Cendrars : South - I. Tampa

 			tr. from French: Monique Chefdor, p.81

    [these poems appeared in his 1923 work, Kodak, (later retitled
    Documentaires after the Eastman Co. threatened a lawsuit).  Decades
    later, Cendrars revealed that many of the poems were lightly edited
    versions taken from the popular science-fiction novel by Gustave Le
    Rouge, The Mysterious Doctor Cornelius.  In his memoir -
    L'Homme foudroye' (The astonished man) - said to be
    close to fiction, or compulsively prone to fabrication,
    Cendrars tells this version of the story:

	I was cruel enough to take [Gustave] Lerouge a volume of poetry and
	make him read, and confirm with his own eyes, some twenty original
	poems which I had clipped out of oneof his prose works and had
	published under my own name... It was an outrage...

    Kodak was divided into tales from different parts of his travels in America,
    "North", "Far West", "South", etc.

The train has just come to a stop
Only two travelers get off on this scorching
late summer morning
Both wear khaki suits and cork helmets
Both are followed by a black servant
who carries their luggage
Both glance in the same casual way at the houses
that are too white at the sky that is too blue
You can see the wind raise whirls of dust and the flies
buzzing around the two mules of the only cab
The cabman is asleep the mouth wide open

Blaise Cendrars : Frisco-City

			tr. from French: Monique Chefdor, p.80

It is an antique carcass eaten up by rust
The engine repaired twenty times does not make
more than 7 to 8 knots
Besides to save expenses cinders and coal waste are its only fuel
Makeshift sails are hoisted whenever there is a fair wind
With his ruddy face his bushy eyebrows his pimply nose
Master Hopkins is a true sailor
Small silver rings hang from his pierced ears
The ship's cargo is exclusively coffins of Chinese
who died in America and wished to be buried
in their homeland
Oblong boxes painted red or light blue or covered
with golden characters
Just the type of merchandise it is illegal to ship

Rolf Jacobsen (1907-1994) : Express Train

			tr. from Norwegian: Roger Greenwald p. 92
There is no reason to stay with Chinese poetry, so I return to the twentieth
century and to train travel. Very often, the train is presented as the site
of observatIon by a person who travels. Beyond, out the window, there are
towns, cities, and in this case a NorweBian landscape of villaBes, provokinB
a philosophical reflection on the life of their inhabitants, life deprived of
love, unfulfilled, with an enormous potential which waits for liberation.

Express train 1256 races alongside hidden, remote villages. House
after house wanders by, pale gray, shivering. Rail fences, rocks and
lakes, and the closed gates.

Then I have to think in the morning twilight: What would
happen if someone could release the loneliness of those hearts?
People live there, no one can see them, they walk across rooms,
in behind the doors, the need, blank-eyed, hardened by love they
cannot give and no one gets a chance to give them. What would
rise higher here than the mountains-the Skarvang Hills-what
flame, what force, what storms of steady 'light?

Express train 1256, eight soot-black cars, turns toward new, endlessly
unknown villages. Springs of light behind the panes, unseen wells
of power along the mountains - these we travel past, hurry past,
only four minutes late for Marnardal.

Antonio Machado (1899-1939) : Rainbow at night

A train compartment, .not necessarily what is seen movinB beyond the window,
may appear as the backBround, with fellow passenBers as the object of
attention, and speculation about their internal world-thouBhts,
dreams. Nevertheless, the duality of motlOn internal and external seems to be
important. Antonio Machado places his characters in a niBht train; the
visibility of what's outside is limited. "A traveler mad with Brief" and the
narrator both are busy with their reminiscences. Unexpectedly, the end is
like an epiphany.

		for Don Ramon del Valle-Incldn

	The train moves through the Guadarrama
one night on the way to Madrid.
The moon and the fog create
high up a rainbow.
Oh April moon, so calm,
driving up the white clouds!

	The mother holds her boy
sleeping on her lap.
The boy sleeps, and 'nevertheless
sees the green fields outside,
and trees lit up by sun,
and the golden butterflies.

	The mother, her forehead dark
between a day gone and a day to come,
sees a fire nearly out
and an oven with spiders.

	There's a traveler mad with grief,
no doubt seeing odd things;
he talks to himself, and when he looks
wipes us out with his look.

	I remember fields under snow,
and pine trees of other mountains.

	And you, Lord, through whom we all
have eyes, and who sees souls,
tell us if we all one
day will see your face.

		tr. from Spanish: Robert Bly

---William Stafford (1914-1993) : Vacation--

One scene as I bow to pour her coffee:-
	Three Indians in the scouring drouth
	huddle at the grave scooped in the gravel,
	lean to the wind as our train goes by.
	Someone is gone.

	There is dust on everything in Nevada.

I pour the cream.

Louis Simpson (1923-) : After Midnight p. 117

The dark streets are deserted,
With only a drugstore glowing
Softly, like a sleeping body;

With one white, naked bulb
In the back, that shines
On suicides and abortions.

Who lives in these dark houses?
I am suddenly aware
I might live here myself.

The garage man returns
And puts the change in my hand,
Counting the singles carefully.

I Talk to My Body : Anna Swir 233

My body, you are an animal
whose appropriate behovior
is concentration and discipline.
An effort
of an athlete, of a saint, and of a yogi.

Well trained,
you may become for me
a gate
through which I will leave myself
and a gate
through which I will enter myself.
A plumb line to the center of the earth
and a cosmic ship to Jupiter.

My body, you are an animal
from whom ambition
is right.
Splendid possibilities
are open to us.

I'm Afraid of Fire (Anna Swir) 296

Why am I so afraid
running along this street
that's on fire.

After all there's no one here
only the fire roaring up to the sky
and that rumble wasn't a bomb
but just three floors collapsing.

Set free, the naked flames dance,
wave their arms
through the gaps of the windows,
it's a sin to peep at
naked flames
a sin to eavesdrop on
free fire's speech.

I am fleeing from that speech,
which resounded here on earth
before the speech of man.

Po Chu-I (772-846)

Tang dynasty poet Bai Juyi (in modern Pinyin; written Po Chu-I in the
earlier Giles system), has an accessible style and appears from early
anthologies (unlike Du Fu).   Born in Henan province, he
passed his competitive exams (jinshi) at age 18 and joined the
imperial service.   He was prefect of Hangzhou and then Suzhou.

See poems at blackcatpoems.

Po Chu-I: Madly singing in the mountains 120

     [tr. Arthur Waley]

There is no one among men that has not a special failing:
And my failing consists in writing verses.
I have broken away from the thousand ties of life;
But this infirmity still remains behind.
Each time that I look at a fine landscape,
Each time that I meet a loved friend,
I raise my voice and recite a stanza of poetry
And marvel as though a God had crossed my path.
Ever since the day I was banished to Hsun-yang
Half my time I have lived among the hills.
And often, when I have finished a new poem,
Alone I climb the road to the Eastern Rock
I lean my body on the banks of white Stone;
I pull down with my hands a green cassia branch.
My mad singing startles the valleys and hills;
The apes and birds all come to peep.
Fearing to become a laughing-stock to the world,
I choose a place that is unfrequented by men.

Po Chu-i : Sleeping on horseback 172

     [tr. Arthur Waley]

We had ridden long and were still far from the inn;
My eyes grew dim; for a moment I fell asleep.
Under my right arm the whip still dangled;
In my left hand the reins for an instant slackened.
Suddenly I woke and turned to question my groom.
"We have gone a hundred paces since you fell asleep."
Body and spirit for a while had changed place;
Swift and slow had turned to their contraries.
For these few steps that my horse had carried me
Had taken in my dream countless aeons of time!
True indeed is that saying of Wise Men
"A hundred years are but a moment of sleep."

Carlos Drummond de Andrade: In the Middle of the Road 8

	[from Portuguese, tr. Elizabeth Bishop]

In the middle of the road there was a stone
there was a stone in the middle of the road
there was a stone
in the middle of the road there was a stone.

Never should I forget this event
in the life of my fatigued retinas.
Never should I forget that in the middle of the road
there was a stone
there was a stone in the middle of the road
in the middle of the road there was a stone.

Wang Wei (701-761): Song about Xi Shi 179

   	   [tr. Tony and Willis Barnstone and Xu Haisin]

Since beauty casts a spell on everyone,
How could Xi Shi stay poor so long?
In the morning she was washing clothes in the Yue river,
In the evening she was a concubine in the palace of Wu.
When she was poor, was she out of the ordinary?
Now rich, she is rare.
Her attendants apply her powders and rouge,
others dress her in silks.
The king favours her and it fans her arrogance.
She can do no wrong.
Of her old friends who washed silks with her,
none share her carriage.
In her fillage her best friend is ugly.  It's hopeless
to imitate Lady Xi Shi's cunning frowns.

  (several Wang Wei poems, including this one in a different translation,
  can be found at

Legend of Xi Shi

  Xi Shi (c. 506BC-?) was one of the Four Beauties of ancient
  China.  While laundering her garments in the river, the fish would be so
  dazzled that they forgot how to swim and gradually sunk to the bottom,
  while condors were so charmed that many stopped flying and plummeted to
  death.  The idiom 沉魚落雁, (pinyin; chén yú luò yàn) "To cause fish to
  sink and condors to drop" is a compliment used for beautiful women. )

  King Gou Jian of Yue, after being defeated by Wu, was advised by his
  minister Fan Li to gift Xi Shi and Zheng Dan to the Wu king Fu Chai.
  With these extraordinary beauties, Fu Chai forgot all about his state
  affairs and had his great general Wu Zixu killed.  Eventually, he was
  defeated by Gou Jian in 473 BC.  In legends, after the fall of Wu,

  Fan Li retired from his minister post and lived with Xi Shi on a fishing
  boat, roaming like fairies in the misty wilderness of Tai Ho Lake, and no
  one has seen them ever since.  The Xi Shi Temple, at the foot of the Zhu
  Lou Hill in the southern part of Suzhou, on the banks of the Huansha
  River, commemorates her.  The West Lake in Hangzhou, called Xizi Lake,
  (Xizi means Lady Xi), is said to be an incarnation of her.

William Carlos Williams : The Red Wheelbarrow 66

    so much depends

    a red wheel

    glazed with rain

    beside the white

Steve Kowit : In the Morning 215

In the morning,
holding her mirror,
the young woman
her tender
lip with
her finger &
then with
the tip of
her tongue
licks it &
& admires her

Steve Kowit : Notice 199

This evening, the sturdy Levi's
I wore every day for over a year
& which seemed to the end
in perfect condition,
suddenly tore.
How or why I don't know,
but there it was: a big rip at the crotch.
A month ago my friend Nick
walked off a racquetball court,
got into this street clothes,
& halfway home collapsed & died.
Take heed, you who read this,
& drop to your knees now & again
like the poet Christopher Smart,
& kiss the earth & be joyful,
& make much of your time,
& be kindly to everyone,
even to those who do not deserve it.
For although you may not believe
it will happen,
you too will one day be gone,
I, whose Levi's ripped at the crotch
for no reason,
assure you that such is the case.
Pass it on.

Vikatanitamba (8th c. AD, Sanskrit) : When He Pressed His Lips 224

				(tr.  Steve Kowit)

	When he pressed his lips to my mouth
	the knot fell open of itself.
	When he pressed them to my throat
	the dress slipped to my feet.
	So much I know -- but
	when his lips touched my breast
	everything, I swear,
	down to his very name,
	became so much confused
	that I am still,
	dear friends,
	unable to recount
	(as much as I would care to)
	what delights
	were next bestowed upon me
	& by whom

translation by Octavio Paz:


   At the side of the bed
   the knot came undone by itself,
   and barely held by the sash
   the robe slipped to my waist.
   My friend, it's all I know: I was in his arms
   and I can’t remember who was who
   or what we did or how
		(Meena Alexander, Indian love poems, 2005, p.97)

see Note: attribution error above - this poem needs to be attributed to
sanskrit woman poet Vikatanitamba (c. 8th c.), and this text as a
translation by Steve Kowit.

This poem appears as item 572 in Sanskrit Court poetry: Vidyakara's "Subhasitaratnakosa";
an anthology from the 13th c.  Daniel Ingalls' has edited and translated this
anthology - his translation goes:

572. As he came to bed the knot fell open of itself,
     the dress held only somehow to my hips
     by the strands of the loosened girdle.
     So much I know, my dear;
     but when within his arms, I can't remember who he was
     or who I was, or what we did or how.
     		      		  vikaTanitamba [amaru collection] p.203

Of vikaTanitamba's life, we know little beside her name, and about half a
dozen poems that appear in different anthologies such as
subhAsitaratnakoSha (fragrant jewel chest) the name is literally
ugly buttocks, a self-deprecating style of naming that was fashionable for
other women poets of the times.

Her poetry is among those cited in analyses of literary style such as
Anandavardhana (9th c.).

Emperor Ch'ien-wen of Liang : Getting up in Winter 226

Winter morning.
Pale sunlight strikes the ceiling.
She gets out of bed reluctantly.
Her nightgown has a bamboo sash.
SHe wipes the dew off her mirror.
At this hour there is no one to see her.
Why is she making up so early?

Denise Levertov : A woman meets an old lover 228

He with whom I ran hand in hand
kicking the leathery leaves down Oak Hill Path
thirty years ago

appeared before me with anxious face, pale,
almost unrecognized, hesitant,

He whom I cannot remember hearing laugh out loud
but see in mind's eye smiling, self-approving,
wept on my shoulder.

He who seemed always
to take and not give, who took me
so long to forget,

remembered everything I had so long forgotten.

David Wagoner : Loons Mating 15

Their necks and their dark heads lifted into a dawn
Blurred smooth by mist, the loons
Beside each other are swimming slowly
In charmed circles, their bodies stretched under water
Through ripples quivering and sweeping apart
The gray sky now held close by the lake's mercurial threshold
Whose face and underface they share
In wheeling and diving tandem, rising together
To swell their breasts like swans, to go breasting forward
With beaks turned down and in, near shore,
Out of sight behind a windbreak of birch and alder,
And now the haunted uprisen wailing call.
And again, and now the beautiful sane laughter.

Lawrence Raab : The Sudden Appearance of a Monster at a Window 254

header note by milosz:
    The frailty of so-called civilized life, our awareness that it lasts
    merely by a miracle, because at any moment it could disintegrate and
    reveal unmitigated horror, as has happened more than once in our century
    - all this could contribute to the writing of this poem. Its author lives
    in an idyllic New England, and has a window with a view of an orchard.

    	Yes, his face really is so terrible
	you cannot turn away. And only
	that thin sheet of glass between you,
	clouding with his breath.
	Behind him: the dark scribbles of trees
	in the orchard, where you walked alone
	just an hour ago, after the storm had passed,
	watching water drip from the gnarled branches,
	stepping carefully over the sodden fruit.
	At any moment he could put his fist
	right through that window. And on your side:
	you could grab hold of this
	letter opener, or even now try
	very slowly to slide the revolver
	out of the drawer of the desk in front of you.
	But none of this will happen. And not because
	you feel sorry for him, or detect
	in his scarred face some helplessness
	that shows in your own as compassion.
	You will never know what he wanted,
	what he might have done, since
	this thing, of its own accord, turns away.
	And because yours is a life in which
	such a monster cannot figure for long,
	you compose yourself, and return
	to your letter about the storm, how it bent
	the apple trees so low they dragged
	on the ground, ruining the harvest.

William Carlos Williams: To a Poor Old Woman 191

munching a plum on
the street a paper bag
of them in her hand

They taste good to her
They taste good
to her. They taste
good to her

You can see it by
the way she gives herself
to the one half
sucked out in her hand

a solace of ripe plums
seeming to fill the air
They taste good to her

Jelaluddin Rumi : Little by Little, Wean Yourself 271

Little by little, wean yourself.
This is the gist of what I have to say.

From an embryo, whose nourishment comes in the blood,
move to an infant drinking milk,
to a child on solid food,
to a searcher after wisdom,
to a hunter of more invisible game.

Think how it is to have a conversation with an embryo.
You might say, "The world outside is vast and intricate.
There are wheatfields and mountain passes,
and orchards in bloom.

At night there are millions of galaxies, and in sunlight
the beauty of friends dancing at a wedding."

You ask the embryo why he, or she, stays cooped up
in the dark with eyes closed.

		Listen to the answer.

There is no "other world."
I only know what I've experienced.
You must be hallucinating.
				Mathnawi III 49-6

Jelaluddin Rumi : Out Beyond Ideas 276

		[tr. Coleman Brooks and John Moyne]

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense

Miron Bialoszewski : A Ballad of Going Down to the Store 285

				tr. from the Polish by Czeslaw Milosz

		   from Milosz's headnote:
			Polish (Jew) poet, Miron Bialoszewski (1922-1983)
		    	survived and the complete destruction of Warsaw
		    	during WW2.  A humourous poet, he describes the most
		    	ordinary human actions with an attention usually
		    	deserved by much greater events.

	First I went down to the store
	by means of the stairs,
	just imagine it,
	by means of the stairs.

	Then people known to people unknown
	passed by and I passed them by.
	that you did not see
	how people walk,

	I entered a complete store:
	lamps of glass were glowing.
	I saw somebody--he sat down--
	and what did I hear? What did I hear?
	rustling of bags and human talk.

	And indeed,
	I returned.

Naomi Lazard : Ordinance on Arrival p.304

	Welcome to you
	who have managed to get here.
	It's been a terrible trip;
	you should be happy you have survived it.
	Statistics prove that not many do.
	You would like a bath, a hot meal,
	a good night's sleep. Some of you
	need medical attention.
	None of this is available.
	These things have always been
	in short supply; now
	they are impossible to obtain.

                          This is not
	a temporary situation;
	it is permanent.
	Our condolences on your disappointment.
	It is not our responsibility
	everything you have heard about this place
	is false. It is not our fault
	you have been deceived,
	ruined your health getting here.
	For reasons beyond our control
	there is no vehicle out.

		Naomi Lazard is a very serious poet, and deserves to be
		better known.  Her work is very well regarded in India and
		Pakistan thanks to her exceptional translations of Faiz;
		read extensive excerpts from this work on Book Excerptise: 
		The true subject: selected poems of Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1988).

Zbigniew Herbert : Elegy of Fortinbras

						To C. M.

Now that we’re alone we can talk prince man to man
though you lie on the stairs and see more than a dead ant
nothing but black sun with broken rays
I could never think of your hands without smiling
and now that they lie on the stone like fallen nests
they are as defenceless as before The end is exactly this
The hands lie apart The sword lies apart The head apart
and the knight's feet in soft slippers

You will have a soldier's funeral without having been a soldier
they only ritual I am acquainted with a little
There will be no candles no singing only cannon-fuses and bursts
crepe dragged on the pavement helmets boots artillery horses drums
drums I know nothing exquisite
those will be my manoeuvres before I start to rule
one has to take the city by the neck and shake it a bit

Anyhow you had to perish Hamlet you were not for life
you believed in crystal notions not in human clay
always twitching as if asleep you hunted chimeras
wolfishly you crunched the air only to vomit
you knew no human thing you did not know even how to breathe

Now you have peace Hamlet you accomplished what you had to
and you have peace The rest is not silence but belongs to me
you chose the easier part an elegant thrust
but what is heroic death compared with eternal watching
with a cold apple in one's hand on a narrow chair
with a view on the ant-ill and clock’ dial

Adieu prince I have tasks a sewer project
and a decree on prostitutes and beggars
I must also elaborate a better system of prisons
since as you justly said Denmark is a prison
I go to my affairs This night is born
a star named Hamlet We shall never meet
what I shall leave will not be worth a tragedy

It is not for us to greet each other or bid farewell we live on archipelagos
and that water these words what can they do what can they do prince
					tr. Milosz & Scott

link:  Wilson Quarterly issue on Herbert, ed. Joseph Brodsky

      Modern poetry has a reputation for being difficult. It's hard to
      follow, harder still to scan, and there's almost no way to memorize
      it. The last job is so hard it gives you the impression that modern
      poetry doesn't want to be remembered, doesn't want to be poetry in the
      traditional sense.  [...]

	Starkness, in fact, is very much Herbert's signature.

also see: 20 poems

Index (by author)

the thematic organization used by Czeslaw makes it hard to trace the
individual poets.  Here is an author-wise breakup of the poems.

    Adam Zagajewski :   Moths 					       	19
    		Auto Mirror 					       128
    Al Zolynas : Love in the Classroom 				       193
    		Zen of Housework 				       156
    Aleksander Wat : A Joke 					       243
    		Facing Bonnard 					       70
    		From 'Songs of a Wanderer' 			       164
		From Persian Parables 				       297
    Aloysius Bertrand : The Mason 				       142
    Anna Kamienska : A Prayer That Will Be Answered 		       290
    Anna Swir : I Talk to My Body 				       233
    		I Starve My Belly for a Sublime Purpose 	       235
     		I'm afraid of fire 				       296
    		She Does Not Remember 				       220
    		Troubles with the Soul at Morning Calisthenics 	       234
    		I Wash the Shirt 				       204
     		Poetry Reading 					       259
    		Thank You, My Fate 				       222
    		The Same Inside 				       200
    		The Second Madrigal 				       223
     		The Greatest Love 				       219
     		The Sea and the Man 				       47
    Antonio Machado : Rainbow at Night 				       93
    		Summer Night 					       132
    Blaise Cendrars : Fish Cove 				       80
    		Aleutian Islands 				       79
    		Frisco-City 					       83
    		Harvest 					       81
    		South 						       82
    Bronislaw Maj : A Leaf 					       258
    		An August Afternoon 				       158
    		Seen Fleetingly, from a Train 			       97
    Carlos Drummond de Andrade : In the Middle of the Road	       8
    Ch'ang Yu : A Ringing Bell 					       279
    Ch'in Juan : Along the Grand Canal 				       100
    Chang Chi : Coming at Night to a Fisherman's Hut 		       85
    Chang Yan-hao : Recalling the Past at T'ung Pass 		       91
    Charles Simic : Empire of Dreams 				       171
    Chu Shu Chen : Morning 					       216
    Chuang Tzu : Man Is Born in Tao 				       274
    		The Need to Win 				       275
    Constantine Cavafy : Supplication 				       184
    		Waiting for the Barbarians 			       305
    D.H. Lawrence : Butterfly 					       31
    		Maximus 					       5
		Mystic 						       36
    David Kirby : To a French Structuralist 			       131
    David Wagoner : Loons Mating 				       15
    		The Author of American Ornithology Sketches a Bird, Now Extinct 13
    Denise Levertov : Living 					       24
		A Woman Meets an Old Lover 			       228
    		Eye Mask 					       266
    		Living 						       24
    		Witness 					       72
    Eamon Grennan : Woman at Lit Window 			       169
    Edward Field : A Journey 					       98
    Elizabeth Bishop : Brazil, January 1, 1502 			       121
    Emily Dickinson : A Narrow Fellow in the Grass  		       45
    Emperor Ch'ien-wen of Liang : Getting up in Winter 		       226
    Eskimo (anonymous) : Magic Words 				       268
    Francis Ponge : The Frog 					       69
    Franz Wright : Depiction of Childhood 			       250
    Galway Kinnell : Daybreak 					       35
    Gary Snyder : Dragonfly 					       32
    		Late October Camping in the Sawtooths 		       151
    Gunnar Ekëlof : Greece 					       125
    Issa : Haiku 						       6
		From the bough
		floating down river
		insect song

    Kikaku : Haiku 						       6
		Above the boat
		    of wild geese
				tr. Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto (both haikus)

    Jaan Kaplinski : We Started Home, my Son and I 		       103
    		       My Wife and Children 			       167
    James Applewhite : Prayer for My Son 			       119
    James Tate : Teaching the Ape to Write 			       251
    Jane Hirshfield : A Story 					       42
    Jean Follain : A Mirror 					       225
		A Taxidermist 					       16
    		Black Meat 					       161
    		Buying 						       160
    		Face the Animal 				       43
		Music of Spheres 				       7
    		School and Nature 				       162
    Jelaluddin Rumi : Little by Little, Wean Yourself	               271
    			Out Beyond Ideas 			       276
    Joanne Kyger : And with March a Decade in Bolinas 		       242
    		     Destruction 				       38
    John Haines : On the Mountain 				       102
    Jorge Guillén : Flight 					       44
    Joseph Brodsky : In the Lake District 			       115
    		       Odysseus to Telemachus 			       116
    Judah Al-Harizi : The Lightning 				       58
    Judah Al-Harizi : The Lute 					       59
    Judah Al-Harizi : The Sun 					       58
    Julia Hartwig : Above Us 					       298
    Keith Wilson : Dusk in My Backyard 				       152
    Kenneth Rexroth : From 'The City of the Moon' 		       287
    Kenneth Rexroth : Signature of All Things 			       144
    Kenneth Rexroth : The Heart of Herakles 			       146
    Kikaku : Haiku 						       6
    Lawrence Raab : The Sudden Appearance of a Monster at a Window
    Leonard Nathan : Bladder Song 				       197
    Leonard Nathan : Toast 					       196
    Leopold Staff : Foundations 				       295
    Li Ch'ing-chao : Hopelessness 				       218
    Li Po : Ancient Air 					       84
    Li Po : Ancient Air 					       88
    Li Po : The Birds Have Vanished 				       277
    Li-Young Lee : Irises 					       17
    Linda Gregg : A Dark Thing Inside the Day 			       163
    Linda Gregg : Adult 					       221
    Linda Gregg : Night Music 					       127
    Liu Tsung-Yüan : Old Fisherman 				       135
    Louis Simpson : After Midnight 				       117
    Mary Oliver : The Kingfisher 				       20
    		Wild Geese 					       40
    May Swenson : Question 					       229
    Mei Yao Ch'en : A Dream at Nght 				       182
    Miron Bialoszewski : A Ballad of Going Down to the Store 	       285
    Moushegh Ishkhan : The Armenian Language is the Home of the Armenian 303
    Muso Soseki : Magnificent Peak 				       71
    Muso Soseki : Old Man at Leisure 				       286
    Nachman of Bratzlav : From 'The Torah of the Void' 		       269
    Naomi Lazard : Ordinance on Arrival 			       304
    Oscar V. de L. Milosz : The Bridge 				       166
    Ou Yang Hsiu : Fisherman 					       134
    Philip Larkin : The Card-Players 				       201
    Philip Levine : A Sleepless Night 				       26
    Po Chü-I : Sleeping on Horseback 				       172
              A Dream of Mountaineering 			       87
		After Collecting the Autumn Taxes 		       111
		After Getting Drunk, Becoming Sober in the Night       246
		Climbing the Ling-Ying Terrance and Looking North      267
    		Golden Bells 					       245
    		Lodging with the Old Man of the Stream 		       284
    		Rain 						       112
		Starting Early 					       86
    		The Philosophers: Lao-tzu 			       244
    		Madly Singing in the Mountains	 		       120
    Rainer Maria Rilke : Going Blind 				       195
    Raymond Carver : The Window 				       159
    Raymond Caver : Wine 					       248
    Robert Creeley : Like They Say 				       18
    Robert Francis : Waxwings 					       25
    Robert Frost : The Most of It 				       46
    Robert Hass : Late Spring 					       27
    		    The Image 					       62
    Robert Morgan : Bellrope 					       57
    	     	      Honey 					       37
    Robinson Jeffers : Boats in Fog 				       60
    		Carmel Point 					       34
    		Cremation 					       230
    		Evening Ebb 					       61
    Rolf Jacobsen : Cobalt 					       63
    		Express Train 					       92
    		Rubber 						       155
    		The Catacombs in San Callisto 			       124
    Ryszard Krynicki : I Can't Help You 			       300
    Sandor Weores : Rain 					       174
    		The Plain 					       129
    Seamus Heaney : From 'Clearances', In Memoriam M.K.H. (1911-1984) 183
    Sharon Olds : I Go Back to May 1937 			       205
    Shu Ting : Perhaps... 					       299
    Southern Bushmen : The Day We Die 				       289
    Steve Kowit : In the Morning 				       215
		Cosmetics Do No Good 				       217
		Notice 						       199
		What Chord Did She Pluck 			       227
    		When He Pressed His Lips 			       224
    Su Man Shu : Exile in Japan 				       114
    Su Tung P'o : On a Painting by Wang the Clerk of Yen Ling        56
    Tadeusz Rozewicz : A Sketch for a Modern Love Poem 		       231
    Tadeusz Rozewicz : A Voice 					       207
    Ted Kooser : Late Lights in Minnesota 			       153
    Theodore Roethke : Carnations 				       33
    		Moss-Gathering 					       23
    Thomas Merton : An Elegy for Ernest Hemingway 		       208
    Tomas Tranströmer : Outskirts 				       130
		Syros 						       126
    		Tracks 						       154
    Tu Fu : Another Spring 					       113
    		Clean After Rain 				       150
    		Dejeuner sur l'Herbe 				       241
    		Coming Home Late at Night 			       256
    		Snow Storm 					       257
    		South Wind 					       149
    		Sunset 						       147
    		To Pi Ssu Yao 					       181
    		Traveling Northward 				       110
    		Visitors 					       283
    		Winter Dawn 					       148
    Valery Larbaud : Images 					       77
    W.S. Merwin : Dusk in Winter 				       30
    		For the Anniversary of My Death 		       272
		Utterance 					       198
    Wallace Stevens : Study of Two Pears 			       64
    Walt Whitman : A Farmer Picture 				       55
    		A Noiseless Patient Spider 			       210
    		A Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Gray and Dim 	       187
    		As Toilsome I Wander'd Virginia's Woods 	       186
    		By the Bivoac's Fitful Flame 			       168
    		Cavalry Crossing a Ford 			       141
    		From 'I Sing the Body Electric' 		       185
    		Dirge for Two Veterans 				       188
    		From 'The Sleepers' 				       202
    		I Am the Poet 					       53
    		The Runner 					       55
    Wang Chien : The New Wife 				       192
    		The South 					       109
    Wang Wei : Dancing Woman, Cockfighter Husband, and the Impoverished Sage 180
    		A Farewell 					       281
    		A White Turtle Under a Waterfall 		       133
    		Drifting on the Lake 				       282
    		Lazy about Writing Poems 			       280
    		Magnolia Basin 					       136
    		Morning, Sailing into Xinyang 			       101
    		Song about Xi Shi 				       179
    		Song of Marching with the Army 			       89
    		Watching the Hunt 				       90
    Wayne Dodd : Of Rain and Air 				       173
    William Blake : From 'Milton' 				       54
    William Carlos Williams : To a Poor Old Woman 		       191
    		Proletarian Portrait 				       190
		The Red Wheelbarrow 				       66
    William Stafford : Vacation 				       95
    Wislawa Szymborska : Four in the Morning 			       22
    		In Praise of My Sister 				       252
    		In Praise of Self-Deprecation 			       21
    		Seen from Above 				       41
		View with a Grain of Sand 			       67
    Yoruba Tribe : Invocation of the Creator 			       273
    Zbigniew Herbert : Elegy of Fortinbras 			       301
    Zbigniew Machej : Orchards in July 				       29

--- blurb:
Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz selects and introduces 300 of his favorite
poems in this "magnificent collection" that ranges "widely across time and
continents, from eighth century China to contemporary americana" (San
Francisco Chronicle).

bookexcerptise is maintained by a small group of editors. get in touch with us! bookexcerptise [at] gmail [dot] .com.

This review by Amit Mukerjee was last updated on : 2015 Aug 26