Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

The means to attain happy life

May 7, 2010 Comments off

Viewers of The Tudors may remember that last week Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, recited his translation of one of Martial‘s epigrams (specifically X:47). By coincidence, this week I ran across the translation made by the real Henry Howard and here it is:

MARTIAL, the things that do attain
The happy life be these, I find:—
The richesse left, not got with pain;
The fruitful ground, the quiet mind;
The equal friend; no grudge, no strife;
No charge of rule, nor governance;
Without disease, the healthful life;
The household of continuance;
The mean diet, no delicate fare;
True wisdom join’d with simpleness;
The night dischargèd of all care,
Where wine the wit may not oppress.
The faithful wife, without debate;
Such sleeps as may beguile the night:
Contented with thine own estate
Ne wish for death, ne fear his might.

The Footsteps

March 22, 2010 2 comments

Eagles of coral
adorn the ebony bed
where Nero lies fast asleep—
callous, peaceful, happy,
in the prime of his body’s strength,
in the fine vigor of youth.

But in the alabaster hall that holds
the ancient shrine of the Aenobarbi
how restless the household gods—
they tremble, the little Lares,
and try to hide their insignificant bodies.
They’ve heard a terrible sound,
a deadly sound coming up the stairs,
iron footsteps that shake the staircase;
and now faint with fear, the miserable Lares
scramble to the back of the shrine,
shoving each other and stumbling,
one little god falling over another,
because they know what kind of sound that is,
know by now the footsteps of the Furies.

C.P. Cavafy


January 4, 2010 1 comment

While the red-stained mouths of machine guns ring
Across the infinite expanse of day;
While red or green, before their posturing King,
The massed battalions break and melt away;

And while a monstrous frenzy runs a course
That makes of a thousand men a smoking pile-
Poor fools! – dead, in summer, in the grass,
On Nature’s breast, who meant these men to smile;

There is a God, who smiles upon us through
The gleam of gold, the incense-laden air,
Who drowses in a cloud of murmured prayer,

And only wakes when weeping mothers bow
Themselves in anguish, wrapped in old black shawls-
And their last small coin into his coffer falls.

Arthur Rimbaud

Nero’s Deadline

December 14, 2009 Comments off


Nero wasn’t worried at all when he heard
the utterance of the Delphic Oracle:
“Beware the age of seventy-three.”
Plenty of time to enjoy himself still.
He’s thirty. The deadline
the god has given him is quite enough
to cope with future dangers.
Now, a little tired, he’ll return to Rome—
but wonderfully tired from that journey
devoted entirely to pleasure:
theatres, garden-parties, stadiums…
evenings in the cities of Achaia
and, above all, the sensual delight of naked bodies…
So much for Nero. And in Spain Galba
secretly musters and drills his army—
Galba, the old man in his seventy-third year.

(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)


November 25, 2009 Comments off

Honor to those who in the life they lead
define and guard a Thermopylae.
Never betraying what is right,
consistent and just in all they do
but showing pity also, and compassion;
generous when they are rich, and when they are poor,
still generous in small ways,
still helping as much as they can;
always speaking the truth,
yet without hating those who lie.

And even more honor is due to them
when they foresee (as many do foresee)
that in the end Ephialtis will make his appearance,
that the Medes will break through after all.

(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)

The World Is A Beautiful Place

November 7, 2009 Comments off
The world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don’t mind happiness
not always being
so very much fun
if you don’t mind a touch of hell
now and then
just when everything is fine
because even in heaven
they don’t sing
all the time

The world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don’t mind some people dying
all the time
or maybe only starving
some of the time
which isn’t half bad
if it isn’t you

Oh the world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don’t much mind
a few dead minds
in the higher places
or a bomb or two
now and then
in your upturned faces
or such other improprieties
as our Name Brand society
is prey to
with its men of distinction
and its men of extinction
and its priests
and other patrolmen
and its various segregations
and congressional investigations
and other constipations
that our fool flesh
is heir to

Yes the world is the best place of all
for a lot of such things as
making the fun scene
and making the love scene
and making the sad scene
and singing low songs and having inspirations
and walking around
looking at everything
and smelling flowers
and goosing statues
and even thinking
and kissing people and
making babies and wearing pants
and waving hats and
and going swimming in rivers
on picnics
in the middle of the summer
and just generally
‘living it up’

but then right in the middle of it
comes the smiling

Year after year their numbers get fewer

November 5, 2009 4 comments

I was listening to June Tabor‘s version of “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” tonight and quoting the following seemed apt:

And now every April I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
And I watch my old comrades, how proudly they march
Reliving old dreams of past glory
And the old men march slowly, all bent, stiff and sore
The forgotten heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask, “What are they marching for?”
And I ask myself the same question
And the band plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men answer to the call
But year after year their numbers get fewer
Some day no one will march there at all.

The last ANZAC survivor of Gallipoli, Alec Campbell, died in 2002. He led Hobart’s ANZAC Day parade three weeks prior to his death. There ain’t that many survivors of the War to End All Wars left.


October 18, 2009 2 comments

The days that are to come, they stand before us
like to a row of lighted little candles, —
brilliant, and warm, and lively little candles.

The other days, the by-gone, lag behind,
a mournful row of candles that are quenched:
a few of them, the nearest, smoulder still,
but most are cold, and crooked, and reduced.

I dread to look on these: their shape is grievous,
and grievous the remembrance of their light.
In front, my lighted candles I behold.

I dread to turn, lest I perceive, affrighted,
how fast the sombre row is lengthening,
how fast the extinguished candles multiply.

C.P. Cavafy.

(Translated by John Cavafy)


October 10, 2009 Comments off


That we’ve broken their statues,
that we’ve driven them out of their temples,
doesn’t mean at all that the gods are dead.
O land of Ionia, they’re still in love with you,
their souls still keep your memory.
When an August dawn wakes over you,
your atmosphere is potent with their life,
and sometimes a young ethereal figure,
indistinct, in rapid flight,
wings across your hills.

C.P. Cavafy.

Poem of exile

October 7, 2009 Comments off

I alone have been dispatched to the Danube’s outflow
to shiver beneath the dead weight of northern skies
only the river (scant barrier!) lies between me and countless
barbarian hordes. Although
other men have been exiled by you for graver offenses
none was packed further off:
beyond here lies nothing but chillness, hostility, frozen
waves of an ice-hard sea.

Ovid, Poems of Exile


October 1, 2009 3 comments

Voices, loved and idealized,
of those who have died, or of those
lost for us like the dead.

Sometimes they speak to us in dreams;
sometimes deep in thought the mind hears them.

And with their sound for a moment return
sounds from our life’s first poetry—
like music at night, distant, fading away

“Voices” by C.P. Cavafy from Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992


September 25, 2009 1 comment

Apologies for being fairly invisible for the past few weeks – a combination of deadlines and teaching have kept me occupied and largely away from here. Unfortunately grading begins tomorrow, so I don’t expect any respite soon. Here’s a poem by Cavafy to tide you over:


One monotonous day follows another
equally monotonous. The same things
will happen again, and then will happen again,
the same moments will come and go.
A month passes by and brings another month.
Easy to guess what lies ahead:
all of yesterday’s boredom.
And tomorrow ends up no longer like tomorrow.

From C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992.

Since Nine O’Clock

September 10, 2009 1 comment

Since Nine O’Clock

Half past twelve. Time has gone by quickly
since nine o’clock when I lit the lamp
and sat down here. I’ve been sitting without reading,
without speaking. Completely alone in the house,
whom could I talk to?
Since nine o’clock when I lit the lamp
the shade of my young body
has come to haunt me, to remind me
of shut scented rooms,
of past sensual pleasure—what daring pleasure.
And it’s also brought back to me
streets now unrecognizable,
bustling night clubs now closed,
theatres and cafés no longer there.
The shade of my young body
also brought back the things that make us sad:
family grief, separations,
the feelings of my own people, feelings
of the dead so little acknowledged.
Half past twelve. How the time has gone by.
Half past twelve. How the years have gone by.

(From: C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)

Cavafy has become one of my favorite poets. Occasionally, I’ll post a poem by him.

Poetry on Friday

June 19, 2009 2 comments

PZ has advertised my upcoming talk on Ben Stein and in the comments, “Cuttlefish” pens this little ditty:

Like shooting flies with howitzers
Or fighting ants with mines
John Lynch will take his intellect
And decimate Ben Stein’s.

The program claims the topic
Will be “Why Ben Stein Is Wrong”.
Condensed, of course–the unabridged
Is several days too long.

No matter how it’s edited,
I have a nagging hunch,
It’s going to be a long one, so
You’d better pack a lunch.

(Ok, I’ve said what PZ said
And took so little time–
I wonder–how come Myers never
Writes his posts in rhyme?)


Seamus Heaney turns 70

April 13, 2009 3 comments

Seamus Heaney, Irish poet and Nobel Prize winner is 70 today. To celebrate here is his poem “Strange Fruit,” one of a series of poems about bog-bodies.

Here is the girl’s head like an exhumed gourd.
Oval-faced, prune-skinned, prune-stones for teeth.

They unswaddled the wet fern of her hair
And made an exhibition of its coil,
Let the air at her leathery beauty.
Pash of tallow, perishable treasure:
Her broken nose is dark as a turf clod,
Her eyeholes blank as pools in the old workings.
Diodorus Siculus confessed
His gradual ease with the likes of this:
Murdered, forgotten, nameless, terrible
Beheaded girl, outstaring axe
And beatification, outstaring
What had begun to feel like reverence.

Some more of Heaney’s poetry is available online here.


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