Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Sick Man

by Wallace Stevens

Bands of black men seem to be drifting in the air,
In the south, bands of thousands of black men,
Playing mouth-organs in the night or, now, guitars

Here in the North, late, late, there are voices of men,
Voices in chorus, singing without words, remote and deep,
Drifting choirs, long movements and turnings of sounds.

And in a bed in one room, alone, a listener
Waits for the unison of the music of the drifting bands
And the dissolving chorals, waits for it and imagines

The words of winter in which these two will come together,
In the ceiling of the distant room, in which he lies,
The listener, listening to the shadows, seeing them,

Choosing out of himself, out of everything within him,
Speech for the quiet, good hail of himself, good hail, good hail,
The peaceful, blissful words, well-tuned, well-sung, well-spoken.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Poem By Derek Walcott


The sun has fired my face to terra-cotta.
I wear this cast from his kiln all over the house.
But I cherish its cracks like those of blue, wrinkled water.
A furnace has curled the knives of the oleander,
gnats drill little holes around a saw-toothed cactus,
and a branch of the logwood blurs with wild characters.
A small stone house waits on the steps. Its white porch blazes.
I will write down a secret being passed to me by the surf:
You shall see transparent Helen pass like a candle
flame in sunlight, weightless as woodsmoke that hazes
the sand with no shadow, if you wait long enough.
The skin that peels from my knuckles is like the scurf
on dry shoal, my palms have been sliced by the twine
of the lines I have pulled at for more than forty years.
My Ionia is the smell of burnt grass, the scorched handle
of a cistern in August squeaking to rusty islands,
the lines I love now have all their knots left in.
I leave my house open to a wind that has no shoes.
Through the stunned afternoon, when it's too hot to think,
and the muse of this inland ocean still waits for a name,
from the salt, dark room, the tight horizon-line
catches nothing. I wait. Chairs sweat. Paper crumples the floor.
A lizard gasps on the wall. The sea glares like zinc.
Then, in the door light, not Nike loosening her sandal,
a girl slapping sand from her foot, one hand on the frame.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

W. S. Merwin


My friend says I was not a good son
you understand
I say yes I understand

he says I did not go
to see my parents very often you know
and I say yes I know

even when I was living in the same city he says
maybe I would go there once
a month or maybe even less

I say oh yes

he says the last time I went to see my father
I say the last time I saw my father

he says the last time I saw my father
he was asking me about my life
how I was making out and he
went into the next room
to get something to give me

oh I say
feeling again the cold
of my father's hand the last time
he says and my father turned
in the doorway and saw me
look at my wristwatch and he
said you know I would like you to stay
and talk with me

oh yes I say

but if you are busy he said
I don't want you to feel that you
have to
just because I'm here

I say nothing

he says my father
said maybe
you have important work you are doing
or maybe you should be seeing
somebody I don't want to keep you

I look out the window
my friend is older than I am
he says and I told my father it was so
and I got up and left him then
you know

though there was nowhere I had to go
and nothing I had to do

From Opening the Hand, by W. S. Merwin, published by Atheneum. Copyright © 1983 by W. S. Merwin.

Friday, May 26, 2006

John Berryman TWO POEMS


All projects failed, in the August afternoon
he lay & cursed himself & cursed his lot
like Housman's lad forsooth.
A breeze sometimes came by. His sunburn itcht.
His wife was out on errands. He sighed & scratcht.
The little girls were fiddling with the telephone.

They wanted candy, the which he gave them.
His entire soul contorted with the phlegm.
The sun burned down.
Photos of him in despair flooded the town
or city. Mourned his many friends, or so.
The little girls were fiddling with the piano.

He crusht a cigarette out. Crusht him out
surprising God, at last, in a wink of time.
His soul was forwarded.
Adressat unbekannt. The little girls with a shout
welcomed the dazzling package. In official rime
the official verdict was: dead.


Quiet his loves lay, at the bottom of his mind.
Now & then, O now & then, at intervals,
he took one out & inspected it.
Like a clown, or a dog trainer, or a strong kind
of man, he placed it under the waterfalls
& expected it to submit.

They did him homage. Which he did repay
with memory. One in the end wrote to him,
saying are you the same one?
He was the same one, & she published his un-
book, long since lost, about a trip to Neptune
in two volumes, let's say,

in hard brown paper, in her Spenserian hand,
with the title (forgotten) & his then name
& the important date.
O she was a golden one, higher than Henry
by a head, called Helen Justice, and
then, until now, she disappeared.

Copyright © 1976 Kate Berryman

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Portrait of Anna Akhmatova

Amedeo Modigliani

By Anna Akhmatova, Translated by Djemma Bider

I believe those who describe him didn't know him as I did, and here's why. First, I could know only one side of his being—the radiant side. After all I was just a stranger, probably a not easily understood twenty-year-old woman, a foreigner. Secondly, I myself noticed a big change in him when we met in 1911. Somehow, he had grown dark and haggard.

In 1910 I saw him extremely seldom: only a few times. Nevertheless he wrote to me all winter long.[1] He didn't tell me that he composed verses.

As I understand it now, what he must have found astonishing in me was my ability to guess rightly his thoughts, to know his dreams and other small things—others who knew me had become accustomed to this a long time before. He kept repeating: "On communique." Often he said: "Iln'y a que vous pour réaliser cela."

Probably, we both did not understand one important thing: everything that happened was for both of us a prehistory of our future lives: his very short one, my very long one. The breathing of art still had not charred or transformed the two existences; this must have been the light, radiant hour before dawn.

But the future, which as we know throws its shadow long before it enters, knocked at the window, hid itself behind lanterns, crossed dreams, and frightened us with horrible Baudelairean Paris, which concealed itself someplace near by.

And everything divine in Modigliani only sparkled through a kind of darkness. He was different from any other person in the world. His voice somehow always remained in my memory. I knew him as a beggar and it was impossible to understand how he existed—as an artist he didn't have a shadow of recognition.

At that time (1911) he lived at Impasse Falguière. He was so poor that when we sat in the Luxembourg Gardens we always sat on the bench, not on the paid chairs, as was the custom. On the whole he did not complain, not about his completely evident indigence, nor about his equally evident nonrecognition.

Only once in 1911 did he say that during the last winter he felt so bad that he couldn't even think about the thing most precious to him.

He seemed to me encircled with a dense ring of loneliness. I don't remember him exchanging greetings in the Luxembourg Gardens or in the Latin Quarter where everybody more or less knows each other. I never heard him tell a joke. I never saw him drunk nor did I smell wine on him. Apparently, he started to drink later, but hashish already somehow figured in his stories. He didn't seem to have a special girl friend at that time. He never told stories about previous romances (as, alas, everybody does). With me he didn't talk about anything that was worldly. He was courteous, but this wasn't a result of his upbringing but the result of his elevated spirit.

At that time he was occupied with sculpture; he worked in a little courtyard near his studio. One heard the knock of his small hammer in a deserted blind alley. The walls of his studio were hung with portraits of fantastic length (as it seems to me now—from the floor to the ceiling). I never saw their reproductions—did they survive? He called his sculpture "la chose"—it was exhibited, I believe, at the Salon des Indépendants in 1911. He asked me to look at it, but did not approach me at the exhibition, because I was not alone, but with friends. During my great losses, a photograph of this work, which he gave to me, disappeared also.

At this time Modigliani was crazy about Egypt. He took me to the Louvre to look at the Egyptian section; he assured me that everything else, "tout le reste," didn't deserve any attention. He drew my head in the attire of Egyptian queens and dancers, and he seemed completely carried away by the great Egyptian art. Obviously Egypt was his last passion. Very soon after that he became so original that looking at his canvases you didn't care to remember anything. This period of Modigliani's is now called la période nègre.
* * *

He used to say: "les bijoux doivent être sauvages" (in regard to my African beads), and he would draw me with them on.

He led me to look at le vieux Paris derrière le Panthéon at night, by moonlight. He knew the city well, but still we lost our way once. He said: "J'ai oublié qu'il y a une île au milieu [l'île St-Louis]." It was he who showed me the real Paris.

Of the Venus of Milo he said that the beautifully built women who are worth being sculptured and painted always look awkward in dresses.

When it was drizzling (it very often rains in Paris), Modigliani walked with an enormous and very old black umbrella. We sat sometimes under this umbrella on the bench in the Luxembourg Gardens. There was a warm summer rain; nearby dozed le vieux palais à l'italien, while we in two voices recited from Verlaine, whom we knew well by heart, and we rejoiced that we both remembered the same work of his.

I have read in some American monograph that Beatrice X may have exerted a big influence upon Modigliani—she is the one who called him "perle et pourceau." I can testify, and I consider it necessary that I do so, that Modigliani was exactly the same enlightened man long before his acquaintance with Beatrice X—that is, in 1910. And a lady who calls a great painter a suckling pig can hardly enlighten anyone.

People who were older than we were would point out on which avenue of the Luxembourg Gardens Verlaine used to walk—with a crowd of admirers—when he went from "his café," where he made orations every day, to "his restaurant" to dine. But in 1911 it was not Verlaine going along this avenue, but a tall gentleman in an impeccable frock coat wearing a top hat, with a Legion of Honor ribbon—and the neighbors whispered: "Henri de Régnier." This name meant nothing to us. Modigliani didn't want to hear about Anatole France (nor, incidentally, did other enlightened Parisians). He was glad that I didn't like him either. As for Verlaine he existed in the Luxembourg Gardens only in the form of a monument which was unveiled in the same year. Yes. About Hugo, Modigliani said simply: "Mais Hugo c'est déclamatoire."
* * *

One day there was a misunderstanding about our appointment and when I called for Modigliani, I found him out—but I decided to wait for him for a few minutes. I held an armful of red roses. The window, which was above the locked gates of the studio, was open. To while away the time, I started to throw the flowers into the studio. Modigliani didn't come and I left.

When I met him, he expressed his surprise about my getting into the locked room while he had the key. I explained how it happened. "It's impossible—they lay so beautifully."

Modigliani liked to wander about Paris at night and often when I heard his steps in the sleepy silence of the streets, I came to the window and through the blinds watched his shadow, which lingered under my windows….

The Paris of that time was already in the early Twenties being called "vieux Paris et Paris d'avant guerre." Fiacres still flourished in great numbers. The coachmen had their taverns, which were called "Rendez-vous des cochers." My young contemporaries were still alive—shortly afterward they were killed on the Marne and at Verdun. All the left-wing artists, except Modigliani, were called up. Picasso was as famous then as he is now, but then the people said: "Picasso and Braque." Ida Rubinstein acted Salome. Diaghilev's Ballet Russe grew to become a cultural tradition (Stravinsky, Nijinsky, Pavlova, Karsavina, Bakst).

We now know that Stravinsky's destiny also didn't remain chained to the 1910s, that his work became the highest expression of the twentieth century's spirit. We didn't know this then. On June 20, 1911, The Firebird was produced. Petrushka was staged by Fokine for Diaghilev on July 13, 1911.

The building of the new boulevards on the living body of Paris (which was described by Zola) was not yet completely finished (Boulevard Raspail). In the Taverne de Panthéon, Verner, who was Edison's friend, showed me two tables and told me: "These are your social-democrats, here Bolsheviks and there Mensheviks." With varying success women sometimes tried to wear trousers (jupes-culottes), sometimes they almost swaddled their legs (jupes entravées). Verse was in complete desolation at that time, and poems were purchased only because of vignettes which were done by more or less well known painters. At that time, I already understood that Parisian painting was devouring French poetry.

René Gille preached "scientific poetry" and his so-called pupils visited their maître with a very great reluctance. The Catholic church canonized Jeanne d'Arc.

Où est Jeanne la bonne Lorraine
Qu'Anglais brulèrent à Rouen?

I remembered these lines of the immortal ballad when I was looking at the statuettes of the new saint. They were in very questionable taste. They started to be sold in the same shops where church plates were sold.
* * *

An Italian worker had stolen Leonardo's Gioconda to return her to her homeland, and it seemed to me later, when I was back in Russia, that I was the last one to see her.

Modigliani was very sorry that he couldn't understand my poetry. He suspected that some miracles were concealed in it, but these were only my first timid attempts. (For example in Apollo, 1911). As for the reproductions of the paintings which appeared in Apollo ("The World of Art") Modigliani laughed openly at them.

I was surprised when Modigliani found a man, who was definitely unattractive, to be handsome. He persisted in his opinion. I was thinking then: he probably sees everything differently from the way we see things. In any case, that which in Paris was said to be in vogue, and which was described with splendid epithets, Modigliani didn't notice at all.

He drew me not in his studio, from nature, but at his home, from memory. He gave these drawings to me—there were sixteen of them. He asked me to frame them in passe-partout and hang them in my room at Tsarskoye Selo. In the first years of revolution they perished in that house at Tsarskoye Selo. Only one survived, in which there was less presentiment of his future "nu" than in the others.

Most of all we used to talk about poetry. We both knew a great many French verses: by Verlaine, Laforgue, Mallarmé, Baudelaire.

I noticed that in general painters don't like poetry and even somehow are afraid of it.

He never read Dante to me, possibly because at that time I didn't yet know Italian.

Once he told me: "J'ai oublié de vous dire que je suis Juif." That he was born in the environs of Livorno and that he was twenty-four years old he told me immediately—but at that time he really was twenty-six.

Once he told me that he was interested in aviators (nowadays we say pilots) but once, when he met one of them, he was disappointed: they turned out to be simply sportsmen (what did he expect?).

At this time light airplanes (which were—as everybody knows—like shelves) were circling around over my rusty and somewhat curved contemporary (1889) Eiffel Tower. It seemed to me to resemble a gigantic candlestick, which was lost by a giant in the middle of a city of dwarfs. But that's something Gulliverish.
* * *

And all around raged the newly triumphant cubism, which remained alien to Modigliani.

Marc Chagall had already brought his magic Vitebsk to Paris and Charlie Chaplin—not yet a rising luminary, but an unknown young man—roamed the Parisian boulevards ("The Great Mute"—as cinematography then was called—still remained eloquently silent).
* * *

"And a great distance away in the north…" in Russia died Leo Tolstoy, Vrubel', Vera Komissarzhevskaia; symbolists declared themselves in a state of crisis and Aleksandr Blok prophesied:

Oh, if You children only knew
About coldness and darkness
Of the days to come….

The three whales, on which the Twenties now rest—Proust, Joyce, and Kafka—didn't yet exist as myths, though they were alive as people.
* * *

I was firmly convinced that such a man as Modigliani would start to shine, but when in coming years I asked people who came from Paris about him, the reply was always the same: we don't know, never heard of him.[2]

Only once N. S. Gumilev, when we went together for the last time to see our son in Bezhetsk (in May 1918), and I mentioned the name Modigliani, called him "a drunken monster" or something of the kind. He told me that they had had a clash because Gumilev had spoken in some company in Russian; Modigliani protested this. Only about three years remained for both of them and a great posthumous fame awaited both.

Modigliani regarded travelers with disdain. He considered journeys as a substitute for real action. He always had Les chants de Maldoror in his pocket; this book at that time was a bibliographical rarity. He told me that once he went to a Russian church to the Easter matins—he went to see the religious procession with cross and banners—he liked magnificent ceremonies—and that "probably a very important gentleman" (I should think from the embassy) came up to him and kissed him three times. It seems to me Modigliani didn't clearly understand the meaning of this.

For a long time I thought that I would never hear anything about him. But I did and quite a lot.
* * *

In the beginning of NEP,[3] when I was on the board of the Writer's Union of those days, we usually had our meetings in A. N. Tikhonov's office.[4] At that time correspondence with foreign countries began to return to normal, and Tikhonov used to receive many books and periodicals. It happened that once during the conference someone passed an issue of a French art magazine to me. I opened it—a photograph of Modigliani…. Small cross…. There was a big article—a kind of obituary—and from this article I learned that Modigliani was a great artist of the twentieth century (as I remember he was compared with Botticelli) and that there were already monographs about him in English and in Italian. Later on in the Thirties Ehrenburg, who dedicated his verses[5] to Modigliani and who knew him in Paris later than I did, told me much about him. I also read about Modigliani in a book, From Montmartre to the Latin Quarter, by Carco, and in a cheap novel, whose author coupled him with Utrillo. I can say firmly that the hybrid, which is pictured in this book, does not bear any resemblance to Modigliani in 1910-1911, and that what the author did belongs to the category of the impermissible.

And even quite recently Modigliani became a hero of a pretty vulgar French film, Montparnasse 19. That's extremely distressing!

Bol'shevo 1958-Moscow 1964
—translated by Djemma Bider


[1] I remember a few sentences from his letters. Here is one of them: "Vous êtes en moi comme une hantise."

[2] He was not known to A. Ekster (the artist, from whose school came all Kiev's left-wing artists), or to Anrep (well-known mosaic artist), or to N. Al'tman, who in the years 1914-1915 painted my portrait.

[3] The New Economic Policy.

[4] At the World Literature Publishing House, 36 Mokhovaia Street, Leningrad.

[5] They were printed in a book, The Poetry about Eves.

W. H. Auden

In Memory of W. B. Yeats


He disappeared in the dead of winter:

The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,

And snow disfigured the public statues;

The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.

What instruments we have agree

The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness

The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,

The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;

By mourning tongues

The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,

An afternoon of nurses and rumours;

The provinces of his body revolted,

The squares of his mind were empty,

Silence invaded the suburbs,

The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities

And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,

To find his happiness in another kind of wood

And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.

The words of a dead man

Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow

When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,

And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,

And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,

A few thousand will think of this day

As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.

What instruments we have agree

The day of his death was a dark cold day.


You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:

The parish of rich women, physical decay,

Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.

Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,

For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives

In the valley of its making where executives

Would never want to tamper, flows on south

From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,

Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,

A way of happening, a mouth.


Earth, receive an honoured guest:

William Yeats is laid to rest.

Let the Irish vessel lie

Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark

All the dogs of Europe bark,

And the living nations wait,

Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace

Stares from every human face,

And the seas of pity lie

Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right

To the bottom of the night,

With your unconstraining voice

Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse

Make a vineyard of the curse,

Sing of human unsuccess

In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart

Let the healing fountain start,

In the prison of his days

Teach the free man how to praise.

From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by The Estate of W. H. Auden.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Constantine Cavafy


Take care the engraving's artistically done.
Expression grave and majestic.
The diadem better rather narrow;
I don't care for those wide ones, the Parthian kind.
The inscription, as usual, in Greek:
nothing excessive, nothing grandiose—
the proconsul mustn't get the wrong idea,
he sniffs out everything and reports it back to Rome—
but of course it should still do me credit.
Something really choice on the other side:
some lovely discus-thrower lad.
Above all, I urge you, see to it
(Sithaspes, by the god, don't let them forget)
that after the "King" and the "Savior"
the engraving should say, in elegant letters, "Philhellene."
Now don't start in on me with your quips,
your "where are the Greeks?" and "what's Greek
here, behind the Zágros, beyond Phráata?"
Many, many others, more oriental than ourselves,
write it, and so we'll write it too.
And after all, don't forget that now and then
sophists come to us from Syria,
and versifiers, and other devotees of puffery.
Hence unhellenized we are not, I rather think.

Translated from the Greek by Daniel Mendelsohn

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Anna Akhmatova (poem)


Nothing is changed: against the dining-room windows
hard grains of whirling snow still beat.
I am what I was,
but a man came to me.

"What do you want?" I asked.
"To be with you in hell," he said.
I laughed. "It's plain you mean
to have us both destroyed."

He lifted his thin hand
and lightly stroked the flowers:
"Tell me how men kiss you,
tell me how you kiss."

His torpid eyes were fixed
unblinking on my ring.
Not a single muscle stirred
in his clear, sardonic face.

Oh, I see: his game is that he knows
intimately, ardently,
there's nothing from me he wants,
I have nothing to refuse.

Translated by Max Hayward, Stanley Kunitz

Stanley Kunitz

The Round

Light splashed this morning
on the shell-pink anemones
swaying on their tall stems;
down blue-spiked veronica
light flowed in rivulets
over the humps of the honeybees;
this morning I saw light kiss
the silk of the roses
in their second flowering,
my late bloomers
flushed with their brandy.
A curious gladness shook me.

So I have shut the doors of my house,
so I have trudged downstairs to my cell,
so I am sitting in semi-dark
hunched over my desk
with nothing for a view
to tempt me
but a bloated compost heap,
steamy old stinkpile,
under my window;
and I pick my notebook up
and I start to read aloud
the still-wet words I scribbled
on the blotted page:
“Light splashed . . .”

I can scarcely wait till tomorrow
when a new life begins for me,
as it does each day,
as it does each day.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Ezra Pound


The age demanded an image
Of its accelerated grimace,
Something for the modern stage,
Not, at any rate, an Attic grace;

Not, not certainly, the obscure reveries
Of the inward gaze;
Better mendacities
Than the classics in paraphrase!

The ‘age demanded’ chiefly a mould in plaster,
Made with no loss of time,
A prose kinema, not, not assuredly, alabaster
Of the ‘sculpture’ of rhyme.

From Hugh Selwyn Mauberley

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Portrait of Rilke

by Paula Modersohn-Becker

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Giant Toad

By Elizabeth Bishop

I am too big, too big by far. Pity me.

My eyes bulge and hurt. They are my one great beauty, even so. They see too much, above, below, and yet there is not much to see. The rain has stopped. The mist is gathering on my skin in drops. The drops run down my back, run from the corners of my downturned mouth, run down my sides and drip beneath my belly. Perhaps the droplets on my mottled hide are pretty, like dewdrops, silver on a moldering leaf? They chill me through and through. I feel my colors changing now, my pigments gradually shudder and shift over.

Now I shall get beneath that overhanging ledge. Slowly. Hop. Two or three times more, silently. That was too far. I’m standing up. The lichen’s gray, and rough to my front feet. Get down. Turn facing out, it’s safer. Don’t breath until the snail gets by. But we go travelling the same weathers.

Swallow the air and mouthfuls of cold mist. Give voice, just once. O how it echoed from the rock! What a profound, angelic bell I rang!

I live, I breathe, by swallowing. Once some naughty children picked me up, me and two brothers. They set us down again somewhere and in our mouths they put lit cigarettes. We could not help but smoke them, to the end. I thought it was the death of me, but when I was entirely filled with smoke, when my slack mouth was burning, and all my tripes were hot and dry, they let us go. But I was sick for days.

I have big shoulders, like a boxer. They are not muscle, however, and their color is dark. They are my sacs of poison, the almost unused poison that I bear, my burden and my great responsibility. Big wings of poison, folded on my back. Beware, I am an angel in disguise; my wings are evil, but not deadly. If I will it, the poison could break through, blue-black, and dangerous to all. Blue-black fumes would rise upon the air. Beware, you frivolous crab.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Zbigniew Herbert: Our Fear

Our fear
does not wear a night shirt
does not have owl’s eyes
does not lift a casket lid
does not extinguish a candle

does not have a dead man’s face either

our fear
is a scrap of paper
found in a pocket
‘warn Wójcik
the place on Dluga Street is hot’

our fear
does not rise on the wings of the tempest
does not sit on a church tower
it is down-to-earth

it has the shape
of a bundle made in haste
with warm clothing
and arms

our fear
does not have the face of a dead man
the dead are gentle to us
we carry them on our shoulders
sleep under the same blanket
close their eyes
adjust their lips
pick a dry spot
and bury them

not too deep
not too shallow

Translated from the Polish by Czeslaw Milosz