Poem of the Day: 'Caryatid' by Gottfried Benn

Translated from the German by Michael Hofman, from Poetry magazine:

Renege on the rock! Smash
the oppressor cave! Sashay
out onto the floor! Scorn the cornices—
see, from the beard of drunk Silenus
from the unique uproar of his blood
the wine dribble into his genitals!

Spit on the obsession with pillars:
ancient rheumatic hands quake toward
gray skies. Bring down the temple
by the yearning of your knees
twitching with dance.

Spill, spread, unpetal, bleed
your soft flowers through great wounds.
Dove-hauled Venus girds her loins
with roses—
see the summer’s last puff of blue
drift on seas of asters to distant
pine-brown coasts; see
this final hour of our mendacious
southern happiness  
held aloft.
Hofmann's translator's notes are also worth a read.

Poem of the Day: 'Consciousness' by Attila Jozsef



The dawn dissevers earth and skies
and at its pure and lovely bidding
the children and the dragonflies
twirl out into the sunworld's budding;
no vapour dims the air's receding,
a twinkling lightness buoys the eyes!
Last night into their trees were gliding
the leaves, like tiny butterflies.


Blue, yellow, red, they flocked my dream,
smudged images the mind had taken,
I felt the cosmic order gleam -
and not a speck of dust was shaken.
My dream's a floating shade; I waken;
order is but an iron regime.
By day, the moon's my body's beacon,
by night, an inner sun will burn.


I'm gaunt, sometimes bread's all I touch,
I seek amid this trivial chatter
unrecompensed, and yearn to clutch,
what has more truth than dice, more matter.
No roast rib warms my mouth and platter,
no child my heart, foregoing such -
the cat can't both, how deft a ratter,
inside and outside make her catch.


Just like split firewood stacked together,
the universe embraces all,
so that each object holds the other
confined by pressures mutual,
all things ordained, reciprocal.
Only unbeing can branch and feather,
only becoming blooms at all;
what is must break, or fade, or wither.


Down by the branched marshalling-yard
I lurked behind a root, fear-stricken,
of silence was the living shard,
I tasted grey and weird-sweet lichen.
I saw a shadow leap and thicken:
it was the shadow of the guard -
did he suspect? - watched his shade quicken
upon the heaped coal dew-bestarred.


Inside there is a world of pain,
outside is only explanation.
the world's your scab, the outer stain,
your soul's the fever-inflammation.
Jailed by your heart's own insurrection,
you're only free when you refrain,
nor build so fine a habitation,
the landlord takes it back again.


I stared from underneath the evening
into the cogwheel of the sky -
the loom of all the past was weaving
law from those glimmery threads, and I
looked up again into the sky
from underneath the steams of dreaming
and saw that always, by and by,
the weft of law is torn, unseaming.


Silence gave ear: the clock struck one.
Maybe you could go back to boydom;
walled in with concrete dank and wan,
maybe imagine hints of freedom.
And now I stand, and through the sky-dome
the stars, the Dippers, shine and burn
like bars, the sign of jail and thraldom,
above a silent cell of stone.


I've heard the crying of the steel,
I've heard the laugh of rain, its pattern;
I've seen the past burst through its seal:
only illusions are forgotten,
for naught but love was I begotten,
bent, though, beneath my burdens' wheel -
why must we forge such weapons, flatten
the gold awareness of the real?


He only is a man, who knows
there is no mother and no father,
that death is only what he owes
and life's a bonus altogether,
returns his find to its bequeather,
holding it only till he goes;
nor to himself, nor to another,
takes on a god's or pastor's pose.


I've seen what they call happiness:
soft, blonde, it weighed two hundred kilos;
it waddled smiling on the grass,
its tail a curl between two pillows.
Its lukewarm puddle glowed with yellows,
it blinked and grunted at me :- yes,
I still remember where it wallows,
touched by the dawns of blissfulness.


I live beside the tracks, where I
can see the trains pass through the station.
I see the brilliant windows fly
in floating dark and dim privation.
Through the eternal night's negation
just so the lit-up days rush by;
in all the cars' illumination,
silent, resting my elbow, I.

[From The Iron-Blue Vault, translated by Zsuszanna Ozsvath & Frederick Turner]

Poem of the Day: 'Endless Silence' by Fazıl Hüsnü Dağlarca

Endless Silence


I am like a brother to you well yes you can tell me

How you got married

How you stopped loving one night

All right you can tell me


And then in the days of that old photograph

Your Mother had not gone mad yet

Your hair was golden as it caressed your white shoulders

All right you can tell me


You used to laugh a lot

At trees

You were a sylph the forest kept you awake when it sprouted

All right you can tell me


Then you ran away from home

To thoughts solitude sleep death

Starknaked among the ruins of a fire

All right you can tell me


A girl a boy a stone shadows on the walls a girl a boy

Three hundred youths you had slept in a mountain shelter

Outside the snow was cold as wolves in your heart you froze like the stone age

All right you can tell me


Look tomorrow I am leaving for another darkness

Like cemeteries I am silent mournful deaf

Yes you no longer have faith in love   yes you will love no one ever again

All right you can tell me


-- Translated by Talat S. Halman. From Living Poets of Turkey, Dost Publications, 1989, p. 26


Poem of the Day: 'A Ritual to Read to Each Other' by William Stafford

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don't know the kind of person I am

and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider--
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give--yes or no, or maybe--
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.


Poem of the Day: 'Before Breughel the Elder' by Aleksander Wat

Before Breughel the Elder

Work is a blessing.
I tell you that, I -- professional sluggard!
Who slobbered in so many prisons! Fourteen!
And in so many hospitals! Ten! And innumerable inns!
Work is a blessing.
How else could we deal with the lava of fratricidal love
        towards fellow men?
With those storms of extermination of all by all?
With brutality, bottomless and measureless?
With the black and white era which does not want to
endlessly repeating itself da capo like a record
forgotten on a turntable
spinning by itself?
Or perhaps someone invisible watches over the phono-
        graph? Horror!
How, if not for work, could we live in the paradise of
        social hygienists
who never soak their hands in blood without aseptic gloves?
How else could we cope with death?
That Siamese sister of life who grows together with it -- in us, and is extinguished
       with it
and surely for that reason is ineffective.
And so we have to live without end,
without end. Horror!
How, if not for work, could we cope with ineffective
(Do not scoff!)
which is like a sea,
where everyone is an Icarus, one of nearly three billion,
while besides, so many things happen
and everything is equally unimportant, precisely,
although so difficult, so inhumanly difficult, so painful!
How then could we cope with all that?
Work is our rescue.
I tell you that -- I, Breughel, the Elder (and I, for one,
your modest servant, Wat, Aleksander) -- work is our

The Wild Bull


From the Soundhead blog, which has posted Morton Subotnick's intriguing 1968 electronica album The Wild Bull, here is the ancient Sumerian poem on which the composition is based:


The wild bull, who has lain down, lives no more
the wild bull, who has lain down, lives no more,
Dumuzi, the wild bull, who has lain down, lives no more,
the wild bull, who has lain down, lives no more.

O you wild bull, how fast you sleep!
How fast sleep ewe and lamb!
O you wild bull, how fast you sleep!
How fast sleep goat and kid!

I will ask the hills and the valleys,
I will ask the hills of the Bison:
"Where is the young man, my husband?"
I will say,
"He whom I no longer serve food"
I will say,
"He whom I no longer give to drink"
I will say,
"And my lovely maids"
I will say,
"And my lovely young men?"

"The Bison has taken thy husband away,
up into the mountains!"

"The Bison has taken thy young man away,
up into the mountains!"

"Bison of the mountains, with the mottled eyes!
Bison of the mountains, with the crushing teeth!
Bison!-He sleeps sweetly, he sleeps sweetly,
He whom I no longer serve sleeps sweetly,
He whom I no longer give to drink sleeps sweetly,
My lovely maids sleep sweetly,
My lovely young men sleep sweetly!"

"My young man who perished from me
(at the hands of) your men,
My young Ababa who perished from me
(at the hands of) your men,
Will never more calm me (with) his loving glance
Will never more unfasten his lovely bright clasp
(at night)
On his couch you made the jackals lie down,
In my husband's fold you made the raven dwell,
His reed pipe-the wind plays it,
My husband's songs-the north wind sings them."

Sumerian, c. 1700 BC, translated by Thorkild Jacobsen.

Quote of the Day: Zbigniew Herbert

“The poet’s sphere of action, if he has a serious attitude toward his work, is not the present, by which I mean the current state of socio-political and scientific knowledge, but reality, man’s stubborn dialogue with the concrete reality surrounding him, with this stool, with that person, with this time of day—the cultivation of the vanishing capacity for contemplation.”

Zbigniew Herbert, 1972 (via).

Notes from the Intellectual Sanitation Department

The Guardian profiles Hans Magnus Enzensberger:

Born in 1929 in small-town Swabia, the eldest of four boys, Enzensberger is part of the last generation of intellectuals whose writing was shaped by first-hand experience of the Third Reich. Contemporaries include Günter Grass (born in 1927), Martin Walser (1927) and Jürgen Habermas (1929). The Enzensbergers moved to Nuremberg, the ceremonial birthplace of National Socialism, in 1931. Julius Streicher, the founder and publisher of Der Stürmer, was their next-door neighbour. Hans Magnus joined the Hitler Youth in his teens, but was chucked out soon afterwards. "I have always been incapable of being a good comrade. I can't stay in line. It's not in my character. It may be a defect, but I can't help it."

...At the start of his career, Enzensberger was frequently compared to Britain's "angry young men", Osborne and Pinter – misleadingly so, because playwriting was never a particular strong point. He was always more convincing when he channelled his anger into poetry. His first two collections, verteidigung der wölfe gegen die lämmer (Defence of the Wolves Against the Lambs) and landessprache (Native Language), railed against Germans' instinctive submission to authorities ("you'd love / to be torn limb from limb. you / won't change the world"), and wrestled violently with the language he had inherited.

Looking back on his early poems now, Enzensberger admits they sound "shrill". "But when you are 18 or 19, you can't stomach silence. Immediately after the war, there was one priority for us: we had to get rid of the bastards. And that was a great nuisance, because you can't change an entire population. Fifty per cent were followers of Hitler, 35% were opportunists and a few others didn't agree. You had all these professors, judges and chiefs of police who were old Nazis, and you had to get rid of them, and a certain violence was necessary to clear up the mess. For a few years we worked in an intellectual sanitation department."

And speaking of Defence of the Wolves, here is Jerome Rothenberg's translation:

The wolves defended against the lambs


should the vultures eat forget-me-nots?

what do you want the jackal to do,

cut loose from his skin, or the wolf? should

he pull his own teeth out of his head?

what upsets you so much

about commissars and popes?

why do you gape at the fraudulent TV screen

as if someone just slipped you the shaft?


and tell me who sews the ribbons

over the general's chest? who

carves the capon up for the usurer?

who proudly dangles an iron cross

over his rumbling navel? who

rakes in the tip, the thirty pieces

of silver, the hush money? listen: there

are plenty of victims, very few thieves: who's

the first to applaud them, who

pins on the merit badge, who's

crazy for lies?


look in the mirror : squirming,

scared blind by the burden of truthfulness,

skipping the trouble of learning, abandoning

thought to the wolves,

a nose ring your favorite trinket,

no deception too stupid, no comfort

too cheap, every new blackmail

still seems too mild for you.

you lambs, why crows would be

nuns stacked up against you:

all of you hoodwink each other.

fraternity's the rule

among wolves :

they travel in packs.


blessed are the thieves: you

ask them up for a rape, then

throw yourself down on the mouldy bed

of submission. moaning

you stick to your lies. you'd love

to be torn limb from limb. you

won't change the world.


(jerome rothenberg)

An Early Bernhard Poem, Englished

Building on Cold Foggy Night

One section of an online English translation of a sixteen-page poem privately published in 1962 by Thomas Bernhard (spacing in original):

In rags goes man, in stinking scraps of cloth.
The meat grinder wind says—I'm not dumb!
Siccing my trouser legs and the dog,
it comes inside my head and cuts me down.

I have this whore tap on my conscience,
this bundle biting into my hunched back.
These shoes, this frayed coat, are making me sick.
My soupspoon sticks through the pocket of my pants.

There in the courtyard, there stand the Pharisees,
Nothing but creature from the belt on down!
The club swingers, squealers, gunmen, spies
in the greasy boot-black of the prefecture.

The state's almighty, while you're bitter and weak.
Power and the uniform are one in the same.
You keep your mouth shut, your head in check,
you walk through the wood no one cuts for us.

What such a truncheon on the head ruins
I know already, it breaks my eardrums.
I'm outfitted by the most sub-moron
and driven mad with sweat, ransacked, and shorn.

These pants rub me raw and the backsides paint
The heads of misery on the thick wall.
Some get to drink and some have to pay.
And the thing that you are drips in your hand.

Quote of the Day

From the Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma, Book 57 (pdf), a Soto Zen text:

My former master, the Old Buddha of Tiantong, on one occasion when old acquaintances among the elders from all quarters assembled and requested a lecture, ascended the hall and said,

The great way has no gate,
It springs forth from the crown in all quarters;
Empty space ends the road,
It comes into the nostril of Qingliang.
Meeting like this,
Seeds of Gautama’s traitors,
Embryos of Linji’s misfortune.
The great house topples over, dancing in the spring wind;
Startled, the falling apricot blossoms fly in crimson chaos.