Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Today is the solstice, the shortest day of the year and my personal favorite 24 hours. I love the pagan implications, the circumference of seasons; it is the beginend. A lovely word.

My friend Kim Peter has for the last decade graced his acquaintances and companions with a collection of his favorite verse. I always look forward to it, and this year crib it shamelessly.

But first, for my francophone pals, my favorite, in French, albeit one season late. From Baudelaire’s Chant d'automne:

Bientôt nous plongerons dans les froides ténèbres ;
Adieu, vive clarté de nos étés trop courts !
J'entends déjà tomber avec des chocs funèbres
Le bois retentissant sur le pavé des cours.

Tout l'hiver va rentrer dans mon être: colère,
Haine, frissons, horreur, labeur dur et forcé,
Et, comme le soleil dans son enfer polaire,
Mon coeur ne sera plus qu'un bloc rouge et glacé.

J'écoute en frémissant chaque bûche qui tombe
L'échafaud qu'on bâtit n'a pas d'écho plus sourd.
Mon esprit est pareil à la tour qui succombe
Sous les coups du bélier infatigable et lourd.

II me semble, bercé par ce choc monotone,
Qu'on cloue en grande hâte un cercueil quelque part.
Pour qui? - C'était hier l'été; voici l'automne !
Ce bruit mystérieux sonne comme un départ.

And now Kim Peter’s selection:

From ‘The Prelude’, by US poet Matthew Zapruder
Come to the edge
the edge beckoned softly. Take
this cup full of darkness and stay as long
as you want and maybe a little longer.

From the Chinese poet Wu Wei, translated by Kenneth Rexroth
Deep in the mountain wilderness
Where nobody ever comes
Only once in a great while
Something like the sound of a far-off voice.
The low rays of the sun
Slip through the dark forest,
And gleam again on the shadowy moss.

From ‘Moment’, by Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanaugh (nature as theater and a brook and birds as actors)
Everything’s in its place and in polite agreement.
in the valley a little brook cast as a little brook.
A path in the role of a path from always to ever.
Woods disguised as woods alive without end,
and above them birds in flight play birds in flight.
The moment reigns as far as the eye can reach,
One of those earthly moments
invited to linger.

‘The New Song’, by US poet WS Merwin (would that we all could say so much in so few words and with so little [read: none] punctuation)
For some time I thought there was time
and there would always be time
for what I had a mind to do
and what I could imagine
going back to and finding it
as I had found it for the first time
but by this time I do not know
what I thought when I thought back then
there is no time yet it grows less
there is the sound of rain at night
arriving unknown in the leaves
once without before or after
then I hear the thrush waking
at daybreak singing the new song

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