Author:

Hot And Cold

A woman who my mother knows
Came in and took off all her clothes.

Said I, not being very old,
‘By golly gosh, you must be cold!’

‘No, no!’ she cried. ‘Indeed I’m not!
I’m feeling devilishly hot!’

Our Mind Is A Virgin Forest Of Killed Friends…

‘our mind is a virgin forest of killed friends.
And if I talk to you with fairy tales and parables
it is because you listen to it more sweetly, and you can’t talk of horror because it’s alive

because it doesn’t speak and moves
it drips the day, it drips on sleep
like a pain reminding of evils.

To speak of heroes to speak of heroes: Michalis
who left with open wounds from hospital
may have talked of heroes when, that night
he was dragging his foot in the blacked-out city,
was screaming feeling our pain ‘in the dark
we go, in the dark we move…’
Heroes move in the dark.

G. Seferis, Teleftaios Stathmos
1940-1945

Just A Little More

Just a little more
And we shall see the almond trees in blossom
The marbles shining in the sun
The sea, the curling waves.
Just a little more
Let us rise just a little higher.

The Mrk Of Cain

The poor pilgrims dragged themselves wearily
along to Mecca through gray Syria,
huddled and doubled up
the pilgrims stumbled along-
away from delusion and ferment
to repent, repent, repent…
And I was standing like an impenitent sinner
on the summit of the mountain
where once upon a time (don’t stir!)
Abel was killed by Cain.
And-of all communiqués of blood
the most unforgettable-
the elemental voice was heard:
‘Cain, where is your brother, Abel? ‘
But once again the Pharisees,
with their vile-sweet voices:
‘Why do you worry about visions that are fake?
Yes, with Abel maybe we should have held back.
Admittedly, there was a little mistake,
but generally speaking we were on the right track…’
And I was standing on the summit
between those ahead and the hosts behind,
above a world where people could commit
every corruption of their own kind.
There was no lightning and no thunder,
but the stones were crying with mouths opened wide:
‘The corruption of the soul may be bloodless
but it is also fratricide! ‘
And I imagined a gloomy, dead
brick orphanage,
where as with henbane
the children of Abel are spoonfed
with lies by the children of Cain.
And in the faces of Abel’s children,
doing what they know that they must do,
which is always to stay silent,
the red mark of Cain shows through…

And I, no one’s murderer,
was standing on the sticky summit,
but my conscience murmured
like the Bible: ‘You won’t be able to quit!
You’re corrupting your spirit with lies,
and your spirit is crumbling, cracking inside.
And to kill yourself- you cannot disguise
that that is also fratricide!
And how many women, you twister,
lie like crucifixions along your way-
but women, they are your sisters,
worth more than brothers can repay.
And the Hussars’ toasts ‘To the ladies, ‘
what are they worth?
Bravado, empty form.
To kill love- you cannot evade it,
that is also fratricide.
And someone’s gray brown eyes
staring at you with disdain,
on your forehead cicatrize
you with the eternal mark of Cain…’
I shuddered:
‘Quiet, O conscience…
You know this is not comparable,
it is like comparing a children’s circus
with a bloody Roman shambles.’

But the shadow of bony Cain
jutted out from the rocks near at hand,
and the blood of the brother he had slain
was endlessly dripping from my hand.

‘Look- my bloody hands shake.
As a child it was fun to improvise,
out of curiosity to break
the velvet wings of butterflies
and then- fratricide.’

My conscience- the protectress
of the mark of Cain,
the prophetess-seer said again
with prophetically bitter sadness:
‘What will you say to the eternal skies
and the court of stars when you cannot run back-
To say I am sinless would be telling lies,
but generally speaking I’m on the right track!
You know, all those whom you hate
set this up as the true state,
while the cigarettes take on
the smell of burning flesh, the Winstons, and the Kents,
and the bullet that passed through John
kills Robert Kennedy.
And the bombs charge the earth, turn
brown villages bloodred, fire black.
Admittedly they fall on children,
but generally speaking they’re on the right track…
Everything begins with the butterflies,
later it comes round to bombs…
No amount of washing purifies-
the blood on your hands will be your doom.
The only murder that is fit-
is to kill the Cain inside! ‘

And losing my footing on the sticky summit,
face to face with the infinite,
I tore the flesh open in my side
and the strangled embryo Cain died.
I strangled everything mean and evil,
all that you would later despise,
but it was far too late to heal
the broken wings of the butterflies.
And the wind, blood-soaked, invisible,
lashed at me from the fury of space
as if the pages of the Bible
were lashing me on the face…

1967
Translated by Geoffrey Dutton with Igor Mezhakoff-Koriakin (revised)

No, I’Ll No Take Half

No, I’ll not take the half of anything!
Give me the whole sky! The far-flung earth!
Seas and rivers and mountain avalanches-
All these are mine! I’ll accept no less!

No, life, you cannot woo me with a part.
Let it be all or nothing! I can shoulder that!
I don’t want happiness by halves,
Nor is half of sorrow what I want.

Yet there’s a pillow I would share,
Where gently pressed against a cheek,
Like a helpless star, a falling star,
A ring glimmers on a finger of your hand.

1963
Translated by George Reavey

Final Faith

Is it possible that we are so twisted
there is no salvation for any of us,
and that ideas have become wingless
in an age of winged rockets?

Is it possible that a crippled birch,
bending over to the last river,
will see the last man
in its boiling water?

Is it possible there’ll be no Big Ben,
Saint Basil’s, or Notre Dame
and that neutron foam will gush
over our final steps?

But that planet, cherry trees,
birds, and children will perish,
I don’t believe. This disbelief
is my final faith.

Skull after skull will not
be piled up in towers again.
The final Nuremberg approaches us
before, not after the war.

And the last soldier on earth
will throw his shoulder strap in a stream,
and watch how peacefully
dragonflies sit on it.

All rascality will end.
All people will understand-we are a family.
The last government
will abolish itself.

The last exploiter,
opening his toothless mouth,
will gobble the last money
furtively like a delicacy.

The last cowardly editor
will be doomed forever
to read from the stage in sequence
everything that he destroyed.

So that the last bureaucrat
can rest and be silent,
his gullet will be stuffed in payment
with the last rubber stamp.

And the earth will turn
without fear of the last years,
there never will be born
the last great poet.

Breaking Up

I fell out of love: that’s our story’s dull ending,
as flat as life is, as dull as the grave.
Excuse me-I’ll break off the string of this love song
and smash the guitar. We have nothing to save.

The puppy is puzzled. Our furry small monster
can’t decide why we complicate simple things so-
he whines at your door and I let him enter,
when he scratches at my door, you always go.

Dog, sentimental dog, you’ll surely go crazy,
running from one to the othe like this-
too young to conceive of an ancient idea:
it’s ended, done with, over, kaput. Finis.

Get sentimental and we end up by playing
the old melodrama, ‘Salvation of Love.’
‘Forgiveness, ‘ we whisper, and hope for an echo;
but nothing returns from the silence above.

Better save love at the very beginning,
avoiding all passionate ‘nevers, ‘ ‘forevers; ‘
we ought to have heard what the train wheels were shouting,
‘Do not make promises! ‘ Promises are levers.

We should have made note of the broken branches,
we should have looked up at the smokey sky,
warning the witless pretensions of lovers-
the greater the hope is, the greater the lie.

True kindness in love means staying quite sober,
weighing each link of the chain you must bear.
Don’t promise her heaven-suggest half an acre;
not ‘unto death, ‘ but at least to next year.

And don’t keep declaring, ‘I love you, I love you.’
That little phrase leads a durable life-
when remembered again in some loveless hereafter,
it can sting like a hornet or stab like a knife.

So-our little dog in all his confusion
turns and returns from door to door.
I won’t say ‘forgive me’ because I have left you;
I ask pardon for one thing: I loved you before.

The Affair

These days men on curbs are curved
Like farm tools or bits of wire,
Like unruly saucers of tea flung
Into the trees, the walls, the breeze.

Houses are shifting too —
Up and going on emerald shoes,
Colliding on streets, spitting
Bits of brick and splinter on our sleeves.

This one holds a wife
Standing at the bleak stairway of a dream,
Grappling with her wedding veil;
With mothballs and pearls and girls.

See, the husband is rising — a shipwreck
Disappearing against a photograph
Of beaten love. He’s separating pink
From dark, fodder from cloud,

Movement from half-movement.
We can throw away these things:
The sweat, the chests, the hair,
The dead weight of despair dropping

Into the living rooms of our lives;
The broken furniture, the cracked foundations.
I claim you back, the wife says to him.
She claims him back.

But what of this youngest one
Inching along the sinew of the floor?
He knows nothing- little kernel of snail —
Except to unfurl along his silver trail.

Love In Carlisle

Girls were crying yesterday in their ball gowns;
Holding each other up like poles of wilted beanstalks.
I wanted to carry them into the streets.
To the unused railroad track in the middle of town,
Unwrap the past and lay before them
A fragile girl I once knew, walking toward love
In a thin, determined way. That she should live here too —
In this town of carefully-guarded houses
And old ladies in rocking chairs
In fake pearls and printed button-down dresses.

Girls are crying in their ball gowns and boys
Are holding them up and taking them to the streets,
To warehouses or backs of deserted pick-up trucks.
A troubadour waits on a wooden porch
For the faultless girl, to speak her name,
Undress her, give noise to her that is new and violent.
The old ladies form a line and hold photographs
Against their faces where the skin used to be unbroken.
They step out from their dresses and kick off their shoes,
Cross over the barren tracks in their solitary dance.

Conversation With An American Writer

‘You have courage, ‘ they tell me.
It’s not true. I was never courageous.
I simply felt it unbecoming
to stoop to the cowardice of my colleagues.

I’ve shaken no foundations.
I simply mocked at pretense and inflation.
Wrote articles. Scribbled no denunciations.
And tried to speak all on my mind.
Yes, I defended men of talent,
branding the hacks, the would-be writers.
But this, in general, we should always do;
and yet they keep stressing my courage.
Oh, our descendants will burn with bitter shame
to remember, when punishing vile acts,
that most peculiar time, when
plain honesty was labeled ‘courage’…

Excerpt –

‘This famous wicked little tale
Should never have been put on sale
It is a mystery to me
Why loving parents cannot see
That this is actually a book
About a brazen little crook…’

‘…Now just imagine how you’d feel
If you had cooked a lovely meal,
Delicious porridge, steaming hot,
Fresh coffee in the coffee pot,
With maybe toast and marmalade,
The table beautifully laid,
One place for you and one for dad,
Another for your little lad.
Then dad cries, ‘Golly–gosh! Gee whizz!
‘Oh cripes! How hot this porridge is!
‘Let’s take a walk along the street
‘Until it’s cool enough to eat.’
He adds, ‘An early morning stroll
‘Is good for people on the whole.
‘It makes your appetite improve
‘It also helps your bowels move.’
No proper wife would dare to question
Such a sensible suggestion,
Above all not at breakfast–time
When men are seldom at their prime.
No sooner are you down the road
Than Goldilocks, that little toad
That nosey thieving little louse,
Comes sneaking in your empty house….’

‘…(Here comes the next catastrophe.)
Most educated people choose
To rid themselves of socks and shoes
Before they clamber into bed.
But Goldie didn’t give a shred.
Her filthy shoes were thick with grime,
And mud and mush and slush and slime.
Worse still, upon the heel of one
Was something that a dog had done.
I say once more, what would you think
If all this horrid dirt and stink
Was smeared upon your eiderdown
By this revolting little clown?
(The famous story has no clues
To show the girl removed her shoes.)

Oh, what a tale of crime on crime!
Let’s check it for a second time.

Crime One, the prosecution’s case:
She breaks and enters someone’s place.

Crime Two, the prosecutor notes:
She steals a bowl of porridge oats.

Crime Three: She breaks a precious chair
Belonging to the Baby Bear.

Crime Four: She smears each spotless sheet
With filthy messes from her feet.

A judge would say without a blink,
‘Ten years hard labour in the clink!’
But in the book, as you will see,
The little beast gets off scot–free,
While tiny children near and far
Shout ‘Goody–good! Hooray! Hurrah!’
‘Poor darling Goldilocks!’ they say,
‘Thank goodness that she got away!’
Myself, I think I’d rather send
Young Goldie to a sticky end.
‘Oh daddy!’ cried the Baby Bear,
‘My porridge gone! It isn’t fair!’
‘Then go upstairs,’ the Big Bear said,
‘Your porridge is upon the bed.
‘But as it’s inside mademoiselle,
‘You’ll have to eat her up as well.’