Earth Poems

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EARTH POEMS was published by HarperSanFrancisco in 1996.
EARTH POEMS is a re-working of THE GREEN BOOK OF POETRY.  Eighty new poems were included, with commentary.

The book’s theme is humanity: on the one hand as creator and guardian, on the other as degrader and destroyer. How do we restrain the destruction of nature by corporations and governments, and re-learn the value of living within limits?

SOME EXCERPTS FROM ‘EARTH POEMS’:

The following poem was written in the 1930’s. The poet was a religious mystic. He was troubled by violence against the land while other poets were more preoccupied with violence against humans. He was shot by firing squad in October 1937. This poem was discovered among the notes of the secret police, appended as evidence of his crime.

There Is No Land Left

The news received was bitter:
the rippling waves of the Aral sea in dead ooze,
the storks rare in the Ukraine,
the feather grass drooping in Mozdok,
and in the bright Sarov desert
the wheels of machines squealing underground.
Black clouds brought us further news;
the blue Volga is getting shallow,
evil men in Kerzhents are burning
the green pine fortresses,
the Suzhdal wheat fields bring forth
lichen and stubble.
The cranes call to us
as they’re forced to fly in for remains.
The nesting finches’ feathers fall out
and they’re plagued by ravening aphids,
the furry bees have only
the big veteran mushrooms to buzz at.
The news was black:
that there was no home land left,
as if there were no cherries in October,
when the darkness outside
decides the heart is an axe
that will heat the shivering house,
but the logs don’t obey the axe
and howl at the moon.
It’s painful when the heart sinks,
but your grey-haired mother is a friend.
How terrifying, to crucify a poem!
The news burned into our souls,
there is no home land left,
the rippling waves of the Aral sea in dead ooze,
Gritsko is silent in the Ukraine,
and the North, that frozen swan,
has flowed out onto the shelterless waves,
notifying the ships
that there is no home land left.

(Nikolai Kluyev, Russian, 1887-1937. Tr. Richard McKane.)

…………………………………………………………….

Li Po was so venerated during his life that the emperor would personally season his soup. But he needed the company of nature, and he spent most of his life wandering.

Summer in the mountains

Too lazy to shift my white feather fan
I lie naked in the green woods.
Hanging my hat on a rock,
I bare my head to the breeze in the pines.

Silent Night

Moonlight floods the end of my bed.
I wonder, has frost fallen?
Sitting up, I look at the moon.
Lying back, I think of home.

Talk in the Mountains

You ask me, `Why dwell among green mountains?’
I laugh in silence; my soul is quiet.
Peach blossom follows the moving water;
Here is a heaven and earth, beyond the world of men.

(Li Po, Chinese, 701-762, versions I.M.)

……………………………………………………………….
A Selection of other translations: –

To a Friend

When the moon’s splendour shines in a clear sky,
Stand outside and gaze at heaven’s brightness,
Marvelling how the pure lamp of the moon
Embraces in its beauty two dear friends
In body separate, but bound in mind by love.
Though face to loving face we may not look,
Yet let this light assure us of our love.
Your faithful friend sends you these small verses,
And if on your part friendship’s bond stays firm
May strength and joy be with you all your days!

(Walahfrid Strabo, German, tr. from Latin by I.M.)

……………………………………………………………………

He is walking in the road
As proud as any king.
He looks down on everyone,
For his house is full of riches.
If you don’t bow down to someone,
God himself will humble you.

(Anonymous song, Gond (India), written down and translated c. 1930 by V. Elwin and S. Hivale).

………………………………………………………………

[Goethe against fanatics:]

“Jews and Heathens out!” – that’s the tolerance of Christian fanatics;
“Christ and Heathens, curse them!” mutters a Jewish beard.
“Roast Christians on the spit, burn Jews in the fire” –
So sings a Turkish child, despising both Christians and Jews.
Which is the cleverest? Choose! – But if these
Fools are in your Palace, Lord, I’ll give it a miss.

(Goethe, 1749-1832, German, tr. I.M.)

……………………………………………………………….

In a tangle of cliffs I chose a place –
Bird-paths, but no trails for men.
What’s beyond the yard?
White clouds clinging to vague rocks.
Now I’ve lived here – how many years –
Again and again, spring and winter pass.
Go tell families with silverware and cars
“What’s the use of all that noise and money?”

(Han Shan, Chinese, lived c. 800, modern tr. by Gary Snyder.)

…………………………………………………………….

After the Wars

The soldiers have gone, the villagers return
The snows have ceased, the flowers are opening up
Last year’s yellowed grass still stands
Smoke puffs again from the little hamlets
Tired rats squeak among the empty walls
Starving crows peck in the barren fields
I seem to hear people muttering:
`The taxman’s coming round again’.

(Xin Yuan, Chinese, 13th c., tr. John Scott.)

………………………………………………………………….

Thinking of My Brothers on a Moonlit Night

Drums on the watch-tower have emptied the roads –
At the frontier it’s autumn; a wild-goose cries.
This is a night in which dew becomes frost;
The moon is bright like it used to be at home.

I have brothers, but they’re scattered;
My home’s broken up; are they dead or alive?
If letters are sent, they never arrive;
This war that separates us seems unending.

(Tu Fu, Chinese, 712-770. Version I.M. after Hawkes.)

…………………………………………………………………………..

Ozymandias

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert… Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

(P.B. Shelley, English, 1792-1822.)

……………………………………………………….

Tears of the Fatherland

So, now we are destroyed; utterly; more than utterly!
The gang of shameless peoples, the maddening music of war,
The sword fat with blood, the thundering of the guns
Have consumed our sweat and toil, exhausted our reserves.
Towers are on fire, churches turned upside down;
The town hall is in ruins, the strong cut down, destroyed.
Young girls are raped; wherever we turn our gaze,
Fire, plague, and death pierce heart and spirit through.
Here, town and ramparts run with ever-fresh streams of blood.
It’s three times six years now, since our mighty river’s flow
Was blocked almost by corpses, just barely trickling through.
Yet, I pass over in silence something more terrible than death,
More desperate even than plague, fire and famine;
That so many were bereaved of their soul’s treasure too.

(Gryphius, German, 1616-64, tr. I.M.)

………………………………………………………………..

[Mandelstam wrote joyous poetry in utter destitution, knowing the State would soon destroy him.]

Still I have not died, and still am not alone,
while with my beggarwoman friend
I take my pleasure from the grandeur of the plain
and from its gloom, its hunger and its hurricanes.

In splendid poverty, luxurious beggardom
I live alone – both peaceful and resigned –
blessed are those days and nights
and blameless is the sweetly sounding work.

Unhappy the man who like his shadow
quivers at a bark, is scythed down by the wind,
and poor the man who, half alive himself,
from a shadow begs for charity.

(Osip Mandelstam, Russian, 1891-1938, tr. D. McDuff.)

Other poets included: Anon., from – African languages. Ancient Egyptian. Eskimo. Gond. Greek. Chinese. Hebrew. Irish. Old English. Adler, Ron, Hebrew (Israeli), 1957-76. Ady, Endre, Hungarian, 1877-1919. Akhmatova, Anna, Russian, 1889-1966. Akin, Gulten, Turkish, b. 1933. Al-Khansa, Arabic, 7th C. Archilocus, Greek, 7th c. B.C.. Arnold, Matthew, English, 1822-88. Asbaje, Juana de, aka Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Spanish (Mexican), 1651-95. Auden, W.H., English, 1907-73. Auvaiyar, Tamil, c. 1st C. Bachmann, Ingeborg, Austrian, 1926-73. Basho, Japanese, 1644-1694. Baudelaire, French, 1821-67. Bialik, H.N., Hebrew, 1873-1934. Ben Sira, Hebrew, fl. c. 180 B.C.. Blake, William, English, 1757-1827. Boethius, Latin (Roman), c. 480-524. Bridges, Robert, English, 1844-1930. Bukowski, Charles, American, b. 1920. Burns, Scottish, 1759-1796. Camoens, Luis de, Portuguese, 1524-1580. Celan, Paul, German, 1920-1970. Chu Yuan, Chinese, 340-278 B.C. Claudian, Latin (Roman), c. 370-405. Dante, Italian, 1265-1321. Douglas, Keith, English, 1920-1944. Dowson, Ernest, English, 1867-1900. Du Bellay, Joachim, French, 1522-60. Eliot, George born Mary Anne Evans, English, 1819-1880. Enheduanna, Sumerian, born c. 2300 B.C. Everett, Jim, Aboriginal Australian, b. 1942. Farrokhzhad, Farogh, Persian, 1934-1967. Faludy, George, Hungarian, born 1910. Glatstein, Jacob, Yiddish, 1896-1971. Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, German, 1749-1832. Gongora, Luis de, Spanish, 1561-1635. Grimke, Angelina Weld, American, 1880-1958. Gryphius, German, 1616-64. Gumilev, Nikolai, Russian, 1886-1921. Hafiz, Persian, c. 1320-1389. Han Shan, Chinese, fl. c. 800. Harwood, Gwen, Australian, b. 1920. Heath-Stubbs, John, English, b. 1918. Herbert, George, English, 1593-1633. Higuchi Ichiyo, Japanese, 1872-96. Hikmet, Nazim, Turkish, 1902-1963. Hitomaro, Japanese, 7th c.. Holderlin, Friedrich, German, 1770-1843. Holub, Miroslav, Czech, b. 1923. Homer, Greek, ? 9th-6th c. B.C. Hopkins, Gerard Manley, English, 1844-89. Hosea, Hebrew, 8th c. B.C. Hughes, Langston, USA, 1902-67. Isaiah, Hebrew, fl. c. 700 B.C. Kabir, Hindi, 1440-1518. Kaffka, Margit, Hungarian, 1880-1918. Kakkaipatiniyar Naccellaiyar, Tamil, c. 1st C. Kalidasa, Sanskrit (India), c. 100 B.C.-500 A.D.. Kanik, Orhan Veli, Turkish, 1914-50. Kapilar, Tamil, c. 1st C. Keats, English, 1795-1821. Kennelly, Brendan, Irish, b.1936. Kipling, Rudyard, English, 1865-1936. Kovur Kilar, Tamil, c. 1st C. Kumattur Kannanar, Tamil, c. 1st C. Lanier, Sidney, USA, 1842-1881. Lao Tzu, Chinese, c. 4th – 3rd c. B.C.. Lara, Alda, Lusophone (Angola) b. ?. Leon, Luis de, Spanish, 1527?-1591. Leopardi, Italian, 1798-1837. Li Po, Chinese, 701-762. Lu Yu, Chinese, 1125-1209. Luzuka, Theo, African, contemporary. Ma’arri, Arabic, 973-1057. Mahadevi, 12th C., Kannada (India). Mandelstam, Osip, Russian, 1891-1938. Marbod of Rennes, French (Latin), c. 1035-1123. Marvell, Andrew, English, 1621-1678. Maruyama Kaoru, Japanese, 1899-1974. McDonald, Ian, b. Trinidad 1933. Mew, Charlotte, English, 1869-1928. Mistral, Gabriella, Chilean, 1889-1957. Montague, Mary Wortley, English, 1689-1762. Mtshali, Oswald Mbuyiseni, South African, b. 1940. Muir, Edwin, English, 1887-1959. Mu’tazz, Arabic, 861-908. Necatigil, Behcet, Turkish, b. 1916. Ono no Komachi, Japanese, 9th c.. Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Aboriginal Australian, b. 1920. O’Rahilly, Egan, Irish, 1670-1726. Owen, Wilfred, English, 1893-1918. Peruncittiranar, Tamil, c. 1st C. Petrarch, Italian, 1304-74. Petronius, Roman, died A.D. 66. Po Chu-I, Chinese, 772-846. Propertius, Roman, c.50 B.C.-c.16 A.D.. Pushkin, Russian, 1799-1837. Rabi’a, b. 717, Iraq. Reed, Ishmael, USA, contemporary. Rumi, Persian, 1207-73. Russell, W. Les, Aboriginal Australian, b. 1949. Sa’di, Persian, c.1184-1292. Sappho, Greek, 6th c. B.C.. Sedulius Scotus, Irish (Latin), fl. 848-874. Shakespeare, English, 1564-1616. Shelley, Percy Bysshe, English, 1792-1822. Sophocles, Greek, 495-406 B.C. Srinivasa, Kannada (India), b. 1891. Stevenson, Anne, English, born 1933. Strabo, Walahfrid, German (Latin), 809-849. Storni, Alfonsina, Argentinian, 1892-1938. Sung Yu, Chinese, 3rd c. B.C.. Su Tung P’o, Chinese, 1037-1101. Tachibana Akemi, Japanese, 1812-1868. Tagore, Rabindranath, Bengali, 1861-1941. Takuboku, Japanese, 1885-1912. Tao Yuan Ming, aka Tao Ch’ien, Chinese, 372-427. Toomer, Jean, American, 1894-1967. Tsai Yen, Chinese, fl. c. 190. Tsvetayeva, Marina, Russian, 1892-1941. Twain, Mark, (Samuel Langhorne Clemens), USA, 1835-1910. Tu Fu, Chinese, 713-770. Ungaretti, Giuseppe, Italian, 1888-1970. Usman Awang, Malay, b. 1929. Valmiki, Sanskrit (India), fl. c. 300 B.C. Walcott, Derek, St Lucian, b. 1930. Watson, Maureen, Aboriginal Australian, contemporary. Wang Wei, Chinese, 699-761. Wickham, Anna, English, 1884-1947. Wordsworth, William, English, 1770-1850. Wright, Judith, Australian, born 1915. Wyatt, Sir Thomas, English, 1503-1542. Xin Yuan, Chinese, 13th C.. Yang Wan-Li, Chinese, 1127-1206. Yeats, W.B., Irish, 1865-1939. Yu Hsuan Chi, Chinese, mid 9th C. Zhang Ji, Chinese, 768-830. Back to Home Page

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