Sunday, May 27, 2012

Some Poems I've recently encountered

I seldom sit down and read a  book of poetry straight through over a period of days.  I usually pick one up and read a few poems and then put it down.  The next time I'm moved to read poetry, I may go back to that volume or I may pick up another one instead.   Why and how I got into this habit, I don't know, but I did somehow and so I do now.  These are some poems from two volumes that I've looked into most recently: Art and Nature: An Illustrated Anthology of Nature Poetry and A Little Treasury of Haiku.

The Best

What's the best thing in the world?
June-rose, by May-dew impearl'd;
Sweet south-wind, that means no rain;
Truth, not cruel to a friend;
Pleasure, not in haste to end;
Beauty, not self-deck'd and curl'd
Till its pride is over-plain;
Light, that never makes you wink;
Memory, the gives no pain;
Love, when, so, you're loved avian;
What's the best thing in the world?
--Something out of it, I think.

                  -- Elizabeth Barrett Browning --
                       from Art and Nature

What's the best?  She answers her question but then lists a weakness:  truths that do not hurt friends or pleasures that do not end quickly or memories that do not hurt.  Sadly she concludes by thinking that whatever is the best isn't something found in this world.  All the best things have pain attached to them, even as roses have thorns.. 

-  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -

 Casida of the Rose

       The rose
was not searching for the sunrise:
almost eternal on its branch,
it was searching for something else.

      The rose
was not searching for darkness or science:
borderland of flesh and dream,
it was searching for something else.

      The rose
was not searching for the rose.
Motionless in the sky
it was searching for something else.
          -- Federico Garcia Lorca --
                 from Art and Nature

Its brevity adds to its mystery.  What is the rose searching for?   Something spiritual, perhaps? 
What is the rose?  Something that is almost immortal, a borderland, and motionless in the sky?
-  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -

The Act            

There were the roses, in the rain.
Don't cut them, I pleaded.
         They won't last, she said.
But they're so beautiful
       where they are.
Agh, we were all beautiful once, she
and cut them and gave them to me
       in my hand.
                -- William Carlos Williams --
                     from Art and Nature.  

Two worlds colliding here?
Those who want to leave things the way they are for that is best.
Those who insist that beauty is fleeting, so we should take what we want before it's too late.

Here are several haiku that play with variations on that theme:

      Don't touch my plumtree!
Said my friend and saying so .  .  .
     Broke the branch for me
                       -- Taigi --

        My good father raged
When I snapped the peony .  .  .
           Precious memory!
                -- Tairo --

          I raised my knife to it:
Then walked empty-handed on  .  .  .
           Proud rose of Sharon
             -- Sampu --

Sadness at twilight .  .  .
Villain!  I have let my hand
Cut that peony
             -- Buson --

White chrysanthemum .  .  .
  Before that perfects flower
          Scissors hesitate
                 -- Buson --

Cut it and carry its beauty with you, for only a short time though.
But, it will die soon anyway.
Leave it so someone else can also enjoy its beauty.

Poets in Japan and the US, the East and the West:  perhaps the twain can meet, occasionally.

All haiku from A Little Treasury of Haiku,  Avenel Books
translations by Peter Beilenson