Vladislav Khodasevich – The Monkey / Владислав Ходасевич – Обезьяна /

The Monkey

The heat was fierce. Great forests were on fire. 
Time dragged its feet in dust. A cock was crowing 
in an adjacent lot. 
                               As I pushed open 
my garden-gate I saw beside the road 
a wandering Serb asleep upon a bench 
his back against the palings. He was lean 
and very black, and down his half-bared breast 
there hung a heavy silver cross, diverting 
the trickling sweat. 
                                 Upon the fence above him, 
clad in a crimson petticoat, his monkey 
sat munching greedily the dusty leaves 
of a syringa bush; a leathern collar 
drawn backwards by its heavy chain bit deep 
into her throat. 
                           Hearing me pass, the man 
stirred, wiped his face, and asked me for some water. 
He took one sip to see whether the drink 
was not too cold, then placed a saucerful 
upon the bench, and, instantly, the monkey 
slipped down and clasped the saucer with both hands 
dipping her thumbs; then, on all fours, she drank, 
her elbows pressed against the bench, her chin 
touching the boards, her backbone arching higher 
than her bald head. Thus, surely, did Darius 
bend to a puddle on the road when fleeing 
from Alexander's thundering phalanges. 
When the last drop was sucked the monkey 
swept the saucer off the bench, and raised her head, 
and offered me her black wet little hand. 
Oh, I have pressed the fingers of great poets, 
leaders of men, fair women, but no hand 
had ever been so exquisitely shaped 
nor had touched mine with such a thrill of kinship, 
and no man's eyes had peered into my soul 
with such deep wisdom . . . Legends of lost ages 
awoke in me thanks to that dingy beast 
and suddenly I saw life in its fullness 
and with a rush of wind and wave and worlds 
the organ music of the universe 
boomed in my ears, as it had done before 
in immemorial woodlands. 
                                                And the Serb 
then went his way thumping his tambourine; 
on his left shoulder, like an Indian prince 
upon an elephant, his monkey swayed. 
A huge incarnadine but sunless sun 
hung in a milky haze. The sultry summer 
flowed endlessly upon the wilting wheat. 

That day the war broke out, that very day. 
Была жара. Леса горели. Нудно
Тянулось время. На соседней даче
Кричал петух. Я вышел за калитку.
Там, прислонясь к забору, на скамейке
Дремал бродячий серб, худой и черный.
Серебряный тяжелый крест висел
На груди полуголой. Капли пота
По ней катились. Выше, на заборе,
Сидела обезьяна в красной юбке
И пыльные листы сирени
Жевала жадно. Кожаный ошейник,
Оттянутый назад тяжелой цепью,
Давил ей горло. Серб, меня заслышав,
Очнулся, вытер пот и попросил, чтоб дал я
Воды ему. Но, чуть ее пригубив,-
Не холодна ли,- блюдце на скамейку
Поставил он, и тотчас обезьяна,
Макая пальцы в воду, ухватила
Двумя руками блюдце.
Она пила, на четвереньках стоя,
Локтями опираясь на скамью.
Досок почти касался подбородок,
Над теменем лысеющим спина
Высоко выгибалась. Так, должно быть,
Стоял когда-то Дарий, припадая
К дорожной луже, в день, когда бежал он
Пред мощною фалангой Александра.
Всю воду выпив, обезьяна блюдце
Долой смахнула со скамьи, привстала
И - этот миг забуду ли когда? -
Мне черную, мозолистую руку,
Еще прохладную от влаги, протянула...
Я руки жал красавицам, поэтам,
Вождям народа - ни одна рука
Такого благородства очертаний
Не заключала! Ни одна рука
Моей руки так братски не коснулась!
И, видит Бог, никто в мои глаза
Не заглянул так мудро и глубоко,
Воистину - до дна души моей.
Глубокой древности сладчайшие преданья
Тот нищий зверь мне в сердце оживил,
И в этот миг мне жизнь явилась полной,
И мнилось - хор светил и волн морских,
Ветров и сфер мне музыкой органной
Ворвался в уши, загремел, как прежде,
В иные, незапамятные дни.
И серб ушел, постукивая в бубен.
Присев ему на левое плечо,
Покачивалась мерно обезьяна,
Как на слоне индийский магараджа.
Огромное малиновое солнце,
Лишенное лучей,
В опаловом дыму висело. Изливался
Безгромный зной на чахлую пшеницу.

В тот день была объявлена война.

(Vladislav Khodasevich, Moscow, 16 May 1886 – 14 June 1939)

(Translation by Vladimir Nabokov)

(You can listen to  the poem read in Russian here )

Wallace Stevens – The Snow Man

 One must have a mind of winter
 To regard the frost and the boughs
 Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

(Wallace Stevens,  Reading, Pennsylvania, 2 October 1879 – 2 August 1955)

Paul Celan – Corona

Autumn eats its leaf out of my hand: we are friends.
From the nuts we shell time and we teach it to walk:
then time returns to the shell.

In the mirror it’s Sunday,
in dream there is room for sleeping,
our mouths speak the truth.

My eye moves down to the sex of my loved one:
we look at each other,
we exchange dark words,
we love each other like poppy and recollection,
we sleep like wine in the conches,
like the sea in the moon’s blood ray.

We stand by the window embracing, and people look up 
                                                                          from the street:
it is time they knew!
It is time the stone made an effort to flower,
time unrest had a beating heart.
It is time it were time.

It is time. 

Aus der Hand frißt der Herbst mir sein Blatt: wir sind Freunde.
Wir schälen die Zeit aus den Nüssen und lehren sie gehn:
die Zeit kehrt zurück in die Schale.

Im Spiegel ist Sonntag,
im Traum wird geschlafen,
der Mund redet wahr.

Mein Aug steigt hinab zum Geschlecht der Geliebten:
wir sehen uns an,
wir sagen uns Dunkles,
wir lieben einander wie Mohn und Gedächtnis,
wir schlafen wie Wein in den Muscheln,
wie das Meer im Blutstrahl des Mondes.

Wir stehen umschlungen im Fenster, sie sehen uns zu von der Straße:
es ist Zeit, daß man weiß!
Es ist Zeit, daß der Stein sich zu blühen bequemt,
daß der Unrast ein Herz schlägt.
Es ist Zeit, daß es Zeit wird.

Es ist Zeit.

(Paul Celan, Cernăuţi, Romania, 23 November 1920-20 April 1970)

(translation by Michael Hamburger) 

James Tate – The Wrong Way Home

All night a door floated down the river.

It tried to remember little incidents of pleasure

from its former life, like the time the lovers

leaned against it kissing for hours

and whispering those famous words.

Later, there were harsh words and a shoe

was thrown and the door was slammed.

Comings and goings by the thousands,

the early mornings and late nights, years, years.

O they've got big plans, they'll make a bundle.

The door was an island that swayed in its sleep.

The moon turned the doorknob just slightly,

burned its fingers and ran,

and still the door said nothing and slept.

At least that's what they like to say,

the little fishes and so on.

Far away, a bell rang, and then a shot was fired.

(James Tate, Kansas City, Missouri, 8 December 1943)

Naomi Shihab Nye – Streets

A man leaves the world
and the streets he lived on
grow a little shorter.
One more window dark
in this city, the figs on his branches
will soften for birds.
If we stand quietly enough evenings
there grows a whole company of us
standing quietly together.
overhead loud grackles are claiming their trees
and the sky which sews and sews, tirelessly sewing,
drops her purple hem.
Each thing in its time, in its place,
it would be nice to think the same about people.
Some people do. They sleep completely,
waking refreshed. Others live in two worlds,
the lost and remembered.
They sleep twice, once for the one who is gone,
once for themselves. They dream thickly,
dream double, they wake from a dream
calling out names, and then they answer

(Naomi Shihab Nye, 12 March 1952, St Louis, Missouri)


Charles Simic – That little something

The likelihood of ever finding is small.
It's like being accosted by a woman
And asked to help her look for a pearl
She lost right here in the street.
She could be making it all up,
Even her tears, you say to yourself
As you search under your feet,
Thinking, not in a million years...
It's one of those summer afternoons
When one needs a good excuse
To step out of a cool shade.
In the meantime, what ever became of her?
And why, years later, do you still,
Off and on, cast your eyes to the ground
As you hurry to some appointment
Where you are now certain to arrive late.

(Charles Simic, 9 May 1938 Belgrade)

Walt Whitman – A Noiseless Patient Spider

A noiseless patient spider,

I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,

Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding

It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,

Ever reeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,

Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,

Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres

to connect them,

Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile

anchor hold,

Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

(Walt Whitman, West Hills, New York 31 May 1819 – Camden, New Jersey 26 March 1892)

Wallace Stevens – Infanta Marina

Her terrace was the sand
And the palms and the twilight.

She made of the motions of her wrist
The grandiose gestures
Of her thought.

The rumpling of the plumes
Of this creature of the evening
Came to be sleights of sails
Over the sea.

And thus she roamed
In the roamings of her fan,
Partaking of the sea,
And of the evening,
As they flowed around
And uttered their subsiding sound.

(Wallace Stevens,  Reading, Pennsylvania, 2 October 1879 – 2 August 1955)

Eugenio Montale – I limoni – The Lemon Trees

(original Italian below)


Listen: the laureled poets
stroll only among shrubs
with learned names: ligustrum, acanthus, box.
What I like are streets that end in grassy
ditches where boys snatch
a few famished eels from drying puddles:
paths that struggle along the banks,
then dip among the tufted canes,
into the orchards, among the lemon trees.

Better, if the gay palaver of the birds
is stilled, swallowed by the blue:
more clearly now, you hear the whisper
of genial branches in that air barely astir,
the sense of that smell
inseparable from earth,
that rains its restless sweetness in the heart.
Here, by some miracle, the war
of conflicted passions is stilled,
here even we the poor share the riches of the world—
the smell of the lemon trees.

See, in these silences when things
let themselves go and seem almost
to reveal their final secret,
we sometimes expect
to discover a flaw in Nature,
the world's dead point, the link that doesn't hold,
the thread that, disentangled, might at last lead us
to the center of a truth.
The eye rummages,
the mind pokes about, unifies, disjoins
in the fragrance that grows
as the day closes, languishing.
These are the silences where we see
in each departing human shade
some disturbed Divinity.

But the illusion dies, time returns us
to noisy cities where the sky is only
patches of blue, high up, between the cornices.
Rain wearies the ground; over the buildings
winter's tedium thickens.
Light grows niggardly, the soul bitter.
And, one day, through a gate ajar,
among the trees in a courtyard,
we see the yellows of the lemon trees;
and the heart's ice thaws,
and songs pelt
into the breast
and trumpets of gold pour forth
epiphanies of Light!

(translated by William Arrowsmith, Cuttlefish Bones, Norton)


Ascoltami, i poeti laureati
si muovono soltanto fra le piante
dai nomi poco usati: bossi ligustri o acanti.
lo, per me, amo le strade che riescono agli erbosi
fossi dove in pozzanghere
mezzo seccate agguantanoi ragazzi
qualche sparuta anguilla:
le viuzze che seguono i ciglioni,
discendono tra i ciuffi delle canne
e mettono negli orti, tra gli alberi dei limoni.

Meglio se le gazzarre degli uccelli
si spengono inghiottite dall'azzurro:
più chiaro si ascolta il susurro
dei rami amici nell'aria che quasi non si muove,
e i sensi di quest'odore
che non sa staccarsi da terra
e piove in petto una dolcezza inquieta.
Qui delle divertite passioni
per miracolo tace la guerra,
qui tocca anche a noi poveri la nostra parte di ricchezza
ed è l'odore dei limoni.

Vedi, in questi silenzi in cui le cose
s'abbandonano e sembrano vicine
a tradire il loro ultimo segreto,
talora ci si aspetta
di scoprire uno sbaglio di Natura,
il punto morto del mondo, l'anello che non tiene,
il filo da disbrogliare che finalmente ci metta
nel mezzo di una verità.
Lo sguardo fruga d'intorno,
la mente indaga accorda disunisce
nel profumo che dilaga
quando il giorno piú languisce.
Sono i silenzi in cui si vede
in ogni ombra umana che si allontana
qualche disturbata Divinità.

Ma l'illusione manca e ci riporta il tempo
nelle città rurnorose dove l'azzurro si mostra
soltanto a pezzi, in alto, tra le cimase.
La pioggia stanca la terra, di poi; s'affolta
il tedio dell'inverno sulle case,
la luce si fa avara – amara l'anima.
Quando un giorno da un malchiuso portone
tra gli alberi di una corte
ci si mostrano i gialli dei limoni;
e il gelo dei cuore si sfa,
e in petto ci scrosciano
le loro canzoni
le trombe d'oro della solarità.


(Eugenio Montale, Genoa, 12 October 1896 – 12 September 1981)

You can listen this poem (and many others) read in Italian here.