I’m slowing down the tune
I never liked it fast
You want to get there soon
I want to get there last
It’s not because I’m old
It’s not the life I led
I always liked it slow
That’s what my mama said
– Poem/lyrics from his new album, Popular Problems
BY FRANCIS SCOTT KEY O! say can you see, by the dawn’s early light, What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming, Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight, O’er the ramparts we watch’d, were so gallantly streaming? And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there — O! say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave? This is the famous first stanza of the four-stanza song/poem by Francis Scott Key.
Spoon strikes cup,
Sound made flesh
Each time the door opens
Something is given and given up
Upon waking: The corpse dances
In the empty casket
Rock on the ground
Moon in the cosmos –
I saw some people starving. There was murder, there was rape. Their villages were burning. They were trying to escape. I couldn’t meet their glances. I was staring at my shoes. It was acid, it was tragic. It was almost like the blues.
I have to die a little between each murderous thought. And when I’m finished thinking I have to die a lot. There’s torture and there’s killing. There’s all my bad reviews. The war, the children missing. Lord, it’s almost like the blues.
I let my heart get frozen to keep away the rot. My father said I’m chosen. My mother said I’m not. I listened to their story of the Gypsies and the Jews. It was good, it wasn’t boring. It was almost like the blues
There is no G-d in heaven. And there is no Hell below. So says the great professor of all there is to know. But I’ve had the invitation that a sinner can’t refuse. And it’s almost like salvation. It’s almost like the blues.
See below to hear Cohen perform the poem/song in concert.
The poet Leonard Cohen, one of the originals who came out of the ’60s, is still writing and performing at 80 years old. A poem/song from his new album is linked here.
In 1968, Roger Waters of the rock band Pink Floyd borrowed lines from the poetry of Li Ho as lyrics for the song “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” from the band’s second album A Saucerful of Secrets. Li Ho died at 26. His mother said, “This boy will spit out his heart.” One of the “crazy poets” of the T’ang era, his poetry avoided the traditional Chinese metaphors, opting for lines which jumped from his tongue. More of his poems are here. For a good article on T’ang poetry, Li Ho, and others, see Eliot Weinberger’s article here.
The Southern hills, how mournful!
A ghostly rain sprinkles the empty grass.
In Ch’ang-an, on an autumn midnight,
How many men grow old before the wind?
Dim, dim, the path in the twilight,
Branches curl on the black oaks by the road.
The trees cast upright shadows and the moon at the zenith
Covers the hills with a white dawn.
Darkened torches welcome a new kinsman:
In the most secret tomb these fireflies swarm.
By Wisława Szymborska
Nothingness unseamed itself for me too.
It turned itself wrong side out.
How on earth did I end up here—
head to toe among the planets,
without a clue how I used not to be.
O you, encountered here and loved here,
I can only guess, my arm on yours,
how much vacancy on that side went to make us,
how much silence there for one lone cricket here,
how much nonmeadow for a single sprig of sorrel,
and sun after darknesses in a drop of dew
as repayment—for what boundless droughts?
Starry willy-nilly! Local in reverse!
Stretched out in curvatures, weights, roughnesses, and motions!
Time out from infinity for endless sky!
Relief from nonspace in a shivering birch tree’s shape!
Now or never wind will stir a cloud,
since wind is exactly what won’t blow there.
And a beetle hits the trail in a witness’s dark suit,
testifying to the long wait for a short life.
And it so happened that I’m here with you.
And I really see nothing
usual in that.
—Translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh
“The world — whatever we might think when terrified by its vastness and our own impotence, or embittered by its indifference to individual suffering, of people, animals, and perhaps even plants, for why are we so sure that plants feel no pain; whatever we might think of its expanses pierced by the rays of stars surrounded by planets we’ve just begun to discover, planets already dead? still dead? we just don’t know; whatever we might think of this measureless theater to which we’ve got reserved tickets, but tickets whose lifespan is laughably short, bounded as it is by two arbitrary dates; whatever else we might think of this world — it is astonishing.” – Wisława Szymborska (died February 11, 2012).