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).
About That Bowl
Round it is, the bowl I placed
in a hut in a mountain valley.
For a moment, its dominion
arises, a matter of form and space,
or so one thinks – that bowl and
emptiness – giving and taking
like nothing else.
But it’s not about one or the other –
or wilderness or hearth. In usefulness,
wildness is swept away,
for a moment, but then it returns
like nothing else.
When my eyes open at dawn’s light
the question naturally arises,
whose arms are these – flaccid pink
skin draping off brittle bones?
On the pillow there’s some long hairs – mine
or the two dogs, Roxy and Daisy, sleeping on
the bed? Before, the long hairs were always
a woman’s, her body pressed close
in the morning chill.
Now part of my lung is gone, infiltrated
by swarming molecules hungry to
devour my breath. It’s rationed now.
My heart beats harder to help
its neighbor. My heart’s comforting
sound fills my chest, but my morning
cough sounds like a sick man.
One beat, one breath….
Good practice for a lazy man.
As Su Tung p’o said,
“I’m a tired horse unharnessed at last.”
Minding My Time
Awash in mind time. Mind’s always mattering,
mothering: words, sensations, feelings always
forming stuff. Words always mattering
in Universe of Matter. That’s all (not really for
Roy & Laddawan and the Thai band playing Eric Clapton).
Mind called self is just the go-between
for no-body. Big Self mothers every thing
– knows like a bone every thing’s just co-
existing meaning-matter like mothering sky.
Right now in Chiang Mai at 1:18 a.m.
as a tiny candle lantern rises golden
in the night like a star.
One of my writer-heroes, Clive James, has been ill for the past several years yet his poetry burns anew even though it’s shadowed in sadness for a life fully lived and now in decline. Here are the last two stanzas to his recent poem, Event Horizon:
“Into the singularity we fly
After a stretch of time in which we leave
Our lives behind yet know that we will die
At any moment now. A pause to grieve,
Burned by the starlight of our lives laid bare,
And then no sound, no sight, no thought. Nowhere.
What is it worth, then, this insane last phase
When everything about you goes downhill?
This much: you get to see the cosmos blaze
And feel its grandeur, even against your will,
As it reminds you, just by being there,
That it is here we live or else nowhere.”
See his glorious website here.
TLS, May 10, 2013