Suspended lion face
Spilling at the centre
Of an unfurnished sky
How still you stand,
And how unaided
Single stalkless flower
You pour unrecompensed.
The eye sees you
Simplified by distance
Into an origin,
Your petalled head of flames
Heat is the echo of your
Coined there among
You exist openly.
Our needs hourly
Climb and return like angels.
Unclosing like a hand,
You give for ever.
Letter to My Wife
Down in the deep, dumb worlds are waiting, silent;
I shout; the silence in my ears is strident,
but no one can reply to it from far
Serbia, fallen into a swoon of war,
and you are far. My dream, your voice, entwine,
by day I find it in my heart again;
knowing this I keep still while, standing proudly,
rustling, cool to the touch, many great ferns surround me.
When may I see you? I hardly know any longer,
you, who were solid, were weighty as the psalter,
beautiful as a shadow and beautiful as light,
to whom I would find my way, whether deafmute or blind;
now hiding in the landscape, from within,
on my eyes, you flash–the mind projects its film.
You were reality, returned to dream
and, fallen back into the well of my teen years,
jealously question you: whether you love me,
whether, on my youth’s summit, you will yet be
my wife–I am now hoping once again,
and, back on life’s alert road, where I have fallen,
I know you are all this. My wife, my friend and peer–
only, far! Beyond three wild frontiers.
It is turning fall. Will fall forget me here?
The memory of our kisses is all the clearer;
I believed in miracles, forgot their days;
above me I see a bomber squadron cruise.
I was just admiring, up there, your eyes’ blue sheen,
when it clouded over, and up in that machine
the bombs were aching to dive. Despite them, I am alive,
a prisoner; and all that I had hoped for, I have
sized up, in breadth. I will find my way to you;
for you I have walked the spirit’s full length as it grew,
and highways of the land. If need be, I will render
myself, a conjurer, past cardinal embers,
amid nose-diving flames, but I will come back,
if I must be, I shall be as resilient as the bark
on trees. I am soothed by the peace of savage men
in constant danger: worth the whole wild regimen
of arms and power; and, as from a cooling wave of the sea,
sobriety’s 2×2 comes raining down on me.
Levél a hitveshez (Hungarian)
A mélyben néma, hallgató világok,
üvölt a csönd fülemben s felkiáltok,
de nem felelhet senki rá a távol,
a háborúba ájult Szerbiából
s te messze vagy. Hangod befonja álmom,
s szivemben nappal ujra megtalálom,
hát hallgatok, míg zsong körém felállván
sok hűvös érintésü büszke páfrány.
Mikor láthatlak ujra, nem tudom már,
ki biztos voltál, súlyos, mint a zsoltár,
s szép mint a fény és oly szép mint az árnyék,
s kihez vakon, némán is eltalálnék,
most bujdokolsz a tájban és szememre
belülről lebbensz, így vetít az elme;
valóság voltál, álom lettél ujra,
kamaszkorom kútjába visszahullva
féltékenyen vallatlak, hogy szeretsz-e?
s hogy ifjuságom csúcsán, majdan, egyszer,
a hitvesem leszel, – remélem ujra
s az éber lét útjára visszahullva
tudom, hogy az vagy. Hitvesem s barátom, –
csak messze vagy! Túl három vad határon.
S már őszül is. Az ősz is ittfelejt még?
A csókjainkról élesebb az emlék;
csodákban hittem s napjuk elfeledtem,
bombázórajok húznak el felettem;
szemed kékjét csodáltam épp az égen,
de elborult s a bombák fönt a gépben
zuhanni vágytak. Ellenükre élek, –
s fogoly vagyok. Mindent, amit remélek
fölmértem s mégis eltalálok hozzád;
megjártam érted én a lélek hosszát,
s országok útjait; bíbor parázson,
ha kell, zuhanó lángok közt varázslom
majd át magam, de mégis visszatérek;
ha kell, szívós leszek, mint fán a kéreg,
s a folytonos veszélyben, bajban élő
vad férfiak fegyvert s hatalmat érő
nyugalma nyugtat s mint egy hűvös hullám:
a 2 x 2 józansága hull rám.
Summer is late, my heart.
Words plucked out of the air
some forty years ago
when I was wild with love
and torn almost in two
scatter like leaves this night
of whistling wind and rain.
It is my heart that’s late,
it is my song that’s flown.
Outdoors all afternoon
under a gunmetal sky
staking my garden down,
I kneeled to the crickets trilling
underfoot as if about
to burst from their crusty shells;
and like a child again
marveled to hear so clear
and brave a music pour
from such a small machine.
What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
and it’s done.
So let the battered old willow
thrash against the windowpanes
and the house timbers creak.
Darling, do you remember
the man you married? Touch me,
remind me who I am.
Strange to be remembering how
—was it twenty-odd years ago?—
you drew back from one of our kisses,
your head turning half away so that
I saw in our bedroom’s half light
your lovely profile and eye staring
out toward and into a passing thought.
Then all of half your mouth to mine again
with overwhelmed gentleness.
We both were overwhelmed and pulled under.
Strange suddenly to remember this
after so many, many kisses,
after such years of rupturing.
Caught in our archaic caresses
(you know, that same old, old thing):
a space of five seconds of fresh time,
when nothing was happening
and nothing was happening yet.
And I now its voluptuary.
Love at the lips was touch
As sweet as I could bear;
And once that seemed too much;
I lived on air
That crossed me from sweet things,
The flow of—was it musk
From hidden grapevine springs
Downhill at dusk?
I had the swirl and ache
From sprays of honeysuckle
That when they’re gathered shake
Dew on the knuckle.
I craved strong sweets, but those
Seemed strong when I was young;
The petal of the rose
It was that stung.
Now no joy but lacks salt,
That is not dashed with pain
And weariness and fault;
I crave the stain
Of tears, the aftermark
Of almost too much love,
The sweet of bitter bark
And burning clove.
When stiff and sore and scarred
I take away my hand
From leaning on it hard
In grass and sand,
The hurt is not enough:
I long for weight and strength
To feel the earth as rough
To all my length.
An odd convergence of thoughts and imagery appears. That which appears in this Larkin poem (a hedgehog jammed into the lawnmower blades), that which I conjure up when I think of the Czech poem “Half a Hedgehog” and the dual thought of a Nemerov poem referring to “power mowers” and a book I read that dealt with language misunderstanding/mishearing (in which someone had misunderstood and written the term “paramour” as “power mower”).
Oddly, as irreverent as it may seem, I discovered this poem the same day as someone close to me lost a very close friend suddenly. I was preparing it to include here when I heard the news of this shocking death, and suddenly these words had new and urgent relevance: “the first day after a death, the new absence/Is always the same; we should be careful/Of each other, we should be kind/While there is still time.”
The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.
I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:
Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful
Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.
Half a Hedgehog
The rear half had been run over,
leaving the head and thorax
and the front legs of the hedgehog shape.
A scream from a cramped-open
jaw. The scream of the mute is
more horrible than the silence after a flood,
when even black swans float
And even if some hedgehog doctor were
to be found in a hollow trunk or under the leaves
in a beechwood there’d be no hope
for that mere half on Road E12.
In the name of logic,
in the name of the theory of pain,
in the name of the hedgehog god the father, the son
and the holy ghost amen,
in the name of games and unripe raspberries,
in the name of tumbling streams of love
ever different and ever bloody,
in the name of the roots which over-grow
the heads of aborted foetuses,
in the name of satanic beauty,
in the name of skin bearing human likeness,
in the name of all halves
and double helices, or purines
we tried to run over
the hedgehog’s head with the front wheel.
And it was like guiding a lunar module
from a planetary distance,
from a control centre seized
by a cataleptic sleep.
And the mission failed. I got out
and found a heavy piece of brick.
Half the hedgehog continued screaming. And now
the scream turned into speech,
the vaults of our tombs:
Then death will come and it will have your eyes.