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Poetry: Szymborska, Berry, Collins, Shakespeare

by on 23 Jun 2011

We’ve fallen a bit behind in our accounts of the daily wearings of the poetry hat, so this is an attempt to catch up.  Recent recitations include

A Few Words on the Soul by Wislawa Szymborska, read by Gerry David

Mad Farmer Liberation Front by Wendell Berry, read by Will Gusakov

Litany by Billy Collins,  read by Alicia Spence channeling Joel McCarty

Solstice verse from Hamlet, read by Ed Levin

A Few Words on the Soul

We have a soul at times.
No one’s got it non-stop,
for keeps

Day after day,
year after year
may pass without it.

Sometimes
it will settle for awhile
only in childhood’s fears and raptures.
Sometimes only in astonishment
that we are old.

It rarely lends a hand
in uphill tasks,
like moving furniture,
or lifting luggage,
or going miles in shoes that pinch.

It usually steps out
whenever meat needs chopping
or forms have to be filled.

For every thousand conversations
it participates in one,
if even that,
since it prefers silence.

Just when our body goes from ache to pain,
it slips off-duty.

It’s picky:
it doesn’t like seeing us in crowds,
our hustling for a dubious advantage
and creaky machinations make it sick.

Joy and sorrow
aren’t two different feelings for it.
It attends us
only when the two are joined.

We can count on it
when we’re sure of nothing
and curious about everything.

Among the material objects
it favors clocks with pendulums
and mirrors, which keep on working
even when no one is looking.

It won’t say where it comes from
or when it’s taking off again,
though it’s clearly expecting such questions.

We need it
but apparently
it needs us
for some reason too.

—Wislawa Szymborska

translated from the Polish by Stanislaws Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection

—Wendell Berry

Litany

 You are the bread and the knife,
 the crystal goblet and the wine.
 You are the dew on the morning grass
 and the burning wheel of the sun.
 You are the white apron of the baker,
 and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

 However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
 the plums on the counter,
 or the house of cards.
 And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
 There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

 It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
 maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
 but you are not even close
 to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

 And a quick look in the mirror will show
 that you are neither the boots in the corner
 nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

 It might interest you to know,
 speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
 that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

 I also happen to be the shooting star,
 the evening paper blowing down an alley
 and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

 I am also the moon in the trees
 and the blind woman's tea cup.
 But don't worry, I'm not the bread and the knife.
 You are still the bread and the knife.
 You will always be the bread and the knife,
 not to mention the crystal goblet and--somehow--the wine

—Billy Collins

Lines On the Solstice, from Hamlet, Act I, Scene I

But, look, the morn, in russet mantle clad,
Walks o’er the dew of yon high eastward hill:

I have heard,
The cock, that is the trumpet to the morn,
Doth with his lofty and shrill-sounding throat
Awake the god of day; and, at his warning,
Whether in sea or fire, in earth or air,
The extravagant and erring spirit hies
To his confine

Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long:
And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.

—William Shakespeare

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