Poetry Unfurled into Swathes of Sequins
You are a stool pidgeon and
A slanderer, a pimp and
A cheat, a pederast and
A troublemaker. I can’t
Understand, Vacerra, why
You don’t have more money.
That poem was written in the first century A.D. by Latin poet, Marcus Valerius Martialis (translated by Kenneth Rexroth)
And here is another poem, sexy and eloquent, found in the collection of King Hala of the Indian continent also of the first century (translated by David Ray);
The newly wed girl, pregnant already,
asked what she liked about the honeymoon,
cast a glance at her husband,
but not at his face.
The beauty of poetry dawned upon me just two weeks ago. With an anthology of world poetry in my lap I sifted through the cultures and ages of brilliant thoughts and songs. Each piece had a poignant twist or turn – It seemed the poets in the anthology were master riddlemakers, mixing old words into new contexts, creating invisible music boxes to be unlocked. Aha!
When the bird of sleep
thought to nest
in my eye
It saw the eyelashes
and flew away
for fear of nets
-Abu Amir ibn al-Hammarah of the 12th century, from Arabic translated by Cola Franzen
Here is Su Tung-p’o of 11th century China, contemplating the birth of his son:
Families, when a child is born
Want it to be intelligent
I, through intelligence,
Having wrecked my whole life,
Only hope the baby will prove
Ignorant and stupid.
Then he will crown a tranquil life
By becoming a Cabinet Minister.
Sometimes the riddle doesn’t surprise with a quick turn of metaphor; sometimes the riddle unfurls slowly and lush – a gentle dawning of an affirmation, such as this short gloss of an anonymous Celt of the 9th century:
A wall of woodland overlooks me.
A blackbird sings me a song (no lie!).
Above my book, with its lines laid out;
the birds in their music sing to me.
The cuckoo sings clear in a lovely voice
in his grey cloak from a bushy fort.
I swear it now, God is good!
It is lovely writing out in the wood.
I hope one day to write poems as beautiful as these~
Here is a poem I translated from Nahuatl, from a 13th century Aztec king, Cuacuauhtzin of Tepechpan:
My dear, sweet mother
when I die bury me under your oven
so when you go there to make bread,
there, you will cry for me.
And if someone were to ask you;
“My dear, sweet mother, why do you cry?”
You will tell them that the firewood is still green
and the smoke makes you cry.
In this poem of lament, the mother is instructed to hide her grief by blaming the fresh, smokey firewood. However, we know that she is crying because lost her son. In this instance, the poet has woven the son into the symbol of fresh green firewood – he is the heat that bakes the bread which nourishes his mother.