Tuesday, December 23, 2008

One Hand Clapping

from An Ode to Himself
By Ben Jonson

Where dost thou careless lie
Buried in ease and sloth?
Knowledge that sleeps doth die;
And this Securitie,
It is the common Moth,
That eats on wits, and Arts, and oft destroys them both.

Are all th'Aonian springs
Dried up? lies Thespia waste?
Doth Clarius' Harp want strings,
That not a Nymph now sings?
Or droop they as disgraced,
To see their Seats and Bowers by chatt'ring Pies defaced?

If hence thou silent be,
As 'tis too just a cause,
Let this thought quicken thee:
Minds that are great and free
Should not on fortune pause,
'Tis crown enough to virtue still: her own applause.

What though the greedie Frie
Be taken with false Bayte
Of worded Balladrie,
And thinke it Poesie?
They die with their conceits,
And only pitious scorn, upon their folly waits.

Then take in hand thy Lyre,
Strike in thy proper strain,
With Japhet's line, aspire
Sol's Chariot for new fire,
To give the world again:
Who aided him, will thee, the issue of Jove's brain...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

One Lusty Tyrant

The artistic half of Baxter's nature exerted a lusty dominion over the human half—fed upon its disappointments and grew fat upon its joys and tribulations. This, indeed, is simply saying that the young man was a true artist.

—Henry James

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

One Familiar Singer

The Oven Bird
By Robert Frost

There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

One Metallic Dessert

The Divorce
By Hans Magnus Enzenberger

At first it was an imperceptible tremor of the skin--
"Whatever you say"--where the flesh is darkest.
"What's wrong?"--Nothing. Opaque dreams
of embraces, but on the morning after
the other looks different, strangely bony.
Razor-sharp misunderstandings. "That time in Rome--"
I never said that. --Pause. Rapidly beating heart,
a kind of hate, strange. --"That's not the point."
Repetitions. Brilliantly clear the certainty:
everything is wrong from now on. Odorless, in focus
like a passport photo, this unknown person
with the tea glass at the table, eyes staring.
It is no use no use no use:
litany in the brain, a touch of nausea.
End of reproaches. Slowly the room
fills up to the ceiling with guilt.
The plaintive voice is a stranger's, but the shoes
that drop with a crash to the floor, the shoes are not.
The next time, in an empty restaurant,
slow motion, breadcrumbs, they talk about money,
laughing. The dessert tastes of metal.
Two untouchables. Strident rationality.
"Things could be much worse. But at night
the vindictiveness, the noiseless struggle, anonymous
like two bony barristers, two big crabs
in the water. Then the exhaustion. Slowly
the scabs peel off. Another tobacconist,
a new address. Pariahs, awfully relieved.
Shadows getting paler. Here are the papers.
Here are the keys. Here is the scar.

--Translated by Herbert Graf