“THE HILL” by Nissim Ezekiel

 

This normative hill
like all others
is transparently accessible,
out there
and in the mind,
not to be missed
except in peril of one’s life.
Do not muse on it
from a distance:
it’s not remote
for the view only,
it’s for the sport
of climbing.
What the hill demands
is a man
with forces flowering
as from the crevices
of rocks and rough surfaces
wild flowers
force themselves towards the sun
and burn
for a moment.
How often must I
say to myself
what I say to others:
trust your nerves–
in conversation or in bed
the rhythm comes.
And once you begin
hang on for life.
What is survival?
What is existence?
I am not talking about
poetry. I am
talking about
perishing
outrageously
and calling it
activity.
I say: be done with it.
I say:
you’ve got to love that hill.
Be wrathful, be impatient
that you are not
on the hill. Do not forgive
yourself or other,
though charity
is all very well.
.

The poem has some very nice images. I particularly like the image of the wild flowers that burst out of the rock crevice to burn briefly. The metaphor of the hill runs throughout: the hill is normative ; the hill is for the sport of climbing , not for musing on from a distance and in the end ,you flow into another kind of time which is the hill you thought you always knew. The image of–flowing into another kind of time does not seem to jell with the idea of flowing into the hill unless one imagines our consciousness entering the hill like a kind of stream flowing through the hills.

The last lines are very rich :

Do not rest
in irony or acceptance.
Man should not laugh
when he is dying.
In decent death
you flow into another kind of time
which is the hill
you always thought you knew.

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“SONG” by John Donne


GO and catch a falling star,
Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me where all past years are,
Or who cleft the devil’s foot,
Teach me to hear mermaids singing,
Or to keep off envy’s stinging,
And find
What wind
Serves to advance an honest mind.

If thou be’st born to strange sights,
Things invisible to see,
Ride ten thousand days and nights,
Till age snow white hairs on thee,
Thou, when thou return’st, wilt tell me,
All strange wonders that befell thee,
And swear,
No where
Lives a woman true and fair.

If thou find’st one, let me know,
Such a pilgrimage were sweet;
Yet do not, I would not go,
Though at next door we might meet,
Though she were true, when you met her,
And last, till you write your letter,
Yet she
Will be
False, ere I come, to two, or three.

The poetry of John Donne is cleverly crafted ideas , argued out with a mocking tone .It is as though Donne is making fun of all the love poetry of the time. Here the mocking is not directed merely at the imaginary mistress who is supposed to be a difficult lady but the whole genre of love poetry which was mushy and sentimental.

The debunking goes on throughout the poem. “And find what wind/ Serves to advance an honest mind “is an obvious reference to the travels and sea-voyages one undertook to explore new territories but the way in which it is sung “And find what wind….”,you can almost see the mischief in the poet’s manner.

The patterns of the rhythms in each of the stanzas lend a flippant tone to the whole poem :

And find
What wind
And swear
No where

Yet she
Will be

Here poetry is not emotion recollected in tranquility or even the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions that the romantic poets of the later years would practice. Instead it is clever juxtaposition of ideas and carefully wrought rhythms. The juxtaposition of ideas is a familiar occurrence in metaphysical poetry. In this poem the poet is talking about the inconstancy of a woman, which is a mere idea and chances are that the theme is not rooted in the poet’s own experiences. The juxtaposition is achieved by first talking about several impossible things one would try to achieve to obtain a woman’s love and then at the end say it emphatically that all this may happen but the woman’s love will not remain constant.

Poetry by Du Mu (9th century Chinese Poet)

Poems for Parting
By Du Mu

(Translated from the Chinese by David Young and Jiann I. Lin)

1

So slender and so graceful
not much more than thirteen

the tip of a cardamom branch in spring
just about to bud

ten miles down the Yangzhou road
and the spring winds were blowing

lots of women since, bead curtains lifting,
but never like that again.

2

Too much love
somehow became
no love at all

over this farewell bottle
we can’t manage
even a friendly smile

only the candle
seems to be able
to generate some feeling

all night
it weeps
little wax tears.

The poem by the renowned Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty (9th century)is a delightful love poem .”All night ,it weeps little wax tears”-a beautiful image.

Another delicately beautiful poem by Du Mu is :

Country Journey
A poem by Du Mu

(Translated from the Chinese by David Young and Jiann I. Lin)

Halfway through spring
the sun sets as I pass Nanyang

under tender mulberry trees
I enter a quiet village

weeping willows
stir softly in the wind

under pelting raindrops
the fishpond’s filled with circles

the cowherd boy
wears a rain-cloak, singing

peeps through a bamboo fence
to glimpse a girl’s red skirt

I peel away my damp
traveling cape and jacket

just as my host brings out
a bowl of chicken and millet.

The charm of these nature poems has not waned after 10 centuries.The simplicity and the freshness of the poems make them a delight to read whenever you feel too much hemmed in by the urban decay surrounding us .Especially the village poem which conveys a sense of vast spaces punctuated by straggling villages .
I love the cowherd boy peeping through the bamboo fence to get a glimpse of the red skirt.

“The Prelude” – by Tomas Transtromer

Waking up is a jump, a skydive from the dream.
Free of the smothering whirl the traveler
sinks toward morning’s green zone.
Things start to flare. He perceives–in the trembling lark’s
position–the mighty tree-root systems’
underground swinging lamps. But standing
above–in tropical profusion–is verdure, with
upraised arms, listening
to the rhythm of an invisible pumping station. And he
sinks toward summer, is lowered
into its blinding crater, down
through shafts of ages green with damp
quaking under the turbine of the sun. So ceases
this vertical flight through the moment, and the wings spread out
into the osprey’s repose over streaming water.
The Bronze Age trumpet’s
tone of exile
hovers over bottomlessness.

In the first hours of day consciousness can embrace the world
just as the hand grasps a sun-warm stone.
The traveler stands under the tree. After
the plunge through death’s whirling vortex, will
a great light unfurl over his head?

(Translation of “Preludium.” First published in 17 Dikter (Stockholm, 1954). By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2007 by Rika Lesser. All rights reserved.)

As a nature poem this one ranks very high in my estimation. The way it begins -"waking up is a jump,a sky-dive from the dream" is simply delicious. "things start to flare" as the sun starts to climb the sky.You are not you ,but a lark,a trembling one,high up in the sky from where you perceive the swinging lamps of the tree-root systems. Standing above is verdure with the trees raising their arms. They are listening to the rythm of the invisible pumping station ,the solar power-house which supplies energy to the whole world.

I love this image of consciousness grappling with the world like the hand grasping a sun-warm stone.

The visual-dynamic images are important in this poem ."flare","trembling","perceives","green with damp","vertical flight","hovers","whirls". The beauty of the poem is essentially in the movement of things in nature conveyed through dynamic images. –

 

“Old Woman With a Goiter”- By Erica Levy MacAlpine

 

“Just as in a field a herd of cows
will lean and clang their copper cauldrons
like the rain, with dawn breaking pink
upon their bangles, and stand there blotched,
humbled and hindered by their own sound,
and crumple their knees, dumbstruck,
while every jerk of their backs and involuntary
gesture registers the ringing of a bell,
so this old woman stood behind a mountain
spruce, struck by something in the field,
a row of phlox or patch of bluebell,
holding her spray of yellow gentians,
while that great ball shifted on her neck,
ripe as a stitch of loganberry.”
(The poem is taken from the weekly poems of the Seed magazine-)

The simile of the herd of cows is visually effective use of imagery .The beauty of the poem is in the extendedness of the image used with a word-picture beautifully created as though it is from a painting in the living room.Imagine the placid countryside and a herd of cows leaning towards one another with the copper cauldrons clanging ( like rain ,another image within the image),with dawn breaking pink upon their bangles .The cows are standing there blotched,humbled ,and hindered by their own sound(the poet is perhaps referring to the blotches of shadows on the cows)and the involuntary jerks on their bodies caused by their reactions to the clang of the cauldrons as they move their heads.

While the image of the cows is elaborate ,the old woman is described with the same amount of vividness .She stands behind a mountain and is struck by something in the field,a row of phlox or patch of bluebell ,holding a spray of gentians ,while the goiter on her neck shifts as a stitch of loganberry.

The vividness of the description of the cows and the old woman is almost painting-like.

“POEM” By Gieve Patel

What is it between
A woman’s legs draws destruction
To itself? Each war sees bayonets
Struck like flags in
A flash of groin blood.
The vicious in-law
Places spice or glowing cinder
On that spot. Little bird-mouth
Woman’s second,
Secret lip, in-drawn
Before danger, opened
At night to her lover.
Women walk the earth fully clothed,
A planetary glow dispelling
The night of dress,
A star rising where
Thigh meets belly: target spot
Showered
With kisses, knives.

The poem talks about destruction inherent in the human condition,the inevitability of love and regeneration leading to death and destruction.Little bird-mouth,woman’s second,secret lip,indrawn before danger,opened to her lover . For a brief while,after wars and domestic violence, born of the power games of nations and homes, love prevails.The planetary glow of the archetypal woman dispels her night of dress and a star rises where thigh meets belly but the target spot is showered with kisses and knives.

I like the poem for its tautness of construction and the amazing economy of words which make the poem sound almost classical.Some very rich lines like little bird-mouth…,bayonets struck like flags in a flash of groin blood ,a star rising where thigh meets belly,target spot showered with kisses and knives make the poem a memorable one.