the audible threshold of happiness

 Four poems by Gemma Gorga translated by Sharon Dolin

  Gemma Gorga      Sharon Dolin

In place of a book of hours, Gemma Gorga has composed something much more modest: a Book of Minutes. Though these prose poems do retain the meditative quality of prayer, they also share with aphorism the urge to delimit by compression: how much density can be packed into a small space. Here’s what drew me to translate them: Each time I read these diminutive poems, they open up a world for me. In that sense, they are inexhaustible as all poems and prayers should be. 

— Sharon Dolin


[Les flors del jardí parlen]

by Gemma Gorga

Les flors del jardí parlen en veu tan baixa que es fa difícil endevinar què diuen. ¿Seran tal vegada diàlegs d’amor, diàlegs socràtics que mantenen amb els insectes de llargues barbes, pesants i taciturns damunt l’elasticitat dels pètals? S’ondulen les cordes vocals de la llum, els rínxols sonors de l’aigua. Però arriba la ronda del record i trepitja les flors amb rudes bótes de sentinella. I em deixa asseguda —trista venedora de mistos— fora del llindar auditiu de la felicitat.

[Garden flowers speak]

by Gemma Gorga

Garden flowers speak in such hushed tones that it’s difficult to parse what they’re saying. Could they be dialogues of love, perhaps, Socratic dialogues they hold with long-bearded insects, heavy and reserved, resting on swaying petals? Light’s vocal cords undulate, as do the sonorous curls of water. But the memory patrol turns up and treads on the flowers with its rough sentry boots. And I am left seated—sad little match girl—outside the audible threshold of happiness.

translated from Catalan by Sharon Dolin

[Sostens un bocí de vidre trencat]

by Gemma Gorga

Sostens un bocí de vidre trencat entre l’índex i el polze. A l’ànima estan tocant les dotze del migdia i algú mormola és l’hora de l’àngelus. El sostens amb paciència, fins que la llum, les campanes i les ales convergeixen en un únic punt sensible al dolor. I en l’aire s’incendia un ocell.

[You hold up a piece of broken glass]

by Gemma Gorga

You hold up a piece of broken glass between your index finger and thumb. It is chiming twelve-noon in your soul and someone murmurs, “It’s the hour for reciting the Angelus prayer.” You hold up the glass sliver patiently until the light, bells, and wings converge in one uniquely sensitive point of pain. And in the air a bird blazes up.

translated from Catalan by Sharon Dolin

[Té sis punxes, com una estrella]

by Gemma Gorga


Té sis punxes, com una estrella, però no és una estrella. La cullo i la deso a la bossa, al costat del pot de neules, vigilant que no prengui mal amb el groc lacerant de la pinya. Un cop a casa, trio un enlloc preferent on col·locar-la, que estigui ben invisible als ulls de tothom. De vegades, amb el silenci de la nit, se sent passar la llarga caravana de la set: palmeres mil·lenàries, camells foscos com dàtils, vells astròlegs de barbes enfarinades. I és que la realitat és així, o aixà, i no s’hi pot fer més, malcriada i enganyosa. Per aquest motiu hi ha qui ja no la busca, per aquest motiu hi ha qui encara la troba. Vet aquí un nadal incomprensible com la vida mateixa, explicat en sis ratlles, com si fos un poema, però no és un poema.

[It has six points, like a star]

by Gemma Gorga

It has six points, like a star, but it’s not a star. I pick it up and put it in the bag, next to the can of wafers, taking care it remains unharmed by the lacerating, yellow pineapple. Once home, I choose some preferred who-knows-where to keep it that’s practically invisible to all eyes. Sometimes, in the night’s stillness, you can hear the long caravan of thirst pass by: thousand-year-old palm trees, camels dark as dates, ancient astrologers with flour in their beards. Because reality is like this, or like that (what can you do), spoiled and misleading. For this reason, there are those who no longer look for it; for this reason, there are those who still find it. Here is an incomprehensible nativity like life itself, explained in six lines, as if it were a poem, but it’s not a poem.

translated from Catalan by Sharon Dolin

[El vent aixeca la faldilla a les margarides]

by Gemma Gorga

El vent aixeca la faldilla a les margarides i el món comença a rodolar cap per avall. És evident que les fades són totes rosses i viuen amagades a la punta del tacte —les margarides, que ho saben, han esclafit el riure—. Per què tanta resistència a la felicitat? D’acord. La llum, el gir, el vol: vet aquí els tres desitjos.

[The wind lifts the daisies' skirt]

by Gemma Gorga

The wind lifts the daisies’ skirt and the world begins to tumble upside down. Apparently, fairies are all blonde and live hidden at the touch of your fingertips—the daisies, knowing all about it, have broken into laughter. Why so much resistance to happiness? All right. Here are my three wishes: Light. Spin. Flight.

translated from Catalan by Sharon Dolin




root-orgies, parasites, moldering clouds

Two poems by N. B. Minkov translated by Jordan Finkin

אין אונדזערע טעג

by N. B. Minkov

.אַ בלויער וואַלד. אַ שטומער. שטומער נאָך פון אַלע הימלען

.גערוך פון וואָרצל-אָרגיעס, שימלענדיקע כמאַרעס, פּאַראַזיטן

.ביים ראַנד — אַן איינזאַם ביידל. בלינד און טויטלעך ווייס

.גרינע בליצן שטאַרבן אין פאַרפּרעסטע בליטן


אַ טיר אן אויפגעריסענע. אַ וועווריק גילדענער שפּרינגט אומשולדיק פאַרביי.

.בלייבט שטיין דערשראָקן. האָרכט דעם שטומען וואַנזין פונעם וואַלד

.די קילקייט איז א שאַרפע און אַ קראַנקע

.ליכט פון שכינה אויף דער שוועל. איבער אים אַ טיפער זקן אויפגעהאַנגען







In Our Days

by N. B. Minkov

A blue forest. Silent. More silent than the heavens.

The odor of root-orgies, parasites, moldering clouds.

On the edge, a lonely hut. Blind and deathly white.

Green lightning withers in blighted blossoms.


A door torn open. A gilded squirrel jumps innocently by.

Stands frozen with fear. Listens to the silent madness of the forest.

The coolness is acrid and sick.

God’s Presence lights the doorway.

Above it a deep old man, hanged.




translated from Yiddish by Jordan Finkin

דער לעצטער קנויט

by N. B. Minkov

וועט אויפגיין דיין פּנים? צווישן ריזיקע וואָרצלען

.זיץ איך — געהיט פון דער שלאַנג — און וואַרט

,דאָס טייכל גליווערט אין שוואַרצן דעמער

.און איך — ניט פאַרבלענדט — דאָך גענאַרט


.ניטאָ גאָר דיין פּנים? די שלאַנג דרעמלט רואיק

.איך ווער שוואַרצער. נט איך טראַכט. ניט איך רעד

.די נאַכט סמ’עט דעם וואַלד. דער וואַלד וואַקסט אָן אָטעם

.איך הער קלאָר, וואָס אומקלאָר געשעט


ביסט אַפילו קיין טרוים ניט געווען? און אַ נאָמען

.האָסטו. און כוהנים — און טעמפּלען געהאַט

.מיין שטרייט מיט דער שלאַנג — צוליב דיר דאָך געווען

?און געזיגט האָבן ביידע: איז דאָס ניט פאַרראַט


די נאַכט בלייבט שוין אייביק דאָ נאַכט. איך וואַרט שוין

.אויף קיינעם ניט מער. די שלאַנג לעבן מיר איז שוין טויט

.דאָס טייכל, וואָס אָטעמט נאָך, זע איך ניט מער

.פאַרזונקען אין חשכות פון בלוטן, לעשט זיך דער לעצטער קנויט 




The Last Wick

by N. B. Minkov

Will your face rise? The snake stands guard

As I sit among the giant roots, and wait.

The brook freezes in the black twilight,

And I, undeluded, am still deceived.


Is your face really gone? The snake’s napping restfully.

I grow darker. Neither thinking nor speaking.

The night poisons the forest. The forest swells without breath.

I hear clearly what unclearly happens.


Weren’t you even a dream? But you have

A name. And priests you had, temples.

My clash with the snake, it was for your sake.

And both were victorious. Is that not betrayal?


The night remains night here for good. I’m done waiting

For anyone. See how this snake is now dead.

The still breathing brook I can no longer see.

The last wick is quenched in the darkness of bloodshed.




translated from Yiddish by Jordan Finkin

the contrary to my virtue

Three poems by James Noël translated by Patricia Hartland

james noël

Les bruits du monde

by James Noël

tous les bruits

du monde

le roulement des pierres

dans le chavirement du jour

la rumeur du sang

dans le sexe des anges

déchus (pas tous

mais seulement ceux qui arrivent

sur la terre en parachutes)

les orgasmes

contrariés des volcans éteints

le cri des chats

qui baisent pile

dans un miaulement

en chœur des horloges


tous les bruits

du monde

roulent leurs tambour cassé

dans ma voix

Noises of the world

by James Noël

all the noises

of the world

rocks rolling

in the collapsing day

blood murmur

in the sex of angels

fallen (not all

but only those that arrive

on earth via parachute)

thwarted orgasms

of extinguished volcanoes

the moans of cats

that screw precisely

in a choral yowling

tuned to the clocks


all the noises

of the world

beat their broken drum

in my voice

translated from French by Patricia Hartland

La foudre

by James Noël

belle ta chevelure


rousseur d’éclair

gardant de graves orages

derrière la tète



qui avec moi rivalise

et m’avalise


comment sortir

s’il faut pour le sort

me libérer d’amour gordien

d’amour qui noue telle une cravate

bien par où l’on chante

quand on chante mal


dans la piscine

ce fond à forme liquide

cette forme fondue

par ce liquide que nous buvions sur mesure

en marge d’air

et du sot métier de se noyer


le soleil nous crible la face

en vrais gants de mariées sur les rayons

nous mourons comme deux chiens


femelle jusqu’à ton mal

moi l’opposé jusqu’à mon bien



by James Noël

beauty your mane


russet flash

harnessing solemn storms

behind your head


the cord that

rivals and

validates me


how to leave

if to leave

I must be liberated

from Gordian love

from love that knots

tightens such a tie

as one strains to sing

when one sings wrong


in the pool

depth in liquid form

this form dissolved

by that liquid we drank to size


beyond air’s margins

drowning’s a useless skill


the sun pierces our faces

the beams in true bride gloves

we die like two dogs


female to a fault


the contrary to my virtue

translated from French by Patricia Hartland

fleur de sang

by James Noël

pour grain de poussière

démord la vie

dévie la mort


le vent galope la corde au cou

en fracas d’élégie sur étrier

temps mis à mort au fil du temps

écartelé de feuilles mortes

de parenthèses à bras ouverts

pour des oiseaux en filigrane

d’attouchements à gants blessés

pour des baisers derrière la porte


rose effleure effleure

effleure bouquet de poings

très bien tendu du cannibale

hélant oye et halali


que par le bout de certitudes

ces affaires tranchées de cervelle d’homme

la honte puisse rendre

l’exquise couleur

d’une corolle de sang

blood flower

by James Noël

for dust speck

relinquishes life

deflects death


wind gallops cord-around-neck

an elegy ruckus stirrupped


time kills over time

quartered dead leaves

open-armed parentheses

for traces of birds

wounded-glove caresses

for behind-door kisses



caress caress

caress fist bouquet

the cannibal’s clenched

hoop and holler


these edged affairs of man’s mind

that by the end of certainties

shame might yield

the exquisite color

of a blood corolla

translated from French by Patricia Hartland

My body kept clanging like the tin of your house

Two poems by Geet Chaturvedi translated by Anita Gopalan


GeetChaturvedi   AnitaGopalanGeet Chaturvedi’s poems are inseparably connected with the cultural history of India and linguistic memories of Hindi, the language in which he writes. The filtration and the sensibility of ideas and imagination make him a delightful, different poet. In a career spanning over two decades with only two books of poems to his credit (the first, a collection of 72 poems published in 2010 and the second, a collection of 63 poems forthcoming this year), he is considered a major poet of present Hindi literature—and, the most imitated. The various adjectives that he has earned, like ‘professor’, ‘master’, ‘avant-garde’ and ‘most-read contemporary Hindi poet,’ reflect the unmistakable aura of his poetry, his strong voice, inner lyrical beauty, multitude of meanings and the ‘text-appeal’. 

The appeal is also of a distinct playfulness with the language that gives the reader immense synesthetic pleasure, and of extraordinary metaphors and unusual imagery. As he wrote in the poem ‘Style’, for example:

The style in which sleep limns
We call it— creases

Making my forehead her bed
Don’t know who’d slept all night

Geet Chaturvedi’s poetics have also been shaped by his high exposure to the world poetry and contemporary poetic designs of the post-modern European literature; at the same time, they give a sense of rootedness to the Sanskrit-Pali poetic tradition of ancient India. Intertextuality is his trait and his poetry is filled with regional plays, which makes translation particularly difficult. On top of that, Hindi and English are two languages that have very different sentence construction, and also, Indian culture is very different from the western culture. Hence, it requires, at times, great effort to retain the same simplicity and meaning and musicality. For example, in the poem ‘Monsoon is a Sip of Water’, words in Hindi like aashad and poos are the Hindu calendar months coinciding with rains and humidity, and of biting cold respectively. I equated them to monsoon and winter. Keeping the words simple yet effective, I constructed the two lines as:

Monsoon is a sip of water
And winter, a mound of dry cough in the chest

The poem ‘Style’ limns in a style that the poet calls an ‘incoherent poetic structure’, a structure that he has been practicing since long, where each line or stanza creates a world of its own; woven around the most mundane things with a deceptive casualness, an emotive and philosophical sublimity is reached, as, for example, in these lines:

On some nights before sleep, my name is Heart
Morning after waking up I find my name History

The poems raise existential, political or philosophical concerns that reflect the candour, the cadences, wit and erudition.

—Anita Gopalan



by Geet Chaturvedi

हृदय का अपना इतिहास होता है

हृदय की अपनी सभ्यता होती है


ऊपर की इन पंक्तियों में रिल्के ने

हृदय की जगह हाथ लिखा था


एक दिन इन हाथों को याद आ जाएगा

कि किसी ज़माने में ये पंख हुआ करते थे


किसी रात सोने से पहले मेरा नाम हृदय होता है

सुबह उठने के बाद पाता हूं कि मेरा नाम इतिहास है


प्रकाश के वृत्त में अंधेरे की त्रिज्या

दार्शनिक स्वतंत्रता है


हर सीढ़ी अंतत: खत्म हो जाती है

ऊपर बहुत सारी ऊंचाई चढ़े जाने से बच जाती है


मैं हमेशा चप्पल पहनता हूं

फिर भी जानता हूं गीली भूमि का स्पर्श


एक पेड़ मौन रह देखता है मुझे

चाहे कितना भी दूर क्यों न चला जाऊं


एक दिन मैं शाम को उठा, पौधों में पानी दिया

मैंने उन्हें कोसा जिन्होंने नींद में मेरे साथ बुरा किया था


मैं उन्हें भूल गया जिन्होंने यथार्थ में मेरे साथ बुरा किया

मेरी प्राथमिकताएं स्पष्ट हैं


नींद जिस शैली में रेखांकन करती है

उसे हम सिलवटें कहते हैं


मेरे माथे को बिस्तर बना

जाने कौन सोया था सारी रात


तुम्हारी स्मृति

मेरे नमक का निबंध है


जागने की मेरी शैली

मेरी अज्ञानताओं के कारण बनती है 


by Geet Chaturvedi

Heart has a history of its own

It has its own civilization


In the lines above, Rilke had 

Written hands in place of heart


These hands would someday remember 

That they at one time were wings


On some nights before sleep, my name is Heart

Morning after waking up I find my name History


The radius of darkness in a circle of light

Is philosophical independence


Every stairway going up eventually ceases

Above, considerable height remains unscaled


I always wear chappals

Yet understand the touch of wet earth


A tree silently watches me 

No matter how far I may wander


I rose one evening, watered the plants

I cursed those who had wronged me in sleep


I forgot those who have wronged me in reality

My preferences are obvious


The style in which sleep limns

We call it—creases


Making my forehead her bed 

Don’t know who’d slept all night


The memory of you

Is an essay of my salt


My style of waking 

Is shaped by my dark ignorance

translated from Hindi by Anita Gopalan

आषाढ़ पानी का घूंट है

by Geet Chaturvedi

तुम्हारी परछाईं पर गिरती रहीं बारिश की बूंदें

मेरी देह बजती रही जैसे तुम्हारे मकान की टीन

अडोल है मन की बीन


झरती बूंदों का घूंघट था तुम्हारे और मेरे बीच

तुम्हारा निचला होंठ पल-भर को थरथराया था


तुमने पेड़ पर एक निशान बनाया

फिर ठीक वहीं एक चोट दागी

प्रेम में निशानचियों का हुनर पैबस्त था


तुमने कहा प्रेम करना अभ्यास है

मैंने सारी शिकायतें अरब सागर में बहा दीं


धरती को हिचकी आती है

जल से भरा लोटा है आकाश

कौन याद कर रहा है उसे

वह एक-एक कर सारे नाम लेती है

मुझे भूल जाती है

मैं इतना पास था कि कोई यकीन ही नहीं कर सकता

जो इतना पास हो वह भी याद कर सकता है


स्वांग किसी अंग का नाम नहीं


आषाढ़ पानी का घूंट है

छाती में उगा ठसका है पूस

Monsoon is a sip of water

by Geet Chaturvedi

The raindrops kept falling on your shadow

My body kept clanging like the tin of your house

My heart’s music beat unrelenting unwavering


Between you and me, there was the veil of cascading droplets

For a fleeting moment, your lower lip twitched


You made a mark on the bole of the tree

And then shot at it right through

Shooters have an inherent finesse in love


But to love is a matter of practice, you proffered

I released all my grievances into the Arabian Sea


The sky is a potful of water

The earth hiccoughs

Who could be remembering her?

One by one she takes all names

Forgets mine

Nobody could perceive how close I’d been, how near

The one who’s so close so near could also remember


Pretence is not a name 

Of any limb or body part


Monsoon is a sip of water

And winter, a mound of dry cough in the chest



*When one hiccoughs, it is believed that someone is remembering that person.

translated from Hindi by Anita Gopalan

walled up between the hours

two poems by Amanda Reverón translated by Don Cellini


by Amanda Reverón

de manos rotas
sobre un extremo / de la noche
se quedó
tapiada entre las horas
ni un sólo latido
ni un sólo quejido 
que la delate
era algo así
(como un poco
de mí)


by Amanda Reverón

it was



with the broken hands

on one end / of the night

she stayed

walled up between the hours

not one heartbeat

not one whimper

to betray her

it was something like that

(like a little bit

of me)

translated from Spanish by Don Cellini


by Amanda Reverón

lugar de siempre / por las tardes
me aferro
cabellos /y otros tiempos
ya no hay pájaros en la ventana
(sólo yo)
aún trinando

honda melancolía


by Amanda Reverón

same place as always / in the afternoon

I persist

in untangling

curls / and old times

there are no birds in the window any more

(just me)

still warbling


deep melancholy

translated from Spanish by Don Cellini

No more, you thought, could it stare back at you

Two poems by Allan Popa translated from Filipino by Mabi David and the author.

Mabi David                  Allan Popa



by Allan Popa

Hindi punyal hindi krusipiho ang hawak mo

nanggigigil na kinakaskas sa ilalim ng kaldero kahit


walang nasisimot kundi ang ngilong tinutugon

ng ungol sakal ng kadenang-asong nakatanikala sa iyo.


Anong pangangailangan pa ang nagpapalubay

sa iyong kapit upang haplusin siya sa noo, malupit


na kamay na malugod niyang inaabot upang basain  

ng dila na minsang nahuling dumidila sa kanyang


ari: matalim mo siyang tinitigan upang pahiyain.

Hindi na niya makakayang harapin


ang iyong tingin. Sa iyo siya nakatingin.





by Allan Popa

Neither crucifix nor knife

what you scrape against the pot’s bottom.


You scrape up nothing, not

a scrap off it, only a grating screech


to which the dog whines, choking at

the leash chained to you. Out of what need


would you loosen your grip to pet

its forehead? It licked your hand.


Once you caught it feverishly licking its own

sex and fixed on it, staring it into shame.


No more, you thought, could it stare

back at you. It stares back at you.



translated from Filipino by Mabi David & Allan Popa


by Allan Popa

Malalasap pagbigkas ng baboy kung bakit baboy

ang mababasaging alkansiyang hindi nagawang


mapabigat bagamat matabang-mataba sa iyong palad.


Pinakinggan mo ang pag-alog sa kahungkagan

ng iilang sensilyong naihulog sa mabintog na tiyan,


tiningala’t sinilip ang dilim sa napakakitid na butas. 


Matatandaang ito ang gulang ng pagtuklas ng sarap

sa pagtuklap ng langib ng papahilom na sugat.


Nakapaglalaway, nakapangingiwi ng mga labi


ang pagsungkit, pagkupit ng pilak mula sa sarili

na mariing maikukuyom sa nangangati mong palad.


Malalasap pagbigkas ng baboy kung bakit baboy.





by Allan Popa

Savor as you say the word pig, why

it is a pig, this coin bank


you cannot for all its size make heavy.


You listen as you jangle the handful inside

its hollow distended belly, the teats you tilt


to peer past the chink into the dark,


remembering when you first discovered

what pleasure picking on a scab gave you.


You bite your lip to hold the drool in.


You try to snatch at the shiny silver, picking

your own pockets for all that you can


hog, and savor why, as you say the word, pig.




translated from Filipino by Mabi David & Allan Popa

…but any clever man is half a crook

Two excerpts from “Too Clever by Half” by Alexander Griboyedov translated by Betsy Hulick.

“Too Clever by Half” (usually called “Woe from Wit”) is a verse comedy by Alexander Griboyedov, a contemporary of Pushkin’s. It is a Russian classic. The plot is simple: Chatsky, after a three-year absence, returns to Moscow. He is in love with Sophie, who is carrying on a clandestine love affair with her father’s secretary, Molchalin, a careerist upstart who, in turn, fancies Liza, Sophie’s maid. Chatsky’s sharp social observations and contempt for the man she secretly loves leads her to circulate a scurrilous remour at a ball, that Chatsky is mad. Chatsky uncover’s Sophie’s betrayal and Sophie is disabused of her lover’s character. In the end, her father, Famusov, mistakes their showdown for a tryst, and fires off against them both. He has the last words of the play, “What will Princess Maria say?” indicating the social life of the period will settle back to its stultifying normal.

                                                                                                      —Betsy Hulick

[Зови меня вандалом:]

by Alexander Griboyedov


                                Зови меня вандалом:
        Я это имя заслужил.
        Людьми пустыми дорожил!
Сам бредил целый век обедом или балом!
Об детях забывал! обманывал жену!
Играл! проигрывал! в опеку взят указом!
     Танцовщицу держал! и не одну:
                             Трех разом!
Пил мертвую! не спал ночей по девяти!
     Всё отвергал: законы! совесть! веру!


        Послушай! ври, да знай же меру;
        Есть от чего в отчаянье прийти.



                           * * * * *



    Да из чего беснуетесь вы столько?


Шумим, братец, шумим…


                                        Шумите вы? и только?


Не место объяснять теперь и недосуг,
        Но государственное дело:
        Оно, вот видишь, не созрело,
            Нельзя же вдруг.
Что за люди! mon cher! Без дальних я историй
     Скажу тебе: во-первых, князь Григорий!!
Чудак единственный! нас со́ смеху морит!
Век с англичанами, вся а́нглийская складка,
     И так же он сквозь зубы говорит,
И так же коротко обстрижен для порядка.
     Ты не знаком? о! познакомься с ним.
        Другой — Воркулов Евдоким,
     Ты не слыхал, как он поет? о! диво!
        Послушай, милый, особливо
     Есть у него любимое одно:
«А! нон лашьяр ми, но, но, но»  2.
        Еще у нас два брата:
Левон и Боринька, чудесные ребята!
Об них не знаешь что сказать;
Но если гения прикажете назвать:
     Удушьев Ипполит Маркелыч!!!
     Ты сочинения его
     Читал ли что-нибудь? хоть мелочь?
Прочти, братец, да он не пишет ничего;
     Вот эдаких людей бы сечь-то,
И приговаривать: писать, писать, писать;
В журналах можешь ты однако отыскать
     Его отрывок, взгляд и нечто.
     Об чем бишь нечто? — обо всем;
Все знает, мы его на черный день пасем.
Но голова у нас, какой в России нету,
Не надо называть, узнаешь по портрету:
     Ночной разбойник, дуэлист,
В Камчатку сослан был, вернулся алеутом,
     И крепко на руку нечист;
Да умный человек не может быть не плутом.
Когда ж об честности высокой говорит,
     Каким-то демоном внушаем:
     Глаза в крови, лицо горит,
     Сам плачет, и мы все рыдаем.
Вот люди, есть ли им подобные? Навряд…
Ну, между ими я, конечно, зауряд,
Немножко поотстал, ленив, подумать ужас!
Однако ж я, когда, умишком понатужась,
     Засяду, часу не сижу,
И как-то невзначай, вдруг каламбур рожу,
Другие у меня мысль эту же подцепят,
И вшестером, глядь, водевильчик слепят,
Другие шестеро на музыку кладут,
Другие хлопают, когда его дают.
     Брат, смейся, а что любо, любо:
Способностями бог меня не наградил,
Дал сердце доброе, вот чем я людям мил,
     Совру — простят…


[Call me a barbarian!]

"Too Clever by Half," Act IV

by Alexander Griboyedov

Chatsky, about to leave the ball, is buttonholed by Repetilov (pronounced Repetílov). In Russian there are two verbs for “to lie,” one to lie out and out, the other to fabricate. Repetilov is that uniquely Russian type  who flies into a sort of ecstasy when lying.



            Call me a barbarian!

For vicious living I’m your man.

I’ve traveled in an idle, worthless set,

been mad for balls, the whirl of social life,

ignored my children, cheated on my wife,

gambled recklessly, piled debt on top of debt,

defaulted on a mortgage, ruined my best friend,

kept a ballerina, no, not one, but three,

and kept them simultaneously.

went drunk and missing for a fortnight,

set conscience, law, religion all on end.

I tell you—



                       Your lies are out of sight.

Lie of course, but exercise restraint.

Yours would make the stoutest heart grow faint.


                                    And later, in a parody of liberal secret societies:



But why get so worked up? What for?



To stir the pot, to stir the pot, mon cher!



To stir the pot? Nothing more?



Now’s no time or place to give an explanation.

I can only tell you it’s a state affair;

we’re in the early stages of our preparation.

Such men! In short, Prince Gregory, for one,

Eccentric? Funny? There’s no comparison!

A dedicated Anglophile:

clips his vowels, crops his hair,

You haven’t met him? Wait awhile,

you will. Let’s see: Who else is there?

Eudókimus Vorkúlov: What a singing voice!

Ah, Non lashiarmi no no no!

That’s his aria of choice.

Then Boris and his brother, Leo,

splendid fellows,  say no more.

But if it’s genius that you’re looking for,

Udúshev, Ípolit Markélich—he’s your man.

You must have read him once upon a time.

I used to be his biggest fan.

No new work for ages! It’s a crime!

Flog these idlers—it will serve them right—

and sentence them to write, write, write!

He’s published articles still widely read

in reprint: Shards. Envision. Nought.

What is Nought about? Better left unsaid.

How much he knows! And all of it self-taught.

We’re keeping him for when the time is ripe.

Our leader is a Russian without peer.

Why name him when his portrait makes it clear

just who he is, a dueling, fractious type;

was exiled to Kamchatka, trekked a thousand miles

returning via the Aleutian Isles.

Some skeletons, no player by the book,

but any clever man is half a crook.

When nobility of soul or honor is addressed,

his flaming cheeks and bloodshot eyes

clothe him in the aspect of a man possessed.

He breaks out weeping, and the whole room cries.

Where are people to be found like these?

Among them all, no mediocrities

except myself—a lazy dog, not up to snuff.

But I’ve been known, when thinking hard enough,

to come up with a genial pun or turn of phrase

to turn into a vaudeville: six will write the verse,

another six compose, another six rehearse

and all the rest supply applause and praise.

You laugh, but brother, we enjoy ourselves, we do!

My heart is good, if my abilities are few,


that’s why I’m liked, why I’m forgiven for my lies!

translated from Russian by Betsy Hulick

[Вы помиритесь с ним, по размышленьи зрелом. ]

by Alexander Griboyedov

Вы помиритесь с ним, по размышленьи зрелом.
     Себя крушить, и для чего!
Подумайте, всегда вы можете его
Беречь, и пеленать, и спосылать за делом.
Муж-мальчик, муж-слуга, из жениных пажей —
Высокий идеал московских всех мужей. —
Довольно!.. с вами я горжусь моим разрывом.
А вы, суда́рь отец, вы, страстные к чинам:
Желаю вам дремать в неведеньи счастливом,
Я сватаньем моим не угрожаю вам.
     Другой найдется благонравный,
     Низкопоклонник и делец,
     Достоинствами наконец
     Он будущему тестю равный.
     Так! отрезвился я сполна,
Мечтанья с глаз долой — и спала пелена;
        Теперь не худо б было сряду
     На дочь и на отца
        И на любовника-глупца,
И на весь мир излить всю желчь и всю досаду.
С кем был! Куда меня закинула судьба!
Все гонят! все клянут! Мучителей толпа,
В любви предателей, в вражде неутомимых,
     Рассказчиков неукротимых,
Нескладных умников, лукавых простяков,
     Старух зловещих, стариков,
Дряхлеющих над выдумками, вздором, —
Безумным вы меня прославили всем хором.
Вы правы: из огня тот выйдет невредим,
     Кто с вами день пробыть успеет,
     Подышит воздухом одним,
     И в нем рассудок уцелеет.
Вон из Москвы! сюда я больше не ездок.
Бегу, не оглянусь, пойду искать по свету,
Где оскорбленному есть чувству уголок! —
        Карету мне, карету!


[You’ll make it up with him, once you’ve thought it over—]

"Too Clever by Half," Act IV

by Alexander Griboyedov

In the denouement, Sophie learns her love for Molchalin is deluded, and Chatsky learns that Sophie started the rumor he was mad: In Griboyedov’s own words, he “spits in her face and everyone else’s” and takes off.



You’ll make it up with him, once you’ve thought it over—

He trumps a future with all hope removed.

Imagine what a prize you’ll get,

an errand boy,  domestic pet

to stroke and coddle, Moscow’s

picture of the ideal spouse.

Enough! This break restores my pride.

But you, sir, father-of-the- bride,

with your fine appreciation

for degrees of rank and station,

may you enjoy the blissful ease

of wanton ignorance, now and ever:

I’ve no intention whatsoever

of offering for your daughter’s hand.

Another who can’t fail to please,

underhanded, smooth and bland,

with all a toady’s fawning qualities

has that honor. He will do you proud!

There! I’m sane! No dreams becloud

my reason. I’ve nothing more to lose!

It’s their turn now to suffer the abuse

they turned on me—father, daughter,

witless lover—I’ll pour  my bitterness

and gall on each of them in order,

on all the world, and its maliciousness!

Where was I thrown up by fate:

What people was I cast among?

A hateful mob, eager to calumniate:

the spinster with a spiteful tongue,

the evil-minded reprobate,

the denigrator, cutting down to size,

the clever parasite, self-regarding fool,

tittering maidens scarcely out of school,

decrepit graybeards, feeding off of lies—

all declared me mad, in one concerted choir.

And right they were. Take it for a fact:

A man could pass unharmed through fire

who spent a day with them and kept his mind intact.

Farewell to Moscow, to its days and nights!

I’m off to search the wide world round

for somewhere I can go to ground

and set insulted sense to rights.

My carriage! Bring my carriage round!

translated from Russian by Betsy Hulick

keeping secrets, plotting murder,

Two Old English poems translated by Elijah John Petzold

These two Old English poem come from the Exeter Book, a hefty codex which preserves a large proportion of the Old English corpus. I’ve given them new names, drawn from phrases repeated in each poem. The traditional titles assigned to them—“The Wife’s Lament” and “The Husband’s Message”—suggest a parallelism not supported by the text: there’s no explicit connection between the poems, and the narratives, vague as they are, don’t seem to match up. As with several other Old English elegies, they do, however, describe feelings of love, loss, and longing across watery expanses. As both poems present significant interpretive issues, I’ve highlighted some particularly challenging elements. 

beneath an oak (The Wife’s Lament)

            The nebulous narrative of this poem has stumped generations of Anglo-Saxonists. Although elaborate theories abound, there’s nothing close to scholarly consensus on what exactly is going on. It’s clear enough that here a female speaker laments a tumultuous romantic past, but the sequence, location, and causality of the events remain murky. First, the beloved disappears, but then, we are told, his family connives to keep them apart. It’s unclear whether their scheming led to the beloved’s departure in the first place, or whether they took advantage of his departure to reinforce their separation. No sooner do we hear about the family, however, than they are out of the poem entirely, but it seems that the speaker has gone in search of her beloved and finds him changed: morose and murderous. He imprisons her in the earthen cave from which she tells her story, suggesting perhaps that he has murdered and buried her, leaving her waking ghost to mourn. I’m not entirely convinced of this, nor of any other theory that claims to conclusively explain the text beyond what is actually said. Although translation necessarily privileges some readings over others, I’ve tried to leave narrative possibilities open, rendering a poem that feels fragmentary, abrupt, elliptical: a long, traumatic memory distorted and elided by time and repetition.

in days gone by (The Husband’s Message)

            Interpreting this poem hinges on two related questions: who is speaking?, and what is the function of the runes? I’m quite certain our speaker is a piece of wood inscribed with runes, delivering a coded message to an absent lover. More than ninety verse riddles are interspersed throughout the Exeter Book, generally written in the voice of the riddle’s solution: an animal or inanimate object. The riddle immediately preceding the “The Husband’s Message” speaks of an object that talks without a mouth, is carved by a knife and a “prince’s mind,” and passes on a message that no one else can understand. “Rune-staff” seems the obvious answer. The riddle illuminates (and perhaps anticipates) “The Husband’s Message,” particularly the cryptic runic sign-off. The runes read S, R, EA, W, and M, but these don’t render any name or word. The runes’ names may provide a clue: Sigel, “sun”; Rad, “ride/path”; Ear, “earth” or “sea”; Wynn, “joy”; and Mann, “man/human.” Runologist Ralph Elliott has us construe these ideas together to find the epitome of the poem: “Follow the sun’s path south across the ocean to find joy with the man who is waiting for you.”[1] Tempting though it seems, I’m not inclined to presume anything. By design, the runes are untranslatable except to the lovers, whose private oaths of love in bygone days decipher the code.

—Elijah John Petzold


[Ic þis giedd wrece yes bi me ful geomorre,]

Ic þis giedd wrece yes bi me ful geomorre,

minre sylfre sið. Ic þæt secgan mæg,

hwæt ic yrmþa gebad, siþþan ic up aweox,

niwes oþþe ealdes, no ma þonne nu.

A ic wite wonn minra wræcsiþa.


Ærest min hlaford gewat heonan of leodum

ofer yþa gelac; hæfde ic uhtceare

hwær min leodfruma londes wære.

Ða ic me feran gewat folgað secan,

wineleas wræcca, for minre weaþearfe.


Ongunnon þæt þæs monnes magas hycgan

þurh dyrne geþoht, þæt hy todælden unc,

þæt wit gewidost in woruldrice

lifdon laðlicost, ond mec longade.


Het mec hlaford min her eard niman,

ahte ic leofra lyt on þissum londstede,

holdra freonda. Forþon is min hyge geomor.

Ða ic me ful gemæcne monnan funde,

heardsæligne, hygegeomorne,

mod miþendne, morþor hycgendne

bliþe gebæro. Ful oft wit beotedan

þæt unc ne gedælde nemne deað ana

owiht elles; eft is þæt onhworfen.

Is nu swa hit næfre wære

freondscipe uncer. Sceal ic feor ge neah

mines felaleofan fæhðu dreogan.


Heht mec mon wunian on wuda bearwe,

under actreo in þam eorðscræfe.

Eald is þes eorðsele, eal ic eom oflongad.


Sindon dena dimme, duna uphea,

bitre burgtunas, brerum beweaxne,

wic wynna leas. Ful oft mec her wraþe begeat

fromsiþ frean. Frynd sind on eorþan,

leofe lifgende, leger weardiað,

þonne ic on uhtan ana gonge

under actreo geond þas eorðscrafu

þær ic sittan mot sumorlangne dæg,

þær ic wepan mæg mine wræcsiþas,

earfoþa fela; forþon ic æfre ne mæg

þære modceare minre gerestan,

ne ealles þæs longaþes þe mec on þissum life begeat.


A scyle geong mon wesan geomormod,

heard heortan geþoht, swylce habban sceal

bliþe gebæro, eac þon breostceare,

sinsorgna gedreag. Sy æt him sylfum gelong

eal his worulde wyn, sy ful wide fah

feorres folclondes, þæt min freond siteð

under stanhliþe storme behrimed,

wine werigmod, wætre beflowen

on dreorsele. Dreogeð se min wine

micle modceare; he gemon to oft

wynlicran wic. Wa bið þam þe sceal

of langoþe leofes abidan.



beneath an oak

The Wife’s Lament

here’s a sad one about

where i’ve been. listen:

life’s been rough, but

never worse than now.

every step stings.


first he left, slipped to

sea. i worried watching dawn,

wondering where he went.

duty called. i followed,

left. lack exiled me.


his kin conspired,

darkly, to keep us

worlds apart.

and i longed.


he made me move here.

i have no friends—nothing

but a heavy heart.

mister right, i found,

was troubled, glum,

keeping secrets, plotting murder,

smiling. we swore

nothing—only death—

could divide us. it’s all fucked now.

it’s like it never happened—

our friendship. he hates me

—my love—wherever i go.


he sent me to the woods,

to a cave beneath an oak,

an old clay hall. and i long.


mountains climb, dimming valleys;

weeds seize towns left

empty. his absence

cripples me. the world’s lovers

live and sleep together

while i pace before dawn alone

in a cave beneath an oak,

where i sit summer-long days,

crying over

everything. worry 

keeps me up,

and longing, all this longing.


he’ll always be sad,

callous. maybe

he smiles, still he suffers—

always. whether

he has what he wants

or drifts outlawed, (i bet)

my old friend sits,

dreary, under rimed cliffs

in a flooded hall, tired. yes,

he suffers, remembering days

in the city. woe to those

who long for love.

translated from Old English by Elijah John Petzold


[Nu ic onsundran þe secgan wille]

Nu ic onsundran þe secgan wille

…… treocyn ic tudre aweox;

in mec æld… sceal ellor londes

settan…… sealte streamas

…sse. Ful oft ic on bates


þær mec mondryhten min……

ofer heah hafu. Eom nu her cumen

on ceolþele, ond nu cunnan scealt

hu þu ymb modlufan mines frean

on hyge hycge. Ic gehatan dear

þæt þu þær tirfæste treowe findest.


Hwæt, þec þonne biddan het se þisne beam agrof

þæt þu sinchroden sylf gemunde

on gewitlocan wordbeotunga,

þe git on ærdagum oft gespræcon,

þenden git moston on meoduburgum

eard weardigan, an lond bugan,

freondscype fremman. Hine fæhþo adraf

of sigeþeode. Heht nu sylfa þe

lustum læran þæt þu lagu drefde,

siþþan þu gehyrde on hliþes oran

galan geomorne geac on bearwe.

Ne læt þu þec siþþan siþes getwæfan,

lade gelettan lifgendne monn.

Ongin mere secan, mæwes eþel,

onsite sænacan, þæt þu suð heonan

ofer merelade monnan findest,

þær se þeoden is þin on wenum.


Ne mæg him worulde willa mara

on gemyndum, þæs þe he me sægde,

þonne inc geunne alwaldend god

þæt git ætsomne siþþan motan

secgum ond gesiþum s…

næglede beagas; he genoh hafað

fædan goldes …

geond elþeode eþel healde,

fægre foldan   …….

holdra hæleþa, þeah þe her min wine…….

nyde gebæded, nacan ut aþrong,

ond on yþa gelagu ana sceolde

faran on flotweg, forðsiþes georn,

mengan merestreamas. Nu se mon hafað

wean oferwunnen; nis him wilna gad,

ne meara ne maðma ne meododreama,

ænges ofer eorþan eorlgestreona,

þeodnes dohtor, gif he þin beneah.


Ofer eald gebeot incer twega,

gehyre ic ætsomne .ᛋ.ᚱ. geador

ᛠ.ᚹ. ond .ᛗ. aþe benemnan,

þæt he þa wære ond þa winetreowe

be him lifgendum læstan wolde,

þe git on ærdagum oft gespræconn.

in days gone by

The Husband's Message

now i’ll speak to you, apart.

i’m a twig, sprig, tree’s kid.

a man’s son somewhere else

set words on me, sent me

over salty streams. in boat’s

breast, i go

where my lord sends me,

across the deep. now i’m here,

off the ship, to hear,

in your heart’s heart, do you love

my lord? you’ll find—i dare swear—

faith rooted deeply there.


he carved this wood and had me bid

you, bejeweled, open thought’s box,

remember oaths

sworn in days gone by,

when you called the city home,

lived in one place, had your

friendship. bad blood

banished him. now follow him

—i’m to say—row ripples

when you hear cuckoo sing,

sad in the hillside grove.

let no one, no living soul,

change your path, check your course.

seek the sea, gulls’ domain,

board a ship ’til you find

your prince, south

overseas, expecting you.


he has one wish

—he told me so—nothing more:

that god almighty bring

you together,

sharing gifts, spangled rings

among friends. he has enough

polished gold.

he found home abroad,

good land,

and friends, but arrived

needy. eager, he launched,

into stormy seas,

followed ships’ road alone:

oars whisked seas. his woe’s now

done. he’ll lack nothing

noble in the world

—horses, cash, joy—

if he’s with you, princess.


about those old vows between you,

i think ᛋ with ᚱ, along with

ᛠ, ᚹ, and ᛗ swear this oath:

long as he lives, he’ll keep

love’s vows and oaths

sworn in days gone by.

translated from Old English by Elijah John Petzold

[1]Ralph W.V. Elliott,  Runes: An Introduction (Manchester, UK: Manchester UP, 1989), 90.

Finally then—but not until then

Two poems by Bragi Ólafsson translated by K. T. Billey


by Bragi Ólafsson

Loks þá – en ekki

fyrr en þá – í lok sumars,

þegar gröfurnar, sagirnar, borarnir og há-

þrýstidælurnar voru þagnaðar,


var hægt að fara út í garð

og setjast niður, eins og

upphaflega hafði staðið til

þegar við keyptum húsið. En þá var þegar


tekið að glitta í haustið,

sólin ekki eins hátt á lofti

og í byrjun júní,

þegar borarnir fóru af stað, þegar gröfunum


var ekið inn í garðana í nágrenninu,

sagirnar ræstar og háþrýsti

dælurnar stilltar

á hæstu stillingu.

The Silence

by Bragi Ólafsson

Finally then—but not

until then—at the end of summer,

when the excavators, saws, drills and high-pressure

pumps were silenced,


were we able to go out in the yard

and sit down, as we had

originally planned

when we bought the house. But then already


fall was beginning to settle in,

the sun not as high in the air

as in early June,

when the drills were switched on, and excavators


driven into the neighboring yards,

saws started up and high-pressure

pumps set

on the highest setting.

translated from Icelandic by K. T. Billey


by Bragi Ólafsson

Skip siglir frá landi.

Það fjarlægist eins og maður fjarlægist

mann: það verður minna

en það var


þegar það lá við höfnina,

og alltaf minna og minna

eftir því sem höfnin stækkar

og himinninn þrengir að því.


Svo lítið er það orðið

þegar hafsröndin mætir því

að hafi það haft einhverja von

er sú orusta töpuð – og það sekkur.

The Deep

by Bragi Ólafsson

A ship sails from land.

It moves away like people drift

apart: it becomes smaller

than it was


when it lay in the harbour,

and smaller and smaller still

as the harbour expands

and the sky narrows in.


So little has it become

when it meets the horizon

that if it ever had any hope

that battle is lost—and it sinks.

translated from Icelandic by K. T. Billey


Your dress soughs softly
On the spiral stairs

Four poems by Georg Trakl translated by Jay Hopler.

Im Herbst

by Georg Trakl

Die Sonnenblumen leuchten am Zaun,

Still sitzen Kranke im Sonnenschein.

Im Acker mühn sich singend die Frau’n,

Die Klosterglocken läuten darein.


Die Vögel sagen dir ferne Mär’,

Die Klosterglocken läuten darein.

Vom Hof tönt sanft die Geige her.

Heut keltern sie den braunen Wein.


Da zeigt der Mensch sich froh und lind.

Heut keltern sie den braunen Wein.

Weit offen die Totenkammern sind

Und schön bemalt vom Sonnenschein.


In the Autumn

by Georg Trakl

The sunflowers shine by the fence.

The invalids sit quietly in the sunshine.

The singing women work in a field,

Into which are chiming cloister bells.


The birds tell you tales of far-off places

Into which are chiming cloister bells.

From the courtyard, a violin is heard.

Today, they press the brown wine.


In autumn, man is blithe and balmy.

Today they press the brown wine.

Wide open are the chambers of the dead

And full of the most beautiful sunshine.

translated from German by Jay Hopler


by Georg Trakl

Am Abend schweigt die Klage

Des Kuckucks im Wald.

Tiefer neigt sich das Korn,

Der rote Mohn.


Schwarzes Gewitter droht

Über dem Hügel.

Das alte Lied der Grille

Erstirbt im Feld.


Nimmer regt sich das Laub

Der Kastanie.

Auf der Wendeltreppe

Rauscht dein Kleid.


Stille leuchtet die Kerze

Im dunklen Zimmer;

Eine silberne Hand

Löschte sie aus;


Windstille, sternlose Nacht.




by Georg Trakl

In the evening, in the forest,

The cuckoo’s complaint grows quiet. 

The wheat leans more deeply,

The red poppy. 


Thunderheads threaten

Over the hill. 

The old song of the cricket

Dies in the field. 


Ever still, the leaves

Of the chestnut tree. 

Your dress soughs softly

On the spiral stairs. 


Silently, the candle

In the dark room shines;

A silver hand

Snuffs it out. 


Windless, starless night.

translated from German by Jay Hopler


by Georg Trakl

Der schwarze Schnee, der von den Dächern rinnt;

Ein roter Finger taucht in deine Stirne

Ins kahle Zimmer sinken blaue Firne,

Die Liebender erstorbene Spiegel sind.

In schwere Stücke bricht das Haupt und sinnt

Den Schatten nach im Spiegel blauer Firne,

Dem kalten Lächeln einer toten Dirne.

In Nelkendüften weint der Abendwind. 



by Georg Trakl

Black snow spills from the rooftops. 

A red finger pokes into your skull. 

Blue glacial ice melts into an empty room,

The lover’s dead mirror. 

Or is it, the dead lovers’ mirror? 

The brain breaks into heavy pieces

Just thinking about it.  The reflection

Of that blue ice in the mirror

Is like the cold smile of a dead tramp. 

The evening wind wails,

Reeking of carnations.

translated from German by Jay Hopler


by Georg Trakl

Mönchin!  schließ mich in dein Dunkel,

Ihr Gebirge kühl und blau!

Niederblutet dunkler Tau;

Kreuz ragt steil im Sterngefunkel.


Purpurn brachen Mund und Lüge

In verfallner Kammer kühl;

Scheint noch Lachen, golden Spiel,

Einer Glocke letzte Züge.


Mondeswolke!  Schwärzlich fallen

Wilde Früchte nachts vom Baum

Und zum Grabe wird der Raum

Und zum Traum dies Erdenwallen. 



by Georg Trakl

Mother Superior, lock me up in darkness,

Yours!  Your mountains so cool.  So blue—.  

The gloom-dimmed dew blooms down into the earth. 

A cross rockets Heavenward.  Star-spark and star-shine. 


In a shabby backroom, a liar takes one

In the kisser and his split lips swell. 

I hear laughter growing fainter,

Shining like a dying bell. 


Mooncloud!  At night, when the ripe fruit falls

From the trees so bitterly,

Our every room a tomb becomes. 

What a waste the world is.

translated from German by Jay Hopler