mjj (flemmings) wrote,

Considering that Ten Books meme- 'ten books that have stayed with you.' Um well: I could rhyme off a list of books but have no guarantee that they *have* stayed with me. Aside from Sei Shonagon, whose deplorable influence I still detect in myself, and Hamlet, which isn't exactly a book, I'm not sure that any of my old favourites are still even readable. When revisited, they often seem completely different works from the ones I remember loving. Tolkien, Emma, Dream of Red Chambers ... not what they were when I was sixteen or twenty-four or twenty-eight. (Did I really read nothing memorable in my 30s and 40s? Sometimes it seems that way.)

But poems- hell yes. Poems have stayed with me for fifty years sometimes. (That's because I don't actually read much poetry, and because my tastes are old-fashioned.) Herewith a list of ten poems that have stuck like glue.

1) The Wanderer.

Hwær cwom mearh? Hwær cwom magu? Hwær cwom maþþumgyfa?
Hwær cwom symbla gesetu? Hwær sindon seledreamas?
Eala beorht bune! Eala byrnwiga!
Eala þeodnes þrym! Hu seo þrag gewat,
genap under nihthelm, swa heo no wære.

Where is the horse gone? Where the rider?
Where the giver of treasure?
Where are the seats at the feast?
Where are the revels in the hall?
Alas for the bright cup!
Alas for the mailed warrior!
Alas for the splendour of the prince!
How that time has passed away,
dark under the cover of night,
as if it had never been!

2. Cavafy, The City

You will not find new lands, not find another sea.
The city will follow you. You'll wander down
These very streets, age in these same quarters of the town,
among the same houses finally turn grey.
You'll reach this city always. Don't hope to get away

3. Snyder, Four Poems for Robin

Eight years ago this May
We walked under cherry blossoms
At night in an orchard in Oregon.
All that I wanted then
Is forgotten now, but you.

4. Housman, More Poems, XXIII

Crossing alone the nighted ferry
With the one coin for fee,
Whom, on the wharf of Lethe waiting,
Count you to find? Not me.

The brisk fond lackey to fetch and carry,
The true, sick-hearted slave,
Expect him not in the just city
And free land of the grave.

5. Chesterton, The Rolling English Road

My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.

6. Larkin, Untitled

The fields around are cold and muddy,
The cobbled streets close by are still,
A sizar shivers at his study,
The kitchen cat has made a kill;
The bells discuss the hour's gradations,
Dusty shelves hold prayers and proofs:
Above, Chaldean constellations
Sparkle over crowded roofs.

7. Auden, In Memory of W.B. Yeats

You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

8. Anonymous, The Lily and the Rose

The maidens came
 When I was in my mother's bower;
I had all that I would.
 The bailey beareth the bell away;
 The lily, the rose, the rose I lay.

The silver is white, red is the gold:
The robes they lay in fold.
 The bailey beareth the bell away;
 The lily, the rose, the rose I lay.

And through the glass window shines the sun.
How should I love, and I so young?
 The bailey beareth the bell away;
 The lily, the rose, the rose I lay.

9. Ono no Komachi

Hana no iro wa
utsuri ni keri na
itazura ni
waga mi yo ni furu
nagame seshi ma ni


The flowers' blooms
are washed away:
in vain
I spend my length of days
gazing on the endless rain. (trans. Köy Deli )

10. Ariwara no Narihira

tsuki ya aranu
haru ya mukashi no
haru naranu
waga mi hitotsu wa
moto no mi ni shite


As I recall from kobun class, this was a fiendish poem to translate: possibly because I never got the the sense of those aranu/ naranu's straight. Is he saying 'it's not' or is he saying 'isn't it' or is he possibly saying both? Even the experts disagree. Here's Rexroth:

This is not the moon,
Nor is this the spring,
Of other springs,
And I alone
Am still the same

and Seidensticker:

The moon, the spring, are the moon and spring of old.
And only I remain as I was then.

and McCullough:

Is not the moon the same?
The spring
The spring of old?
Only this body of mine
Is the same body . . .

And here are many more. Worse than that poem of Wang Wei's about the shining moss and the voices heard.
Tags: japan, meme, verse

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