(Originally read as A Strange Race of Critters.)
Antiphanes, ancient Greece, 388-311 BCE.
A strange race of critics,
They perform autopsies on
The poetry of the dead.
They chew through thorns.
No poet’s too dull
For them to elucidate, these who defile
The bones of the great.
Callimachus attacked them like a dog.
Out! Into the long darkness.
Perpetual beginner, little gnat—
It is a poet you distract.
By Ho Nansorhon, Korea (1563-1589).
The candlelight shines low on the dark window,
Fireflies flit across the housetops.
As the night grows colder,
I hear autumn leaves rustle to the ground.
There’s been no news for some time from your place of exile.
Because of you,
My mind is never free of worry.
Thinking of a distant temple,
I see a deserted hillside
Filled with the radiance of the moon.
By Friedrich Georg Junger (1898-1977), originally in German.
Like vapor, the titanic scheme
Everything grows rusty now
That they created.
They hoped to make their craze
The lasting Plan,
Now it falls apart everywhere,
Sheet steel and span.
Raw chaos lies heaped up
On wide display.
Be patient. Even the fag-ends
Will crumble away.
Everything they made contained
What brought their fall
And the great burden they were
Crushes them all.
Anonymous, First Century CE in India.
Who can see their lovers
But without him
Sleep won’t come
So who can dream?
Anonymous Vietnamese, 16th century.
My rod is made of fine bamboo
My hook is made of gold.
For bait I use some flashing gems,
Then cast my line in the dragon’s mouth.
Some people fish in rivers and seas,
But I’m after girls of established families.
If you’re already married, let go of my bait.
If not, bite, and I’ll try to land you.
Palladas (c. 360-430) may have lived over 1500 years ago but was already exasperated by the women in his life.
But can be nice
To be precise
A selection from a much longer work, written in Irish Gaelic, around 700 CE.
From the chapter Combat of Ferdia and Cuchulainn.
Ferdia of the hosts
And the hard blows, beloved
Golden brooch, I mourn
Your conquering arm
And our fostering together,
A sight to please a prince;
Your gold-rimmed shield,
Your slender sword.
The ring of bright silver
On your fine hand,
Your skill at chess,
Your flushed, sweet cheek.
Your curled yellow hair
Live a great lovely jewel,
The soft leaf-shaped belt
That you wore at your waist.
You have fallen to the Hound
I cry for it, little calf.
The shield didn’t save you
That you brought to the fray.
Shameful was our struggle,
The uproar and grief!
O fair, fine hero
Who shattered armies
And crushed them underfoot
Golden brooch, I mourn.
A cheeky little ditty from two thousand years ago in India. Nice to know some things remain the same.
The newly wed girl, pregnant already,
asked what she liked about the honeymoon,
cast a glance at her husband,
but not at his face.
Full title: On Parting with the Buddhist Pilgrim Ling-Ch’e.
By Liu Ch’ang-ch’ing, eight century China.
From the temple, deep in its tender bamboos,
Comes the low sound of an evening bell,
While the hat of a pilgrim carries the sunset
Farther and farther down the green mountain.
By Kuan Hsiu, ninth or tenth century China.
A mountain’s a palace
For all things crystalline and pure:
There’s not a speck of dust
On a single one of all these flowers.
When we start chanting poems like madmen
It sets all the peaks to dancing.
And once we’ve put the brush to work
Even the sky becomes mere ornament.
For you and me the joy’s in the doing
And I’m damned if I care about “talent.”
But if, my friend, from time to time
You hear sounds like ghostly laughter. . .
It’s all the great mad poets, dead,
And just dropping in for a listen.