Free as a bird and joyfully my heart
Soared up among the rigging, in and out;
Under a cloudless sky the ship rolled on
Like an angel drunk with brilliant sun.

"That dark, grim island there—which would that be?"
"Cythera," we're told, "the legendary isle
Old bachelors tell stories of and smile.
There's really not much to it, you can see."

O place of many a mystic sacrament!
Archaic Aphrodite's splendid shade
Lingers above your waters like a scent
Infusing spirits with an amorous mood.

Worshipped from of old by every nation,
Myrtle-green isle, where each new bud discloses
Sighs of souls in loving adoration
Breathing like incense from a bank of roses

Or like a dove roo-cooing endlessly . . . 
No; Cythera was a poor infertile rock,
A stony desert harrowed by the shriek
Of gulls. And yet there was something to see:

This was no temple deep in flowers and trees
With a young priestess moving to and fro,
Her body heated by a secret glow,
Her robe half-opening to every breeze;

But coasting nearer, close enough to land
To scatter flocks of birds as we passed by,
We saw a tall cypress-shaped thing at hand—
A triple gibbet black against the sky.

Ferocious birds, each perched on its own meal,
Were madly tearing at the thing that hung
And ripened; each, its filthy beak a drill,
Made little bleeding holes to root among.

The eyes were hollowed. Heavy guts cascading
Flowed like water halfway down the thighs;
The torturers, though gorged on these vile joys,
Had also put their beaks to use castrating

The corpse. A pack of dogs beneath its feet,
Their muzzles lifted, whirled and snapped and gnawed;
One bigger beast amidst this jealous lot
Looked like an executioner with his guard.

O Cytherean, child of this fair clime,
Silently you suffered these attacks,
Paying the penalty for whatever acts
Of infamy had kept you from a tomb.

Grotesquely dangling, somehow you brought on—
Violent as vomit rising from the chest,
Strong as a river bilious to taste—
A flow of sufferings I'd thought long gone.

Confronted with such dear remembered freight,
Poor devil, now it was my turn to feel
A panther's slavering jaws, a beak's cruel drill—
Once it was my flesh they loved to eat.

The sky was lovely, and the sea divine,
but something thick and binding like a shroud
Wrapped my heart in layers of black and blood;
Henceforth this allegory would be mine.

O Venus! On your isle what did I see
But my own image on the gallows tree?
O God, give me the strength to contemplate
My own heart, my own body without hate!

Written by Charles Baudelaire and translated by Rachel Hadas. Published in Other Worlds Than This by Rutgers University Press. © 1994 by Rachel Hadas. Originally appeared in Tennessee Quarterly (1994). Used with permission. All rights reserved.

When you go to sleep, my gloomy beauty, below a black marble monument, when from alcove and manor you are reduced to damp vault and hollow grave;

     when the stone—pressing on your timorous chest and sides already lulled by a charmed indifference—halts your heart from beating, from willing, your feet from their bold adventuring,

     then the tomb, confidant to my infinite dream (since the tomb understands the poet always), through those long nights in which slumber is banished,

     will say to you: “What does it profit you, imperfect courtesan, not to have known what the dead weep for?” —And the worm will gnaw at your hide like remorse.

Keith Waldrop, “Posthumous Remorse,” The Flowers of Evil, copyright © 2006 by Keith Waldrop. Published by Wesleyan University Press. Used by permission.

Take it easy, Sadness. Settle down.
You asked for evening. Now, it’s come. It’s here.
A choking fog has blanketed the town,
infecting some with calm, the rest with fear.

While the squalid throng of mortals feels the sting
of heartless pleasure swinging its barbed knout
and finds remorse in slavish partying,
take my hand, Sorrow. I will lead you out,

away from them. Look as the dead years lurch,
in tattered clothes, from heaven’s balconies.
From the depths, regret emerges with a grin.

The spent sun passes out beneath an arch,
and, shroudlike, stretched from the antipodes,
—hear it, O hear, love!—soft night marches in.

*

Recueillement


Sois sage, ô ma Douleur, et tiens-toi plus tranquille.
Tu réclamais le Soir; il descend; le voici:
Une atmosphère obscure enveloppe la ville,
Aux uns portant la paix, aux autres le souci.

Pendant que des mortels la multitude vile,
Sous le fouet du Plaisir, ce bourreau sans merci,
Va cueillir des remords dans la fête servile,
Ma Douleur, donne-moi la main; viens par ici,

Loin d'eux. Vois se pencher les défuntes Années,
Sur les balcons du ciel, en robes surannées;
Surgir du fond des eaux le Regret souriant;

Le soleil moribond s'endormir sous une arche,
Et, comme un long linceul traînant à l'Orient,
Entends, ma chère, entends la douce Nuit qui marche.

This poem is in the public domain. Translation copyright © 2017 by David Yezzi. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 12, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

A Triple Roundel


I. Captivity

Your yën two wol sle me sodenly,
I may the beaute of hem not sustene,
So woundeth hit through-out my herte kene.

And but your word wol helen hastily
My hertes wounde, whyl that hit is grene,
     Your yën two wol sle me sodenly; 
     may the beaute of hem not sustene.

Upon my trouthe I sey yow feithfully,
That ye ben of my lyf and deth the quene;
For with my deth the trouthe shal be sene.
     Your yën two wol sle me sodenly,
     I may the beaute of hem not sustene,
     So woundeth hit through-out my herte kene.



II. Rejection. 

So hath your beaute fro your herte chaced
Pitee, that me ne availeth not to pleyne;
For Daunger halt your mercy in his cheyne.

Giltles my deth thus han ye me purchaced;
I sey yow soth, me nedeth not to feyne;
     So hath your beaute fro your herle chaced
     Pilee, that me ne availeth not to pleyne

Allas! that nature hath in yow compassed
So gret beaute, that no man may atteyne
To mercy, though he sterve for the peyne.
     So hath your beaute fro your herte chaced
     Pitee, that me ne availeth not to pleyne;
     For daunger halt your mercy in his cheyne.



III. Escape. 

Sin I fro love escaped am so fat,
I never thenk to ben in his prison lene;
Sin I am fre, I counte him not a bene.

He may answere, and seye this or that;
I do no fors, I speke right as I mene.
     Sin I fro love escaped am so fat,
     I never thenk to ben in his prison lene.

Love hath my name y-strike out of his sclat,
And he is strike out of my bokes clene
For ever-mo; [ther] is non other mene.
     Sin I fro love escaped am so fat,
     I never thenk to ben in his prison lene;
     Sin I am fre, I counte him not a bene.
               Explicit.

This poem is in the public domain.

I touch you as a lonely violin touches the suburbs of the faraway place 
patiently the river asks for its share of the drizzle 
and, bit by bit, a tomorrow passing in poems approaches 
so I carry faraway’s land and it carries me on travel’s road 

On a mare made of your virtues, my soul weaves 
a natural sky made of your shadows, one chrysalis at a time. 
I am the son of what you do in the earth, son of my wounds 
that have lit up the pomegranate blossoms in your closed-up gardens 

Out of jasmine the night’s blood streams white. Your perfume, 
my weakness and your secret, follows me like a snakebite. And your hair 
is a tent of wind autumn in color. I walk along with speech 
to the last of the words a bedouin told a pair of doves
 
I palpate you as a violin palpates the silk of the faraway time 
and around me and you sprouts the grass of an ancient place—anew 

From The Butterfly’s Burden (2007) by Mahmoud Darwish, translated by Fady Joudah, published by Copper Canyon Press. Copyright © 2007 by Mahmoud Darwish. Translation and preface copyright © 2007 by Fady Joudah. Used with permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.

I didn't apologize to the well when I passed the well, 
I borrowed from the ancient pine tree a cloud 
and squeezed it like an orange, then waited for a gazelle 
white and legendary. And I ordered my heart to be patient: 
Be neutral as if you were not of me! Right here 
the kind shepherds stood on air and evolved 
their flutes, then persuaded the mountain quail toward 
the snare. And right here I saddled a horse for flying toward 
my planets, then flew. And right here the priestess 
told me: Beware of the asphalt road and the cars 
and walk upon your exhalation. Right here 
I slackened my shadow and waited, I picked the tiniest 
rock and stayed up late. I broke the myth and I broke. 
And I circled the well until I flew from myself 
to what isn't of it. A deep voice shouted at me: 
This grave isn't your grave. So I apologized. 
I read verses from the wise holy book, and said 
to the unknown one in the well: Salaam upon you the day 
you were killed in the land of peace, and the day you rise 
from the darkness of the well alive! 

From The Butterfly's Burden (2007) by Mahmoud Darwish, translated by Fady Joudah, published by Copper Canyon Press. Copyright © 2007 by Mahmoud Darwish. Translation and preface copyright © 2007 by Fady Joudah. Used with permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.

For the longest time, the only memories I had
of that year were of Little Billy from the third floor, floating
dead in the pool & how angry the rest of the tenants were
when they drained & filled it with cement
& how that summer, the unbearable heat dragged its endless skin
across our bones—memory is the funniest character in this story:
when I think of that year, no one has a face—the first memory
I had of being molested did not come until nine years later.
At first I thought it was a dream, a movie, white noise
summoning a narrative through the static—if it’s true
what they say about memory being a series of rooms
then behind some locked door: a wicked apothecary: her fingers
trapped in jars, her hair growing like wild vines along the walls.
Somewhere in this story I am nine years old
filling the loud hollows with cement to drown out the ghost.
They say, give us details, so I give them my body.
They say, give us proof, so I give them my body.
If you cut me open, if you dissect me, you will pull from me:
a pair of handprints, a nine-year-old boy, fossilized.

From Not Here (Coffee House Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Hieu Minh Nguyen. Used with the permission of Coffee House Press.