Then a ploughman said, Speak to us of Work. And he answered, saying: You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth. For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons, and to step out of life’s procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite. When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music. Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison? Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune. But I say to you that when you work you fulfil a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when the dream was born, And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life, And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret. But if you in your pain call birth an affliction and the support of the flesh a curse written upon your brow, then I answer that naught but the sweat of your brow shall wash away that which is written. You have been told also that life is darkness, and in your weariness you echo what was said by the weary. And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge, And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge, And all knowledge is vain save when there is work, And all work is empty save when there is love; And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God. And what is it to work with love? It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth. It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house. It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit. It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit, And to know that all the blessed dead are standing about you and watching. Often have I heard you say, as if speaking in sleep, “He who works in marble, and finds the shape of his own soul in the stone, is nobler than he who ploughs the soil. And he who seizes the rainbow to lay it on a cloth in the likeness of man, is more than he who makes the sandals for our feet.” But I say, not in sleep but in the overwakefulness of noontide, that the wind speaks not more sweetly to the giant oaks than to the least of all the blades of grass; And he alone is great who turns the voice of the wind into a song made sweeter by his own loving. Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy. For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger. And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine. And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.
From The Prophet (Knopf, 1923). This poem is in the public domain.
translated from the Spanish by Thomas Walsh and Salomón de la Selva
In the pale afternoon the clouds go by
Aimlessly roving in the quiet sky.
His head between his hands, the dreamer weaves
His dream of clouds and Autumn-colored leaves.
Ah, his intimate sorrow, his long sighs,
And the glad radiance that has dimmed his eyes!
And all the tender glances, the blond tresses,
The rose hands over-brimming with caresses,
The sudden faces smiling everywhere
In the gold-dusted curtains of the air!
In the pale afternoon
A friendly faerie maiden comes to me
And tells me tales of many a secret thing
Fraught with the spell and music of the moon,
And I have learned what wonder the birds sing,
And what the breezes bring over the sea,
All that lies hidden in the mist or gleams,
A floating presence, in a young girl’s dreams.
And once the thirst of infinite desire
Possessed me like a fever, and I said,
“I want to feel all radiance, fragrance, fire
And joy of life within me, to inspire
My soul forever!” And the faerie maid
Called me to follow her, and when she spoke
It was as if a harp to the soft stroke
Of loving hands had wakened suddenly:
She syllabled hope’s language, calling me.
Oh, thirst for the ideal! From the height
Of a great mountain forested with night
She showed me all the stars and told their names;
It was a golden garden wherein grows
The fleur-de-lys of heaven, leaved with flames.
And I cried, “More!” and then the dawn arose.
The dawn came blushing; on her forehead beamed
Delicate splendor, and to me it seemed
A girl that, opening her casement, sees
Her lover watching her, and with surprise
Reddens but cannot hide her from his eyes.
And I cried, “More!” The faerie maiden smiled
And called the flowers, and the flowers were
Lovely and fresh and moist with essences,—
The virgin rose that in the woods grows wild,
The gentle lily tall and shy and fair,
The daisy glad and timid as a child,
Poppies and marigolds, and all the rare
Blossoms that freight with dreams the evening air.
But I cried, “More!” And then the winds brushed by
Bearing the laughter of the world, the cry
Of all glad lovers in the woods of Spring,
And echoes, and all pleasant murmuring
Of rustling leaf or southward-flying bird,
Unworded songs and musics never heard.
The faerie maiden, smiling, led me where
The sky is stretched over the world, above
Our heights and depths of hoping and despair,
Beyond the reach of singing and of love.
And then she tore the veil. And I saw there
That all was dawn. And in the deeps there beamed
A woman’s Face radiant exceedingly.—
Ah, never, Muses, never could ye say
The holy joyance that enkindled me!—
“More? . . .” said the faerie in her laughing way;
But I saw the Face only. And I dreamed.
Eros, Vita, Lumen
En las pálidas tardes
yerran nubes tranquilas
en el azul; en las ardientes manos
se posan las cabezas pensativas.
¡Ah los suspiros! ¡Ah los dulces sueños!
¡Ah las tristezas íntimas!
¡Ah el polvo de oro que en el aire flota,
tras cuyas ondas trémulas se miran
los ojos tiernos y húmedos,
las bocas inundadas de sonrisas,
las crespas cabelleras
y los dedos de rosa que acarician!
En las pálidas tardes
me cuenta un hada amiga
las historias secretas
llenas de poesía;
lo que cantan los pájaros,
lo que llevan las brisas,
lo que vaga en las nieblas,
lo que sueñan las niñas.
Una vez sentí el ansia
de una sed infinita.
Dije al hada amorosa:
—Quiero en el alma mía
tener la inspiración honda, profunda,
inmensa: luz, calor, aroma, vida.
Ella me dijo:—¡Ven! con el acento
con que hablaría un arpa. En él había
un divino aroma de esperanza.
¡Oh sed del ideal!
Sobre la cima
de un monté, á media noche,
me mostró las estrellas encendidas.
Era un jardín de oro
con pétalos de llama que titilan.
Exclamé:—Más . . .
vino después. La aurora sonreía,
con la luz en la frente,
como la joven tímida
que abre la reja, y la sorprenden luego
ciertas curiosas, mágicas pupilas.
Y dije:—Más . . . sonriendo
la celeste hada amiga
prorrumpió:—¡Y bien! ¡Las flores!
Y las flores
estaban frescas, lindas,
empapadas de olor: la rosa virgen,
la blanca margarita,
la azucena gentil y las volúbiles
que cuelgan de la rama estremecida.
Y dije:—Más . . .
arrastraba rumores, ecos, risas,
murmullos misteriosos, aleteos,
músicas nunca oídas.
El hada entonces me llevó hasta el velo
que nos cubre las ansias infinitas,
la inspiración profunda
y el alma de las liras.
Y los rasgó. Y allí todo era aurora.
En el fondo se vía
un bello rostro de mujer.
Piérides, diréis las sacras dichas
que en el alma sintiera!
Con su vaga sonrisa:—
—¿Más? . . .—dijo el hada.—Y yo tenía entonces,
clavadas las pupilas
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on October 1, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
O’Driscoll drove with a song,
The wild duck and the drake,
From the tall and the tufted weeds
Of the drear Hart Lake.
And he saw how the weeds grew dark
At the coming of night tide,
And he dreamed of the long dim hair
Of Bridget his bride.
He heard while he sang and dreamed
A piper piping away,
And never was piping so sad,
And never was piping so gay.
And he saw young men and young girls
Who danced on a level place
And Bridget his bride among them,
With a sad and a gay face.
The dancers crowded about him,
And many a sweet thing said,
And a young man brought him red wine
And a young girl white bread.
But Bridget drew him by the sleeve,
Away from the merry bands,
To old men playing at cards
With a twinkling of ancient hands.
The bread and the wine had a doom,
For these were the host of the air;
He sat and played in a dream
Of her long dim hair.
He played with the merry old men,
And thought not of evil chance,
Until one bore Bridget his bride
Away from the merry dance.
He bore her away in his arms,
The handsomest young man there,
And his neck and his breast and his arms
Were drowned in her long dim hair.
O’Driscoll scattered the cards
And out of his dream awoke:
Old men and young men and young girls
Were gone like drifting smoke;
But he heard high up in the air
A piper piping away,
And never was piping so sad,
And never was piping so gay.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on October 21, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
translated from the Spanish by William George Williams
When I met her I loved myself.
It was she who had my best singing,
she who set flame to my obscure youth,
she who raised my eyes toward heaven.
Her love moistened me, it was an essence.
I folded my heart like a handkerchief
and after I turned the key on my existence.
And thus it perfumes my soul
with a distant and subtle poetry.
Mi vida es un recuerdo
Cuando la conocí me amé á mí mismo.
Fué la que tuvo mi mejor lirismo,
la que encendió mi obscura adolescencia,
la que mis ojos levantó hacia el cielo.
Me humedeció su amor, que era una esencia,
doblé mi corazón como un pañuelo
y después le eché llave á mi existencia.
Y por eso perfuma el alma mía
con lejana y diluida poesía.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on October 9, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
I am the Dark Cavalier; I am the Last Lover:
My arms shall welcome you when other arms are tired;
I stand to wait for you, patient in the darkness,
Offering forgetfulness of all that you desired.
I ask no merriment, no pretense of gladness,
I can love heavy lids and lips without their rose;
Though you are sorrowful you will not weary me;
I will not go from you when all the tired world goes.
I am the Dark Cavalier; I am the Last Lover;
I promise faithfulness no other lips may keep;
Safe in my bridal place, comforted by darkness,
You shall lie happily, smiling in your sleep.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on December 9, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
One Year ago—jots what?
God—spell the word! I—can’t—
Was’t Grace? Not that—
Was’t Glory? That—will do—
Such Anniversary shall be—
Sometimes—not often—in Eternity—
When farther Parted, than the Common Woe—
Look—feed upon each other’s faces—so—
In doubtful meal, if it be possible
Their Banquet’s true—
I did not know the Wine
Came once a World—Did you?
Oh, had you told me so—
This Thirst would blister—easier—now—
You said it hurt you—most—
Mine—was an Acorn’s Breast—
And could not know how fondness grew
In Shaggier Vest—
But, had you looked in—
A Giant—eye to eye with you, had been—
So—Twelve months ago—
Then dropped the Air—
Which bore it best?
Was this—the patientest—
Because it was a Child, you know—
And could not value—Air?
If to be “Elder”—mean most pain—
I’m old enough, today, I’m certain—then—
As old as thee—how soon?
One—Birthday more—or Ten?
Ah, Sir, None!
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on December 31, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.