Translation

Anne Spencer - 1882-1975
We trekked into a far country,
My friend and I.
Our deeper content was never spoken,
But each knew all the other said.
He told me how calm his soul was laid
By the lack of anvil and strife.
"The wooing kestrel," I said, "mutes his mating-note
To please the harmony of this sweet silence."
And when at the day's end
We laid tired bodies 'gainst
The loose warm sands,
And the air fleeced its particles for a coverlet;
When star after star came out
To guard their lovers in oblivion—
My soul so leapt that my evening prayer
Stole my morning song!

More by Anne Spencer

Lines to a Nasturtium

        A lover muses 

Flame-flower, Day-torch, Mauna Loa,
I saw a daring bee, today, pause, and soar,
Into your flaming heart;
Then did I hear crisp crinkled laughter
As the furies after tore him apart?
A bird, next, small and humming,
Looked into your startled depths and fled...
Surely, some dread sight, and dafter
Than human eyes as mine can see,
Set the stricken air waves drumming
In his flight.

Day-torch, Flame-flower, cool-hot Beauty,
I cannot see, I cannot hear your fluty
Voice lure your loving swain,
But I know one other to whom you are in beauty
Born in vain;
Hair like the setting sun,
Her eyes a rising star,
Motions gracious as reeds by Babylon, bar
All your competing;
Hands like, how like, brown lilies sweet,
Cloth of gold were fair enough to touch her feet...
Ah, how the senses flood at my repeating,
As once in her fire-lit heart I felt the furies
Beating, beating.

The Wife-Woman

Maker-of-Sevens in the scheme of things
From earth to star;
Thy cycle holds whatever is fate, and
Over the border the bar.
Though rank and fierce the mariner
Sailing the seven seas,
He prays as he holds his glass to his eyes,
Coaxing the Pleiades.

I cannot love them; and I feel your glad,
Chiding from the grave,
That my all was only worth at all, what
Joy to you it gave,
These seven links the Law compelled
For the human chain—
I cannot love them; and you, oh,
Seven-fold months in Flanders slain!

A jungle there, a cave here, bred six
And a million years.
Sure and strong, mate for mate, such
Love as culture fears;
I gave you clear the oil and wine;
You saved me your hob and hearth—
See how even life may be ere the
Sickle comes and leaves a swath.

But I can wait the seven of moons,
Or years I spare,
Hoarding the heart's plenty, nor spend
A drop, nor share—
So long but outlives a smile and
A silken gown;
Then gaily I reach up from my shroud,
And you, glory-clad, reach down.

Before the Feast of Shushan

Garden of Shushan!
After Eden, all terrace, pool, and flower recollect thee:
Ye weavers in saffron and haze and Tyrian purple,
Tell yet what range in color wakes the eye;
Sorcerer, release the dreams born here when
Drowsy, shifting palm-shade enspells the brain;
And sound! ye with harp and flute ne'er essay
Before these star-noted birds escaped from paradise awhile to
Stir all dark, and dear, and passionate desire, till mine
Arms go out to be mocked by the softly kissing body of the wind—
Slave, send Vashti to her King!

The fiery wattles of the sun startle into flame
The marbled towers of Shushan:
So at each day's wane, two peers—the one in
Heaven, the other on earth—welcome with their
Splendor the peerless beauty of the Queen.

Cushioned at the Queen's feet and upon her knee
Finding glory for mine head,—still, nearly shamed
Am I, the King, to bend and kiss with sharp
Breath the olive-pink of sandaled toes between;
Or lift me high to the magnet of a gaze, dusky,
Like the pool when but the moon-ray strikes to its depth;
Or closer press to crush a grape 'gainst lips redder
Than the grape, a rose in the night of her hair;
Then—Sharon's Rose in my arms.

And I am hard to force the petals wide;
And you are fast to suffer and be sad.
Is any prophet come to teach a new thing
Now in a more apt time?
Have him 'maze how you say love is sacrament;
How says Vashti, love is both bread and wine;
How to the altar may not come to break and drink,
Hulky flesh nor fleshly spirit!

I, thy lord, like not manna for meat as a Judahn;
I, thy master, drink, and red wine, plenty, and when
I thirst. Eat meat, and full, when I hunger.
I, thy King, teach you and leave you, when I list.
No woman in all Persia sets out strange action
To confuse Persia's lord—
Love is but desire and thy purpose fulfillment;
I, thy King, so say!

Related Poems

On Translation

Not to search for meaning, but to reedify a gesture, an intent.

As a translator, one grows attached to originals. Seldom are choices 
   so purposeful.

At midday, the translator meets with the poet at a café at the intersection 
   where for decades whores and cross-dressers have lined up at 
   night for passers-by to peruse.  

Not a monologue, but an implied conversation. The translator's 
   response is delayed. 

The translator asks, the poet answers unrestrictedly. Someone 
   watches the hand movements that punctuate the flow of an 
   incomprehensible dialogue.

They're speaking about the poet's disillusionment with Freud. 

One after another, vivid descriptions of the poet's dreams begin to 
   pour out of his mouth. There's no signal of irony in his voice. 
   Nor a hint of astonishment, nor a suggestion of hidden meanings,
   rather a belief in the detritus theory.

"Se me aparece un gato fosforescente. Lo sostengo en mis brazos 
   sabiendo que no volveré a ser el mismo." 

"Estoy en una fiesta. De pronto veo que el diablo está sentado frente 
   a mí. Viste de negro, lleva una barba puntiaguda y un tridente en 
   la mano izquierda. Es tan amable que nadie se da cuenta de que 
   no es un invitado como los otros." 

"Anuncian en el radio que Octavio Paz leerá su poema más reciente:
   'Vaca . . . vaca . . . vaca . . . vaca . . . vaca . . . vaca . . . vaca . . .'"

"Entro a un laboratorio y percibo aromas inusitados. Aún los recuerdo." 


The translator knows that nothing the poet has ever said or written 
   reveals as much about him as the expression on his face when he 
   was asked to pose for a picture. He greets posterity with a devilish 
   grin. To the translator's delight, he's forced to repeat the gesture at 
   least three or four times. The camera has no film.