Poetry Corner – I Didn’t Win Light in a Windfall, Hayim Nahman Bialik

National Poet of Israel Hayim Nahman Bialik, 1873-1934

National Poet of Israel Hayim Nahman Bialik, 1873-1934
By writing in Hebrew, Bialik was influential in reviving the ancient language, now an official language of modern Israel, along with Arabic.

I didn’t win light in a windfall,
nor by deed of a father’s will.
I hewed my light from granite.
I quarried my heart.

In the mine of my heart a spark hides –
not large, but wholly my own.
Neither hired, nor borrowed, nor stolen –
my very own.

Sorrow wields huge hammer blows,
the rock of endurance cracks
blinding my eye with flashes
I catch in verse.

They fly from my lines to your breast
to vanish in kindled flame.
While I, with heart’s blood and marrow
pay the price of the blaze.

Poetry Corner – Pindar, 4th Olympian Ode

Chariot racing on a black-figure hydria from Attica, ca. 510 BC

Chariot racing on a black-figure hydria from Attica, ca. 510 BC photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen (Wikipedia)

The 5th-century BCE Greek poet Pindar is best known for his victory odes, written for champions of the Olympic and Pythian Games. As we are in the thick of our 2016 Olympic Games, I submit Pindar’s 4th Olympian victory ode, written for Psaumis of Camarina, chariot race winner in 452 BCE.

For Psaumis of Camarina
Charioteer of the thundercloud with untiring feet, highest Zeus!
Your Seasons, whirling to the embroidered notes of the lyre’s song,
sent me as a witness of the most lofty games.

When friends are successful, the noble immediately smile on the sweet announcement. Son of Cronus, you who hold Aetna, the wind-swept weight on terrible hundred-headed Typhon, receive, for the sake of the Graces, this Olympic victory-procession, this most enduring light of widely powerful excellence.

For the procession comes in honor of Psaumis’ chariot; Psaumis, who, crowned with the olive of Pisa, hurries to rouse glory for Camarina. May the god be gracious to his future prayers, since I praise a man who is most eager in the raising of horses, who rejoices in being hospitable to all guests, and whose pure thoughts are turned towards city-loving peace.

I will not stain my words with lies. Perseverance is what puts men to the test, and what saved the son of Clymenus from the contempt of the Lemnian women. He won the foot race in bronze armor, and said to Hypsipyle as he went to take the garland: “Such is my swiftness; and I have hands and heart to match. Even on young men gray hair often grows, even before the expected age.”

Poetry Corner – Rumi on Ramadan fasting

There’s hidden sweetness in the stomach’s emptiness.
We are lutes, no more, no less.

If the soundboxes stuffed full of anything, no music.
If the brain and belly are burning clean with fasting,
every moment a new song comes out of the fire.
The fog clears, and new energy makes you run
up the steps in front of you.
Be emptier and cry like reed instruments cry.

Emptier, write secrets with the reed pen.
When you’re full of food and drink,
Satan sits where your spirit should,
an ugly metal statue in place of the Kaaba.
When you fast, good habits gather
like friends who want to help.
Fasting is Solomon’s ring.

Don’t give into some illusion and lose your power,
but even if you have, if you’ve lost all will and control,
they come back when you fast,
like soldiers appearing out of the ground,
pennants flying above them.

A table descends to your tents, Jesus’ table.
Expect to see it, when you fast,
this tablespread with other food,
better than the broth of cabbages.

Rumi, Ghazal 1739 from Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Poetry Corner: the Song of Moses & Miriam

The Crossing of the Red Sea, Nicolas Poussin, 1634

The Crossing of the Red Sea, Nicolas Poussin, 1634

In honor of Passover, a song of praise from Exodus 15:1-19 ~

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord:

“I will sing to the Lord,
    for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
    he has hurled into the sea.

“The Lord is my strength and my defense;
    he has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
    my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a warrior;
    the Lord is his name.
Pharaoh’s chariots and his army
    he has hurled into the sea.
The best of Pharaoh’s officers
    are drowned in the Red Sea.
The deep waters have covered them;
    they sank to the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, Lord,
    was majestic in power.
Your right hand, Lord,
    shattered the enemy.

“In the greatness of your majesty
    you threw down those who opposed you.
You unleashed your burning anger;
    it consumed them like stubble.
By the blast of your nostrils
    the waters piled up.
The surging waters stood up like a wall;
    the deep waters congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy boasted,
    ‘I will pursue, I will overtake them.
I will divide the spoils;
    I will gorge myself on them.
I will draw my sword
    and my hand will destroy them.’
10 But you blew with your breath,
    and the sea covered them.
They sank like lead
    in the mighty waters.
11 Who among the gods
    is like you, Lord?
Who is like you—
    majestic in holiness,
awesome in glory,
    working wonders?

12 “You stretch out your right hand,
    and the earth swallows your enemies.
13 In your unfailing love you will lead
    the people you have redeemed.
In your strength you will guide them
    to your holy dwelling.
14 The nations will hear and tremble;
    anguish will grip the people of Philistia.
15 The chiefs of Edom will be terrified,
    the leaders of Moab will be seized with trembling,
the people of Canaan will melt away;
16  terror and dread will fall on them.
By the power of your arm
    they will be as still as a stone —
until your people pass by, Lord,
    until the people you bought pass by.
17 You will bring them in and plant them
    on the mountain of your inheritance —
the place, Lord, you made for your dwelling,
    the sanctuary, Lord, your hands established.

18 “The Lord reigns
    for ever and ever.”

19 When Pharaoh’s horses, chariots and horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought the waters of the sea back over them, but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground.

Exodus 15:1-19
New International Version

Poetry Corner: Sappho – EVENING & MOONLIGHT

The ancient Greek poet Sappho was born on the island of Lesbos around 620 BCE, probably to an aristocratic family. She was highly admired in antiquity and the library at Alexandria held nine volumes of her work. Only a fraction of her total body of work remains today, mostly in fragments.

EVENING
Children astray to their mothers, and goats to the herd,
Sheep to the shepherd, through twilight the wings of the bird,
All things that morning has scattered with fingers of gold,
All things thou bringest, O Evening! at last to the fold.

MOONLIGHT
The stars around the fair moon fade
Against the night,
When gazing full she fills the glade
And spreads the seas with silvery light.

Poetry Corner – Pindar, Wherefore, O Light of the Sun…

The Ancient Greek poet Pindar has been revered for his lyric verse pretty much continuously since his lifetime, in the 5th century BCE. He was a noble son of Thebes, a city in the Boeotia region on the eastern side of the Gulf of Corinth. Pindar is best known for his victory odes, written for champions of the Olympic and Pythian Games. We’ll revisit Pindar and his victory odes come Olympics season. In the meantime, please enjoy this fragment of a poem inspired by a solar eclipse, possibly that of April 30, 463 BCE:

Wherefore, O Light of the Sun, thou that seest all things and givest bounds unto the sight of mine eyes—wherefore O star supreme hast thou in the daytime hidden thyself, and made useless unto men the wings of their strength and the paths that wisdom findeth, and hastest along a way of darkness to bring on us some strange thing?

Now in the name of Zeus I pray unto thee, O holy Light, that by thy swift steeds thou turn this marvel in the sight of all men to be for the unimpaired good hap of Thebes.
Yet if the sign which thou showest us be of some war, or destruction of harvest, or an exceeding storm of snow, or ruinous civil strife, or emptying of the sea upon the earth, or freezing of the soil, or summer rains pouring in vehement flood, or whether thou wilt drown the earth and make anew another race of men, then will I suffer it amid the common woe of all…

 

 

Poetry Corner: Sappho – Summer

The ancient Greek poet Sappho was born on the island of Lesbos around 620 BCE, probably to an aristocratic family. She was highly admired in antiquity and the library at Alexandria held nine volumes of her work. Only a fraction of her total body of work remains today, mostly in fragments.

SUMMER
Slumber streams from quivering leaves that listless
Bask in heat and stillness of Lesbian summer;
Breathless swoons the air with the apple-blossoms’
Delicate odor;

From the shade of branches that droop and cover
Shallow trenches winding about the orchard,
Restful comes, and cool to the sense, the flowing
Murmur of water.

Reprinted from The Poems of Sappho: an Interpretative Rendition into English, translator: John Myers O’Hara