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Common Knowledge 13.1 (2007) 131-141

To Sea Again, Dear Ship
Ten Poems in Five Languages
Translations by Jim Powell

Old Ironsides

New storms will drive you out to sea again,
dear ship—what are you doing? Valiantly take
shelter in port. Or don't you see
your bulwarks stripped of oars,

the damaged mast? A gale from Africa
is groaning in the yardarms, and with no cables
your hull can't hold out long against
so imperious

a tempest. Your mainsail is not whole, your idols
drowned: no gods now to invoke again in danger.
Though you stem from Pontic pine,
a noble forest's daughter, [End Page 131]

and boast your lineage and useless name,
a wary navigator does not trust
in gilded sterns. If you don't owe
the winds a plaything, beware.

Lately you were a worry and a bore,
now my beloved, my uneasy care,
avoid voyages among
the gleaming Cyclades.

—Horace, Odes I.14 (O navis referent in mare) [End Page 132]

Night of the Comet

Outside, look, on the table, that sunflower
dry by now, left for days,
crowned with a dandelion halo glowing
starlike by moonlight, rays beaming rays,
caught in the heart

of the flower, its huge myriad insect eye
honeycomb of a thousand cells
plundered by birds. Gone now the sunny pride,
it lies here in its leaves, wilted,
dry as the skin

of the old man sitting this morning in the shade,
head on his hand,
elbow perched at the table's precipice
to support a sleep so deep
not even the sun,

encroaching, wakes him—him that lived ten thousand
days in the glaring fields.
Now in bed, I imagine, with his eyes wide open
he asks himself what is it all for,
motionless as the hills

tonight in silent tribute to the comet
taking its leave without ever
turning its back on the last glow of sunset,
the dazzle of that inescapable
blinding appointment.

—Carlo Anceschi, "Notte della Cometa," translated in collaboration with the author [End Page 133]

To Leuconoë

Do not inquire—the knowledge is forbidden—what the gods decree
my end, what yours, Leuconoë, or try out Babylonian
horoscopes. How much better, whatever happens, to endure it
whether Jupiter allots more winters or this is the last
that now wears down the sea against the pumice shingle
of Tuscany. Be sensible, decant the wine: in a tight place
prune back long hope. While we talk the time begrudged
already will have fled. Pluck the day. Trust nothing to tomorrow.

—Horace, Odes I.11 (Tu ne quaesieris) [End Page 134]

Spanish Song

The furtive swallows will return
to hang their nests beneath your balcony
and again their flutter at your windowpane
will call you to their play
but those that paused in flight and stayed
to contemplate your beauty and my luck
ah, those that learned our names
ah, they will not return.

The honeysuckle will return
with swelling shoots to climb your garden wall
and again at evening still more beautiful
its flowers will unfold
but those petals pearled with dew
whose droplets we watched shudder
and fall like tears of sunlight,
those, my lady, those will not return.

And to your ears there will return
the sound of words of burning love,
your heart now deep in sleep
perhaps will waken,
but mute, engrossed and kneeling
as you adore Our Lord before His altar
so have I loved you, and don't cheat yourself,
like this, dearest, they will not burn.

—Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, untitled poem beginning Volverán las oscuras golondrinas (text from a nineteenth-century California songbook) [End Page 135]

Paris I.

Half-breed bastard Creole-Breton,
He went to Paris, too, that anthill
Bazaar where nothing's built to last
But plain sunshine lacks class.

Watch out! Here, form a line . . . A cop
Shoves you into the barricade—Stop!—
. . . Fire's out. No more light.
Buckets pass, empty and otherwise.

There, his poor broke virgin Muse
Walked the streets like a fine young...


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