Razors – Brief Poems by Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker (1893 – 1967) was an American poet, short story writer, critic, and satirist, best known for her wit and her wisecracks, a reputation she deplored. On August 22, 1893, she was born to J. Henry and Elizabeth Rothschild, at their summer home in West End, New Jersey. Growing up on Manhattan, hers was an unhappy  childhood.  Both her mother and step-mother died when she was young; an uncle went down on the Titanic in 1912; and her father died the following year. Dorothy first attended a Catholic grammar school, then a finishing school in Morristown, New Jersey. Her formal education abruptly ended when she was 14.

In 1914, she sold her first poem to Vanity Fair. At age 22, she took an editorial job at Vogue. She continued to write poems for newspapers and magazines, and in 1917 she joined Vanity Fair, taking over from P.G. Wodehouse as drama critic. That year she married a stockbroker, Edwin P. Parker. But the marriage was tempestuous, and the couple divorced in 1928.

She was a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table, an informal gathering of writers who lunched at the Algonquin Hotel. These writers included Robert Benchley, Harpo Marx, George S Kaufman, and Edna Ferber, and they were  known for their scathing wit and intellectual commentary. When the New Yorker was first produced in 1925, Parker was listed on the editorial board. Over the years, she contributed poetry, fiction and book reviews as the “Constant Reader.” Her first collection of poetry, Enough Rope, was published in 1926, and was a bestseller. One reviewer  described her verse as “caked with a salty humor, rough with splinters of disillusion, and tarred with a bright black authenticity”. Two subsequent collections were Sunset Gun (1928) and Death and Taxes (1931). Despite her success, she suffered from depression and alcoholism and attempted suicide.

In 1934, Parker married actor-writer Alan Campbell in New Mexico.  Later they moved to Los Angeles and became a highly paid and successful screenwriting team. They divorced in 1947, and remarried in 1950. Her successes in film, including two Academy Award nominations (one for A Star Is Born in 1937) ended when her involvement in left-wing politics led to a place on the Hollywood blacklist. Parker, who was a life-long socialist, was called before the House on Un-American Activities in 1955. She pleaded the Fifth Amendment. She was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1959 and was a visiting professor at California State College in Los Angeles in 1963. That same year, her husband died of an overdose. On June 6, 1967, Dorothy Parker was found dead of a heart attack in a New York City hotel aged 73. A firm believer in civil rights, she bequeathed her literary estate to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Her ashes remained unclaimed in various places, including her lawyer’s filing cabinet, for almost 17 years.

 

THE RAZOR-SHARP WIT OF DOROTHY PARKER

I have called this post “Razors”, not only because it is the first word of my favourite Parker poem, Resumé, a poem I have included despite it exceeding the length of  a tweet, but also because it acknowledges the cut-throat sharpness of her wit and her social and literary wisdom. John Hollander recognises as much: Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) had a fine ear as well as a sharp tongue, and a good sense of timing and what in musical theater is called “build”–the timing and phrasing of a routine to allow a punch line to work. And her best verse is indeed set up for those punch lines. Initially I was inclined to select the best of her brief epigrammatic quatrains but, as even many of her lesser poems have a blunted but still cutting sharpness, I decided to spread the net wide and draw in a larger shoal. This may be light verse but, as Hollander notes, We are today in a literary age of what jazz musicians used to call a tin ear, and there is less light verse written, and less capacity, probably, to appreciate it than ever before. Much that is attempted results in appallingly inept doggerel whose defects seem unnoticed. There may be defects in some of the poems printed below but they are neither inept nor doggerel. And they have a cutting edge.

 

Brief Poems by Dorothy Parker

Alexandre Dumas and his Son

Although I work, and seldom cease,
At Dumas pere and Dumas fils,
Alas, I cannot make me care
For Dumas fils and Dumas pere.

***

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Should Heaven send me any son,
I hope he’s not like Tennyson.

I’d rather have him play a fiddle
Than rise and bow and speak an idyll.

***

Anecdote

So silent I when Love was by
He yawned, and turned away;
But Sorrow clings to my apron-strings,
I have so much to say.

***

Autobiography

Oh, both my shoes are shiny new,
And pristine is my hat;
My dress is 1922….
My life is all like that.

***

Charles Dickens

Who call him spurious and shoddy
Shall do it o’er my lifeless body.
I heartily invite such birds
To come outside and say those words!

 

Cherry White

I never see that prettiest thing-
A cherry bough gone white with Spring-
But what I think, “How gay ‘twould be
To hang me from a flowering tree.”

***

Comment

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Roumania.

***

D. G. Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Buried all of his libretti,
Thought the matter over – then
Went and dug them up again.

***

De Profundis

Oh, is it, then, Utopian
To hope that I may meet a man
Who’ll not relate, in accents suave,
The tales of girls he used to have?

***

Experience

Some men break your heart in two,
Some men fawn and flatter,
Some men never look at you;
And that cleans up the matter.

***

Faute De Mieux

Travel, trouble, music, art,
A kiss, a frock, a rhyme-
I never said they feed my heart,
But still they pass my time.

 

For a Sad Lady

And let her loves, when she is dead,
Write this above her bones:
“No more she lives to give us bread
Who asked her only stones.”

***

George Gissing

When I admit neglect of Gissing,
They say I don’t know what I’m missing.

Until their arguments are subtler,
I think I’ll stick to Samuel Butler.

***

George Sand

What time the gifted lady took
Away from paper, pen, and book,
She spent in amorous dalliance
(They do those things so well in France).

***

Godspeed

Oh, seek, my love, your newer way;
I’ll not be left in sorrow.

So long as I have yesterday,
Go take your damned tomorrow!

***

Harriet Beecher Stowe

The pure and worthy Mrs. Stowe
Is one we all are proud to know
As mother, wife, and authoress-
Thank God, I am content with less!

***

I wish I could drink like a lady

I wish I could drink like a lady;
I can take one or two at the most:
Three and I’m under the table,
Four and I’m under the host.

***

News Item

Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses.

***

Ornithology for Beginners

The bird that feeds from off my palm
Is sleek, affectionate, and calm,
But double, to me, is worth the thrush
A-flickering in the elder-bush.

Oscar Wilde

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

***

Partial Comfort

Whose love is given over-well
Shall look on Helen’s face in hell,
Whilst those whose love is thin and wise
May view John Knox in Paradise.

***

Philosophy

If I should labor through daylight and dark,
Consecrate, valorous, serious, true,
Then on the world I may blazon my mark;
And what if I don’t, and what if I do?

***

Post-Graduate

Hope it was that tutored me,
And Love that taught me more;
And now I learn at Sorrow’s knee
The self-same lore.

***

Prisoner

Long I fought the driving lists,
Plume a-stream and armor clanging;
Link on link, between my wrists,
Now my heavy freedom’s hanging.

***

Prophetic Soul

Because your eyes are slant and slow,
Because your hair is sweet to touch,
My heart is high again; but oh,
I doubt if this will get me much.

 

Resumé

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

***

Rhyme against Living

If wild my breast and sore my pride,
I bask in dreams of suicide;
If cool my heart and high my head,
I think, “How lucky are the dead!”

***

Sanctuary

My land is bare of chattering folk;
The clouds are low along the ridges,
And sweet’s the air with curly smoke
From all my burning bridges.

***

Summary

Every love’s the love before
In a duller dress.

That’s the measure of my lore-
Here’s my bitterness:
Would I knew a little more,
Or very much less!

 

Superfluous Advice

Should they whisper false of you,
Never trouble to deny;
Should the words they say be true,
Weep and storm and swear they lie.

***

Sweet Violets

You are brief and frail and blue-
Little sisters, I am, too.
You are Heaven’s masterpieces-
Little loves, the likeness ceases.

***

The Flaw in Paganism

Drink and dance and laugh and lie,
Love, the reeling midnight through,
For tomorrow we shall die!
(But, alas, we never do.)

***

Thomas Carlyle

Carlyle combined the lit’ry life
With throwing teacups at his wife,
Remarking, rather testily,
“Oh, stop your dodging, Mrs. C.!”

***

Thought for a Sunshiny Morning

It costs me never a stab nor squirm
To tread by chance upon a worm.

“Aha, my little dear,” I say,
“Your clan will pay me back one day.

 

Two-Volume Novel

The sun’s gone dim, and
The moon’s turned black;
For I loved him, and
He didn’t love back.

***

Unfortunate Coincidence

By the time you swear you’re his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying –
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying.

***

Walter Savage Landor

Upon the work of Walter Landor
I am unfit to write with candor.

If you can read it, well and good;
But as for me, I never could.

***

Words of Comfort to be Scratched on a Mirror

Helen of Troy had a wandering glance;
Sappho’s restriction was only the sky;
Ninon was ever the chatter of France;
But oh, what a good girl am I.

 

 

LINKS

189 poems by Dorothy Parker on the PoemHunter site.

Gary Lehmann’s essay in Rattle Magazine.

John Hollander on Dorothy Parker’s Light Verse.

The Dorothy Parker section on Modern America Poetry.

Spoonerisms, epigrams, jokes and poems on the HyperText site.

The 1956 Paris Review interview with Dorothy Parker.

 

 

Tangled Hair – Some Tanka by Yosano Akiko

Yosano Akiko (1878-1942) was a Japanese poet, essayist, autobiographer, and novelist. She was born on 7 December 1878 in Sakai, a town south of Osaka, to a highly prosperous merchant family. From an early age, she demonstrated an avid interest in literature, which she pursued after her formal schooling ended. As a young woman, she attended meetings of the literary societies in Sakai. In 1901, Akiko moved to Tokyo to be with Yosano Hiroshi, a writer and editor whom she married later that year, shortly after the publication of her first book of poems Midaregami (Tangled Hair). She published translations into modern Japanese of Murasaki Shikibu’s classic Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji,) and Shinyaku Eiga Monogatari (Newly Translated Tale of Flowering Fortunes). She also published a monumental compilation of 26,783 poems (incl. haiku, tanka etc) written by 6,675 poets in modern times. She wrote prolifically to help support her family. (She gave birth to 13 children, 11 of whom survived to adulthood.)

A prominent pacifist and feminist, Yosano Akiko spoke out against the Sino-Japanese war and the growing nationalistic fervor of the times. She later founded a woman’s college, the Bunka Gakuin, in 1921 and made constructive statements on problems of women and education. She was a socialist sympathizer, and openly opposed Japan’s military adventures in the twentieth century, as in a fiercely anti-war poem addressed to her brother (1904), which brought denunciation as a traitor, a rebel, a criminal who ought to be subjected to national punishment.

Yosano Akiko died of a stroke in 1942 at the age of 63. Her death, occurring in the middle of the Pacific War, went almost unnoticed in the press, and, after the war, her works were largely forgotten. However, her romantic, sensual style has come back into popularity in recent years, and she has an ever-increasing following as testified to by the numerous translations her work continues to receive. Her grave is at Tama Cemetery in Fuchu, Tokyo.

 

THE TANKA OF YOSANO AKIKO

Kenneth Rexroth states that  Yosano Akiko is one of the world’s greatest women poets, comparable to Christina Rossetti, Gapara Stampa, Louise Labe and Li Ch’ing Chao. Her first collection of Tanka poetry, Midaregami (Tangled Hair, 1901) caused a sensation among her contemporaries for its freshness of theme and style, and its direct expressions of passion in an uninhibited, sensual language. Yosano Akiko wrote both tanka and free verse, but it is in her tanka (five-line closed verse) that she subtly explores her sexuality and her body. “I realized that if women didn’t really exert themselves they would never mix with men on an equal footing. That was the first time I made a poem.” According to Nicholas Klacsanzky, Though tanka was originally court poetry written by elite individuals in Japanese society, Yosano Akiko showed to a greater extent that tanka can be written without inhibition at the highest poetic level.

Her work, as it moved into the new century, was voluminous; by Kenneth Rexroth’s count, she wrote more than 17,000 tanka, nearly five hundred shintaishi (free verse [poems]), published seventy-five books, including translations of classical literature, and had eleven children.

She is best remembered for her innovative and controversial use of the tanka verse form. I have included a very small number of these tanka in this post, some in their original Japanese. I have, where possible, provided differing translations. I have also included a small selection of translations where I could not find the original Japanese. If anyone can supply it in the comment box below I would be grateful.

 

 

Some Tanka by Yosano Akiko

罪おほき男こらせと肌きよく黒髪ながくつくられし我れ

Made to punish men for their sins
The smoothest skin
The longest black hair…
All that
Is me!

Roger Pulvers

***

To punish
Men for their endless sins,
God gave me
This fair skin,
This long black hair!

Sandford Goldstein and Seishi Shinodo

 

その子二十櫛にながるる黒髪のおごりの春のうつくしきかな

Her hair at twenty
Flowing long and black
Through the teeth of her comb
Oh beautiful spring
Extravagant spring!

Roger Pulvers

 

くろ髪の千すぢの髪のみだれ髪かつおもひみだれおもひみだるる

My black hair
My thick thick black hair
My wild hair
Its thousand strands my heart
Dishevelled, torn apart.

Roger Pulvers

***

Black hair
Tangled in a thousand strands.
Tangled my hair and
Tangled my tangled memories
Of our long nights of love making.

Kenneth Rexroth

***

A thousand lines
Of black black hair
All tangled, tangled —
And tangled too
My thoughts of love!

Sandford Goldstein and Seishi Shinodo

***

My shiny black hair
fallen into disarray,
a thousand tangles
like a thousand tangled thoughts
about my love for you.

Sam Hamill & Keiko Matsui Gibson

 

乳ぶさおさへ神秘のとばりそとけりぬここなる花の紅ぞ濃き

I press my breasts
Gently parting
The shroud of mystery
Revealing the flower
Redder than red

Roger Pulvers

***

Press my breasts,
Part the veil of mystery,
A flower blooms there,
Crimson and fragrant.

Kenneth Rexroth

***

Clasping my hands to my breasts
The curtain of mystery
I kicked gently aside
How crimson is my flower
And how dark!

Leith Morton

***

Pressing my breasts
I softly kick aside
the Curtain of mystery
How deep the crimson
of the flower here

Janine Beichman

© Janine Beichman. Reprinted by permission of the author.

***

Gently I open
the door to eternal
mystery, the flowers
of my breasts cupped,
offered with both my hands.

Sam Hamill & Keiko Matsui Gibson

 

ゆあみして泉を出でしやははだにふるるはつらき人の世のきぬ

My skin is so soft
Fresh from my bath
It pains me to see it touched
Covered by the fabric
Of an everyday world

Roger Pulvers

***

Fresh from my hot bath
I dressed slowly before
the tall mirror,
a smile for my own body,
innocence so long ago.

Sam Hamill & Keiko Matsui Gibson

 

春みじかし何に不滅の命ぞとちからある乳を手にさぐらせぬ

“Spring doesn’t last,” I said to him…
“You don’t believe in permanence, do you?”
And I took his hands in mine
Leading them
To my young full breasts

Roger Pulvers

***

This autumn will end.
Nothing can last forever.
Fate controls our lives.
Fondle my breasts
With your strong hands.

Kenneth Rexroth

***

Spring is short
what is there that has eternal life
I said and
made his hands seek out
my powerful breasts

Janine Beichman

© Janine Beichman. Reprinted by permission of the author.

***

Spring is short!
Nothing endures!
I cried,
Letting him touch
These supple breasts!

Sandford Goldstein and Seishi Shinodo

***

Spring is short:
Why ever should it
Be thought immortal?
I grope for
My full breasts with my hands.

Geoffrey Bownas & Anthony Thwaite

***

Gently I open
the door to eternal
mystery, the flowers
of my breasts cupped,
offered with both my hands.

Sam Hamill & Keiko Matsui Gibson

 

きのふをば千とせの前の世とも思ひ御手なほ肩に有りとも思ふ

Yesterday is another world
A thousand years away…
Yet it rushes to me
This minute!
With your hand on my shoulder…

Roger Pulvers

***

Did we part
yesterday
or a thousand years ago?
Even now I feel
Your hand on my shoulder.

Dennis Maloney and Hide Oshiro

***

Was it a thousand
years ago or only
yesterday we parted?
Even now, on my shoulder
I feel your friendly hand.

Sam Hamill & Keiko Matsui Gibson

 

 

FURTHER TANKA (WITHOUT THE JAPANESE)

Hair unbound, in this
Hothouse of lovemaking.
Perfumed with lilies,
I dread the oncoming of
The pale rose of the end of night.

Kenneth Rexroth

***

Fragrant the lilies
In this room of love;
Hair unbound,
I fear
The pink of night’s passing

Sandford Goldstein and Seishi Shinodo

***

No camellia
Not plum for me,
No flower that is white.
Peach blossom has a color
That does not ask my sins.

Geoffrey Bownas & Anthony Thwaite

***

Poet, sing of this night
Alive with lights and
The wine served.
Our beauty pales
next to the peony.

Dennis Maloney and Hide Oshiro

***

Left on the beach
Full of water,
A worn out boat
Reflects the white sky
Of early autumn.

Kenneth Rexroth

***

I am very grateful to Andrea Marra for her help in sourcing some of these translations.

 

 

LINKS

The Wikipedia entry on Yosano Akiko.

A biography, bibliography and selection of poems from the Living Haiku Anthology.

Kenneth Rexroth’s translations.

Dennis Maloney and Hide Oshiro translate some poems.

Translations of some tanka on Andrea Marra’s blog.

Janine Beichman, Embracing the Firebird: Yosano Akiko and the Birth of the Female Voice in Modern Japanese Poetry.

Awakening Female Sexuality in Yosano Akiko’s Midaregami. 

River of Stars: translations by Sam Hamill & Keiko Matsui Gibson

tangled hair: Selected Tanka from Midaregami (Sanford Goldstein and Seishi Shinoda)

Tangled Hair: short narrative sex poems by Andrea Marr, inspired by Yosano Akiko.

 

Hadrian’s Deathbed Poem

Hadrian (76-138) was the fourteenth Emperor of Rome (10 August 117 to 10 July 138). Born Publius Aelius Hadrianus, probably in Hispania, Hadrian is best known for his substantial building projects throughout the Roman Empire. He established cities throughout the Balkan Peninsula, Egypt, Asia Minor, and Greece. Among his most celebrated legacies was Hadrian’s Wall. Construction of the wall, known in antiquity as Vallum Hadriani, was begun around 122 and corresponded to Hadrian’s visit to the province. It marked the northern boundary of the Roman Empire in Britain but the length and breadth of the project (stretching, as it did, from coast to coast) suggests that the more important purpose of the wall was a show of Rome’s power.

Professor D. Brendan Nagle writes that Hadrian spent most of his reign (twelve out of twenty-one years) traveling all over the Empire visiting the provinces, overseeing the administration, and checking the discipline of the army. He was a brilliant administrator who concerned himself with all aspects of government and the administration of justice.

His health failing, Hadrian returned to Rome and occupied himself with poetry and tending to administrative affairs. He died in 138, presumably of a heart attack, at the age of 62. The historian Gibbon writes that Hadrian’s rule was the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous…when the vast extent of the Roman Empire was governed by absolute power under the guidance of virtue and wisdom.

HADRIAN’S DEATH AND DEATHBED POEM

According to Dio Cassius, Hadrian became ill in 136 when he was 60 years old. The nosebleeds, from which he had long suffered, intensified, and he began to despair of his life. He now began to be sick; for he had been subject even before this to a flow of blood from the nostrils, and at this time it became distinctly more copious. He therefore despaired of his life. In 138, his clinical condition had worsened and he often desired to kill himself …he was constantly growing worse and might be said to be dying day by day, he began to long for death; and often he would ask for poison or a sword, but no one would give them to him. Cassius Dio reported that the cause of Hadrian’s death was a heart failure. He spent the last moments of his life dictating verses addressed to his soul. According to the Historia Augusta, Hadrian composed the following poem shortly before his death:-

ANIMULA VAGULA, BLANDULA,
HOSPES COMESQUE CORPORIS,
QUAE NUNC ABIDIS IN LOCA
PALLIDULA, RIGIDA, NUDULA,
NEC, UT SOLES. DABES IOCOS. . . .

In the final passages of her novel, Memoirs of Hadrian, composed over her lifetime, the French writer Marguerite Yourcenar has Hadrian murmur, as if to himself, the bit that has become famous as ‘animula vagula, blandula.’ The English here is provided by M.Y. herself in collaboration with Grace Frick: Little soul, gentle and drifting, guest and companion of my body, now you will dwell below in pallid places, stark and bare; there you will abandon your play of yore. But one moment still, let us gaze together on these familiar shores, on these objects which doubtless we shall not see again… let us try, if we can, to enter death with open eyes.

This brief poem, short enough to tweet, has been the subject of various translations in English throughout the centuries. A selection of these is printed below. My own favourites include the versions of Henry Vaughan, Basil Bunting and W. S. Merwin who has written …it has always seemed surprising to me that a poem so assured in its art, so flawless and so haunting, could have been the only one he ever wrote. Perhaps he wrote poems all his life and this was the only one that was saved, or this one alone was unforgettable. Few of the versions below match the tweet-like brevity of the original. I have not included, here, but have elsewhere, the humorous set of variations written by David Malouf, Seven Last Words of the Emperor Hadrian, a sequence of imitations of the emperor’s  last words, each of which raises the stakes a little higher.

If you would like to contribute other translations or if you would like to nominate one of those selected below as your favourite, please fill in the comment box below this post.

 

 

Translations of Hadrian’s Deathbed Poem

 

My little wandring sportful Soule,
Ghest, and companion of my body.

John Donne

xxx

Minion soul, poor wanton thing
The body’s guest, my dearest darling,
To what places art thou going?
Naked miserable trembling,
Reaving me of all the joy
Which by thee I did enjoy.

Molle

xxx

My soul, my pleasant soul and witty,
The ghest and consort of my body,
Into what place now all alone
Naked and sad wilt thou be gone?
No mirth, no wit, as heretofore,
Nor Jests wilt thou afford me more.

Henry Vaughan

xxx

My little, pretty, fluttering thing,
Must we no longer live together?
And dost thou prune thy trembling Wing,
To take thy Flight thou know’st not whither?

Thy humorous Vein, thy pleasing Folly
Lyes all neglected, all forgot;
And pensive, wav’ring, melancholy,
Thou dread’st and hop’st thou know not what.

Matthew Prior

Xxx

The Heathen to His departing Soul

Adriani morientis ad Animam

Ah! Fleeting Spirit! wand’ring Fire,
That long hast warm’d my tender Breast,
Must thou no more this Frame inspire?
No more a pleasing, chearful Guest?

Whither, ah whither art thou flying!
To what dark, undiscover’d Shore?
Thou seem’st all trembling, shiv’ring, dying,
And Wit and Humour are no more!

Alexander Pope

xxx

Ah! gentle, fleeting, wav’ring sprite,
Friend and associate of this clay!
To what unknown region borne,
Wilt thou, now, wing thy distant flight?
No more, with wonted humour gay,
But pallid, cheerless, and forlorn.

George Gordon, Lord Byron

xxx

Thou little, wandering, witching thing,
My guest, companion, on the wing!
But know’st thou where? once fled from me,
Lone, pallid, naked, cold thou’lt be,
And jest no more with sprightly glee.

Dr. Barclay of Edinburgh

xxx

Oh, little spirit, playful, fluttering, gay,
Guest hitherto of this my body frail,
How soon, in silence, wilt thou flit away?
All mirth forsaking, naked, cold, and pale.

Miss Scarth

xxx

Dear little fleeting pleasing soul
the guest and comrade of my body
into what regions must you go now–
pale little, cold little, naked little soul
without your old power of jesting?

Frederick Brittain

xxx

Little wild and winsome sprite,
The body’s guest and close ally;
To what new regions wilt thou fly?
A pale and cold and naked blight,
With all thy wonted jokes gone by.

Charles Tennyson Turner

xxx
Thou us’d with me to dwell,
To roam, to sport, so bright!
But now, why stiff? why pale?
Why cast me off, for flight?

“Moribundus”

xxx

Wee wanderin’ winsome elf, my saul,
Thou’s made this clay lang house an’ hall,
But whar, oh whar art thou to dwall,
Thy bield now bare?
Gaun flichterin’, feckless, shiverin’ caul,
Nae cantrips mair.

Professor Geddes

xxx

Soul, rudderless, unbraced
The body’s friend and guest,
Whither away today,
Unsuppl’d, pale, discas’d
Dumb to thy wonted jest.

Christina Rossetti

xxx

Wandering, gentle little sprite,
Guest of my body and its friend,
Whither now
Goest thou?
Pale, and stiff, and naked quite,
All thy jests are at an end.

W. A. S. Benson

xxx

Little soul so sleek and smiling
Flesh’s guest and friend also
Where departing will you wander
Growing paler now and languid
And not joking as you used to?

Stevie Smith

xxx

Poor soul! Softy, whisperer,
hanger-on, pesterer, sponge!
Where are you off to now?
Pale and stiff and bare-bummed,
It’s not much fun in the end.

Basil Bunting

xxx

I know where you are now. But do you know?
Are you here in this word? I have not heard
you whistling in the dark. Do not allow
the noun or pronoun or the verb to disturb you.
Sometimes, I think that death is really no joke
but then I have died only two or three such times.
Perhaps there is always someone to attend the
absconding mountebank. But you, farewelling ghost, poor
imperial little thing, go you alone?
Go you alone to the altering? Or am I with you?

George Barker

xxx

Oh, loving Soul, my own so tenderly,
My life’s companion and my body’s guest,
To what new realms, poor flutterer, wilt thou fly?
Cheerless, disrobed, and cold in thy lone quest,
Hushed thy sweet fancies, mute thy wonted jest.

D. Johnston

xxx

Pale little vagrant soul,
my body’s guest and friend,
where are you off to now,
pale, cold, and naked,
bereft the joke.

Nora Sawyer

xxx

Little soul little stray
little drifter
now where will you stay
all pale and all alone
after the way
you used to make fun of things.

W. S. Merwin

xxx

Two Versions of the Emperor’s Epigram
(P. Aelius Hadrianus Imp.)

My little charmer, wayward little soul,
Guest and companion of this flesh and bone,
Where are you off to, irretrievably,
Pale naked little thing, mute and alone,
And not so merry as you used to be?

Little charmer, wandering little soul,
House guest and companion of this body,
Where are you off to now, and at whose call,
Poor naked little creature, stiff and pale,
You who were once so witty, life of the party?

Robert Mezey

xxx

My little soul, my wandering charm,
My body’s guest and friend:
Wherever are you off to now?
A bleak and naked end.
And I’ll not have those wonted jokes
You always used to lend.

Tom Gardner

xxx

[To his Soul]

Pondering, wandering
minuscule molecule,
where will you go now,
miniature soul,
rigidly, frigidly
knackered and naked
unless to a sunless
humourless hole?

Duncan Forbes

xxx

My sweet little soul,
now aimlessly fluttering … drifting …
former guest and consort of my failing corpse …
Where are we going?
Where do we wander—naked, pale and frail?
To some place devoid of jests, mirth, happiness?
Is the joke on us?

Michael R. Burch

xxx

Sad, soul
to see you who were
part of my furniture,
turned out of your bolthole ––

Mark Granier

xxx

Wee soul, my body’s darling guest
Are you about to flee the nest?
Where on earth now will you go,
Naked and trembling, to and fro,
To flit in sorrow through the night
With the sad swag of my delight.

George Szirtes

 

 

LINKS

Hadrian : the Wikipedia page.

Tom Clarke’s blog on the poem with translations and comments.

43 translations of the poem.

Translations, literal,and free, of the poem.

Seven Last Words of the Emperor Hadrian, a poem by David Malouf.