Dewdrops – Brief poems by Kobayashi Issa


Kobayashi Issa (小林 一茶, 1763 – 1828) was a  Japanese poet and lay Buddhist priest known for his haiku poems and journals. He was born in 1763 with the name Kobayashi Yatarô to a farmer and his wife in the village of Kashiwabara, a village of approximately one hundred houses in the highlands of the province of Shinano, close  to the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics. He would have been expected to follow in his father’s footsteps, raising buckwheat, rice, and other crops on the nearly two acres of family farmland, but a different destiny unfolded for him, following the death of his mother. His grandmother, Kana, reared him with deep affection until, when he was eight years of age, his father remarried. Although his stepmother, Hatsu, treated him well for two years, upon the birth of her first child, his step-brother Senroku, she relegated Issa to a role as a subordinate and began to abuse him, often physically. He has described in his memoirs how he was expected to look after this brother, often finding himself soaked in the child’s urine, and how he was punished when the baby was unhappy. Issa’s local schoolmaster, noticing the boy’s unhappiness, encouraged him to write haiku: With haiku you can show what you are feeling inside. His grandmother died when he was 14 and, soon after, he left his small village and went to the city of Edo, the present day Tokyo. Little is known of his life there,  other than that he began to study haiku and donned monk’s robes.

In 1790 he was elected to a position at an academy of poetics, the Katsushika school, but, as his innovative instincts clashed with the more traditional curriculum already in place at the school, in 1792, he resigned, proclaiming himself Haikaiji Issa in a declaration of poetic independence. His literary signature literally translates as Haikai Temple One-Tea. As he explained, In as much as life is empty as a bubble which vanishes instantly, I will henceforth call myself Issa, or One Tea. Thus he compared his life to the bubbles rising in a cup of tea – an appropriate image in Japanese cultural life.

His father died of typhoid fever in 1801 and, in his will, divided his estate equally between Issa and his half-brother. When the poet’s stepmother, Satsu, and his half-brother,  Senroku, contested the will, Issa was obliged to leave his home town once again, despite the fact that (according to Issa) his dying father’s request was for him to come home permanently. He spent the next thirteen years living in Edo while he attempted to convince the local authorities to carry out his father’s wishes.  His frustrations are reflected in a poem he wrote when he was in his forties

furu sato ya   yoru mo sawaru mo   bara no hana 

the closer I get
to my village, the more pain …
wild roses

After sorting out the will, Issa managed to secure rights to half of the property his father left. He returned to his native village at the age of 49 and soon took a wife, a young woman called Kiku. After a brief period of happiness, difficulties returned. The couple’s first-born child died shortly after his birth. A daughter died less than two-and-a-half years later, inspiring Issa to write the haiku for which he is best known

Tsuyu no yo wa tsuyu no yo nagara sari nagara

This dewdrop world —
Is a dewdrop world,
And yet, and yet . . .

In May, 1823, Issa’s wife, Kiku, died when he was sixty-one. He remarried almost immediately. His wife, thirty-eight-year-old Yuki, was the daughter of a local samuri. The marriage lasted less than a year and the couple were divorced soon after that marriage. Perhaps for purposes of continuing his family, Issa married again in 1825, his bride this time a young farmer’s daughter named Yao.  His wife was pregnant when their house burned down in a fire that destroyed most of the village and the couple had to move into a renovated grain barn on the property. Issa had a stroke and died in the winter of 1828, and his only surviving child, Yata, was born five months his death. The building in which he last lived, a windowless clay-walled storage shed, has survived, and was designated a National Historic Site in 1933. 

Water Dripping off of Leaf

Photo: Tim L. Lanthier (Getty Images)

Issa’s Haiku

Issa was very prolific. He composed over 20,000 haiku on a variety of subjects. R. H. Blyth notes that Issa wrote dozens of haiku featuring small creatures: 54 haiku on the snail, 15 on the toad, nearly 200 on frogs, about 230 on the firefly, more than 100 on fleas, nearly 90 on the cicada, and about 70 on various other insects. There are almost one thousand verses on such creatures.  When you key in the word “dew” on David G. Lanoue’s Issa site, which contains 11,750 originals and translations, you come up with 304 poems. Two of these are included below. The most famous, the most frequently translated, is featured in the first selection of translations below.

Water Dripping off of Leaf

“a world of dew”

In 1817 Issa wrote a haiku on the one-year anniversary of the death of his first child, a boy named Sentarô. It has a one-word headnote: “Grieving.”

tsuyu no yo wa tokushin nagara sari nagara

it’s a dewdrop world
surely it is…
yes… but…

(translated by David G. Lanoue)

Two years later, in 1819, Issa revised his haiku to write about the death from smallpox of another child, a one-year-old daughter named Sato. 

tsuyu no yo wa tsuyu no yo nagara sari nagara

The world of dew
is the world of dew.
……And yet, and yet —

(translated by Robert Hass)

In one text Issa prefaces this brief poem with the note, “On losing a beloved child.” This haiku, written after the funeral, on the occasion of burying his child’s ashes, originally appeared at the end of the following prose passage from his book A Year of My Life (1819).  Here he is writing about Sato, his one-year-old daughter, who had contracted smallpox. 

After two or three days, however, her blisters dried up and the scabs began to fall away — like a hard crust of dirt that has been softened by melting snow.  In our joy we made what we call a ‘priest in a straw robe.’  We poured hot wine ceremoniously over his body, and packed him and the god of smallpox off together.  Yet our hopes proved to be vain.  She grew weaker and weaker and finally, on the twenty-first of June, as the morning glories were just closing their flowers, she closed her eyes forever.
Her mother embraced the cold body and cried bitterly.  For myself, I knew well it was no use to cry, that water once flown past the bridge does not return, and blossoms that are scattered are gone beyond recall.  Yet try as I would, I could not, simply could not, cut the binding cord of human love.

                                        The world of dew

                                   is the world of dew.

                                        And yet, and yet —

(prose translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa; haiku translated by Robert Hass)

The word tsuyu (‘world of dew’) is a distinctly Buddhist concept. In Japanese literary tradition, drops of dew are used symbolically to represent human life and its transience, in reference to the Buddhist allegory between the fleeting nature of dewdrops and human life. Art Krumsee, commenting on the poem, writes What gets lost, I think, is the utter beauty and perfection of the dewdrop metaphor. If you really look at a dewdrop closely, it is profoundly beautiful. Life, too, including the life of Issa’s daughter is profoundly beautiful. What’s more, given the spherical, mirror-like quality of a dewdrop, this small thing reflects all of life. Buddhist purists focus on overcoming grasping in an impermanent world, but Buddha did not ask followers other than monastics to live a life without love and relationships. Loving someone means suffering when they are gone. Issa perfectly captures here the contradiction within which Buddhists outside of the monastery live. Rather than running from that contradiction, Issa embraces it. (Quoted by David G. Lanoue in his comment on the poem in his Haiku Guy collection of Issa’s poems.)

The final word of the poem is nagara. R. H. Blythe notes that Issa was very fond of using nagara which Blythe translates as “nevertheless”, although, like Robert Hass, he translates its use in this poem as “And yet – and yet -“. (See below).

Over time this brief poem has attained almost the same iconic status as Basho’s celebrated poem about a frog. It has been extensively translated and I include a variety of such translations below. My own favourite remains that of Robert Hass.

Water Dripping off of Leaf

Brief Poems by Kobayashi Issa

“a world of dew”

Tsuyu no yo wa tsuyu no yo nagara sari nagara

The world of dew
is the world of dew
……and yet, and yet–

Robert Hass


This world of dew
is only a world of dew—
and yet

Sam Hamill 


this world of dew
is only a world of dew—
and yet….and yet….

Makoto Ueda


This dewdrop world —
It may be a dewdrop,
And yet — and yet —

R. H. Blyth


the world of dew
is the world of dew,
and yet . . .
and yet . .

Nobuyuki Yuasa


The world of dew
Is a world of dew, and yet
And yet. . .

Donald Keene


This dewdrop world—
Is a dewdrop world,
And yet, and yet . . .

Lewis Mackenzie


Dew evaporates
and all our world is dew…
so dear, so fresh, so fleeting

Peter Beilenson


this world
is a dewdrop world
yes… but…

David G. Lanoue


This Dewdrop World …
a dewdrop world it is, and still,
although it is …

Harold Henderson


This dewdrop world-
yet for dew drops
still, a dewdrop world

Leon Lewis


Granted this dewdrop world is but
A dewdrop worlds, – this granted, yet

Basil Hall Chamberlain


This dewdrop world,
is a dewdrop world,
and yet

Timothy L. Jackowski


World like a dewdrop-
Though it’s only a dewdrop,
Even so, even so-

Glenn Shaw


it’s a dewdrop world,
nothing but a dewdrop world,
this is true, and yet…

Jan Walls


This world of dew
is a dew-drop world indeed;
and yet, and yet …

Michael R. Burch


This dewdrop world
is dew, adieu.
Renew… Adieu …

Conor Kelly

Water Dripping off of Leaf


tsuyu no yo no tsuyu no naka nite kenka kana

amid dewdrops
of this dewdrop world
a quarrel

David G. Lanoue


in every dewdrop
in this dewdrop world there is
raucous squabbling

Jan Walls


a world of dew
and within every dewdrop
a world of struggle

Sam Hamill


a world of dew –
but even dewdrops

Billy Mills


katatsuburi   soro-soro nobore   fuji no yama

O snail
Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!

R. H. Blyth


little snail
inch by inch, climb
Mount Fuji!

David G. Lanoue


Climb Mount Fuji,
O snail,
……but slowly, slowly.

Robert Hass


tiny snail
in your own snail way
climb Mt Fuji

Billy Mills


sumi no kumo anjina susu wa toranu zo yo

corner spider
rest easy, my soot-broom
is idle

David G. Lanoue


Don’t worry, spiders,
I keep house

Robert Hass


medetasa mo chû kurai nari oraga haru

my “Happy New Year!”
about average…
my spring

David G. Lanoue


New Year’s Day—
everything is in blossom
……I feel about average.

Robert Hass


New Year greeting-time:
I feel about average
welcoming my spring

Sam Hamill


hito saki ni sagi no oto suru kôri kana

before people do
herons raise a clamor

David G. Lanoue


heron sees
the lake ice over
before we do

Billy Mills


yasegaeru makeru na issa kore ni ari

scrawny frog, hang tough!
is here

David G. Lanoue


skinny frog
don’t give up the fight—
Issa is here

Makoto Ueda


Lean frog,
don’t give up the fight!
Issa is here!

Harold Henderson


Skinny frog,
……hang on …
Issa to the rescue!

Michael R. Burch


hae hitotsu utte wa namu amida butsu kana

while swatting a fly
“All praise to Amida

David G. Lanoue


All the time I pray to Buddha
I keep on
……killing mosquitoes.

Robert Hass


All the while I’m praying to Buddha
I’m continually killing mosquitoes.

Michael R. Burch


furusato ya yoru mo sawa[ru] mo bara no hana

the closer I get
to my village, the more pain…
wild roses

David G. Lanoue and Shinji Ogawa


At my home everything
I touch is a bramble.

Asataro Miyamori


Everything I touch
with tenderness alas
pricks like a bramble.

Peter Beilenson


The place where I was born:
all I come to-all I touch-
blossoms of the thorn.

Harold Henderson


My old village calls-
each time I come near,
thorns in the blossom.

Leon Lewis


my hometown-
all I approach, all I touch,
flowers of the thorn

Makoto Ueda


My native village
on approach and to the touch
a bramble rose.

Glenn Shaw

Water Dripping off of Leaf


The Wikipedia page on Issa

The Haikupedia page on Issa

David G. Lanoue’s website presents over 11,000 of Issa’s haiku in a searchable archive

Kobayashi Issa – Selected Haiku

Haiku by Kobayashi Issa

Some poems by Issa discussed on the First Known When Lost blog

Kobayashi Issa: Modern English Translations of the Japanese Haiku Master

That Lovable Old Issa by Earle Joshua Stone

An Essay on Issa by Leon Lewis

Issa’s Untidy Hut from a Poetry Blog

About a Poem: Pico Iyer on a haiku by Kobayashi Issa

Issa: My Life Through the Pen of a Haiku Master

Issa’s Dew: From the Hermit’s Thatch Blog

Kobayashi Issa and the ‘And yet…’ of Human Existence

Gabriel Rosenstock on Issa


Watching Rain – Brief poems by Ono no Komachi

Ono no Komachi drawn by Kikuchi Yōsai (1781 – 1878)

Ono no Komachi (小野 小町, c. 825 – c. 900) was a Japanese waka (now known as tanka) poet. Very little is known of her life other than a broad date of birth and that she was active in the mid-9th century. Despite extensive research attempting to discover her place of birth, her family and her life, she remains a mystery and a legend. Some believe that she was a lady-of-the-bedchamber in the service of Emperor Ninmyō, others believe that she was a low-ranking consort of the emperor. She had romantic entanglements with various men and these poetic exchanges are preserved in the Kokin Wakashū,  a collection of “Japanese Poems of Ancient and Modern Times”, an early anthology of the waka poetry dating from the Heian period. Her poetry is so well regarded that she is listed among the Rokkasen (Japanese Poetry Immortals), as well as in the introduction to the Kokin Wakashū, which contains her only surviving works. She is also one of the Sanjūrokkasen (the Thirty-six Immortals of Poetry) and the Nyōbōsanjūrokkasen (Thirty-six Immortal Lady Poets).

She was famous for her beauty and passion; she likely served at the court of Emperor Ninmyo, and her poems were a success in her own lifetime. The legends that have developed about her life have eclipsed the historical Ono no Komachi. One such legend is that concerning her harsh treatment of her admirer Fukakusa no Shosho, a high-ranking courtier. Komachi warned her suitor that he would have to visit her every night for 100 nights before she would submit to his charms. Fukakusa set about his task with determination and turned up each evening at Komachi’s house in all weathers. Tragically, though, the strain proved too much and Fukakusa died on the 99th night. Further legends tell of an aged Komachi living to be one hundred, forced to wander in ragged clothes, her beauty faded and her appearance so wretched that she was mocked by all around her, as punishment for her earlier mistreatment of her lovers. Another legend concerns her dying in poverty, her skull lying in a field; when the wind blows through the skull’s eye socket the sound evokes Komachi’s anguish. The true facts may never be known. 

The poetry, however, continues to endure. She is, arguably, the earliest and best example of a passionate woman poet in the Japanese canon commencing a tradition continued by Izumi Shikibu in a later age and Yosano Akiko in the modern one. Those poems, usually sad, deal with such subjects as lost love, unrequited love, loneliness, and the passing of time symbolised by changes in nature, especially fading blossoms and the changing colour of leaves in autumn. In his book, Seeds in the Heart: Japanese Literature from Earliest Times to the Late Sixteenth Century, translator, critic and literary historian Donald Keene said that The intensity of emotion expressed in Komachi’s poetry not only was without precedent but would rarely be encountered in later years. The poetry of the Kokinshu was usually pitched in a lower key, and the ingenious use of language was a mark not of overpowering emotion but of a kind of intellectuality. Komachi’s poetry, however extravagant in expression, always seems sincere. 

The poetess Ono-no Komachi in the rain by Utagawa Toyokuni II.


Helen Craig McCullough (1918 –1998) was an American academic, translator and Japanologist, best known for her 1988 translation of The Tale of the Heike. Her translations are included in Kokin Wakashū: The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry (1985)

Donald  Keene (1922 –2019) was an American-born Japanese scholar, historian, teacher, writer and translator of Japanese literature. While staying at Cambridge, after winning a fellowship for Americans to study in England, Keene went to meet Arthur Waley, one of whose translations is included below, who was best known for his translation work in classical Chinese and Japanese literature. For Keene, Waley’s translation of Chinese and Japanese literature was inspiring, even arousing in Keene the thought of becoming a second Waley. He discusses the poetry of Ono no Komachi in his book, Seeds in the Heart: Japanese Literature from Earliest Times to the Late Sixteenth Century (see above).

Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982) often regarded, much to his disdain, as one of the central Beat poets was also a prolific reader of Chinese  and Japanese literature. Some of the translations below are from his collection One Hundred Poems from the Japanese. Oddly there are two translations of one poem: a translation he did with his collaborator, Ikuko Atsumi, and one credited only to himself. I prefer the latter. More of his Japanese translations are available on the Kenneth Rexroth post on this blog.

Jane Hirshfield is an American poet, essayist, and translator who has received lay ordination in Soto Zen at the San Francisco Zen Center. Her poetry reflects her immersion in a wide range of poetic traditions, both Asian and Western. She has edited and co-translated, with Mariko Aratani, a collection of the work of the two foremost women poets of classical-era Japan: The Ink Dark Moon: Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan (1990). Through these, and other translations, she was instrumental in bringing tanka  to the attention of American poets.

Michael R. Burch is an American, poet, columnist, essayist, and editor who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He also edits The HyperTexts  a literary website which has been online for two decades and currently gets around 1.5 million page views per year. On this site he includes translated poetry from Old English and numerous other languages into modern English. One page on his site is devoted to the poetry of Ono no Komachi where he offers numerous translations of her brief poems. More of what he calls “loose translations” of Ono no Komachi are available on the Michael R. Burch post on this blog.

Brief Poems by Ono no Komachi


Hana no iro wa
utsurinikeri na
itazura ni
wa ga mi yo ni furu
nagame seshi ma ni

Alas! The beauty
of the flowers has faded
and come to nothing,
while I have watched the rain,
lost in melancholy thought.

Translated by Helen Craig McCullough


The flowers withered
Their colour faded away,
While meaninglessly
I spent my days in brooding,
And the long rains were falling.

Translated by Donald Keene


While watching
the long rains falling on this world
my heart, too, fades
with the unseen color
of the spring flowers.

Translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Arantani


Without changing color
in the emptiness
of this world of ours,
the heart of man
fades like a flower.

Translated by Kenneth Rexroth and  Ikuko Atsumi 


Watching the long, dismal rains
inundating the earth,
my heart too is washed out, bleeds off
with the colors of the late spring flowers.

Translated by Michael R. Burch

Aki no yo mo
na nomi narikeri
au to ieba
koto zo to mo naku
akenuru mono o

Autumn nights, it seems,
are long by repute alone:
scarcely had we met
when morning’s first light appeared,
leaving everything unsaid.

Translated by Helen Craig McCullough


The autumn night
is long only in name—
We’ve done no more
than gaze at each other
and it’s already dawn.

Translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Arantani


Autumn nights are “long”
only in verse and song:
for we had just begun
to gaze into each other’s eyes
when dawn immolated the skies!

Translated by Michael R. Burch

Hito ni wan
Tsuki no naki ni wa
Mune hashiribi ni
Kokoro yakeori

This night of no moon
there is no way to meet him.
I rise in longing:
My breast pounds, a leaping flame,
my heart is consumed by fire.

Translated by Donald Keene


On such a night as this
When no moon lights your way to me,
I wake, my passion blazing,
My breast a fire raging, exploding flame
While within me my heart chars.

Translated by Earl Miner


You do not come
On this moonless night.
I wake wanting you.
My breasts heave and blaze.
My heart burns up.

Translated by Kenneth Rexroth 


He does not come.
Tonight in the dark of the moon
I wake wanting him.
My breasts heave and blaze.
My heart chars.

Translated by Kenneth Rexroth and  Ikuko Atsumi 


When I cannot see him
In the dark of a moonless night,
Fire rises in me—
Leaping in my burning breast,
Charring my heart with its flames.

Translated by Steven Carter


Nights when the moon hides
All hope of seeing you leaves me
Desire lies smoldering
Within my breast flames burn wild
Fire scorching my sleepless heart

Translated by Charles Cabell


On nights such as these
when no moon lights your way to me,
I lie awake, my passion blazing,
my breast an inferno wildly raging,
while my heart chars within me.

Translated by Michael R. Burch


mi o ukikusa no
ne o taete
sasou mizu araba
inamu to zo omou

In this forlorn state
I find life dreary indeed:
if a stream beckoned,
I would gladly cut my roots
and float away like duckweed.

Translated by Helen Craig McCullough


So lonely am I
My body is a floating weed
Severed at the roots.
Were there water to entice me,
I would follow it, I think.

Translated by Donald Keene


This body
grown fragile, floating,
a reed cut from its roots . . .
If a stream would ask me
to follow, I’d go, I think.

Translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Arantani


Wretched water-weed that I am,
severed from all roots:
if rapids should entice me to annihilation,
why not welcome their lethal shoots?

Translated by Michael R. Burch


Iro miede
Utsurou momo wa
Yo no naka no
Hito no kokoro no
Hana ni zo arikeru

The flowers and my love
Passed away under the rain,
While I idly looked upon them
Where is my yester-love?

Translated by Yone Noguchi


A thing which fades
With no outward sign—
Is the flower
Of the heart of man
In this world!

Translated by Arthur Waley


How invisibly
it changes color
in this world,
the flower
of the human heart.

Translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Arantani


It withers in the world,
This flower-like human heart.

Translated by Kenneth Rexroth


Two things wilt without warning,
bleeding away their colors:
a flower and a man’s heart.

Translated by Michael R. Burch


Nureba ya hito no
Yume to shiriseba
Samezaramashi wo

Thinking about him
I slept, only to have him
Appear before me—
Had I known it was a dream
I should never have wakened.

Translated by Donald Keene


Was it then because
I fell asleep with yearning thoughts
That he appeared to me?
Had I known it was a dream
I never would have awakened.

Translated by Edwin A. Cranston


Was it that I went to sleep
Thinking of him,
That he came in my dreams?
Had I known it a dream
I should not have wakened.

Translated by Geoffrey Bownas


I fell asleep thinking of him,
And he came to me.
If I had known it was only a dream
I would have never awakened

Translated by Kenneth Rexroth


Did he appear
because I fell asleep
thinking of him?
If only I’d known I was dreaming,
I’d never have wakened.

Translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Arantani


I nodded off thinking about you
only to have your appear in my dreams.
Had I known that I slept,
I’d have never awakened!

Translated by Michael R. Burch


Ito semete
Koishiki toki wa
Mubatama no
Yoru no koromo o
Kaeshite zo kiru

When longing for him
Tortures me beyond endurance,
I reverse my robe —
Garb of night, black as leopard-flower berries —
And wear it inside out.

Translated by Helen Craig McCullough


When love presses me
Relentless in the glistening night
I take off my robe,
Then lie down to sleep again,
Wearing it inside out.

Translated by Edwin A. Cranston


When my desire
grows too fierce
I wear my bed clothes
inside out,
dark as the night’s rough husk.

Translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani


I feel desire so intensely
in the lily-seed darkness
that tonight I’ll turn my robe inside-out
before donning it.

Translated by Michael R. Burch


The Ono no Komachi page on the Waka Poetry site with links to poems in original Japanese.

Ono no Komachi: Modern English Translations by Michael R. Burch.

Japanese and English quotations from the poetry of Ono no Komachi.

Jane Hirshfield discusses the poetry of Ono no Komachi.

An e-text of her poems (in Japanese).

Ono no Komachi and the Standard of Japanese Female Beauty.

Ono no Komachi: A Waka Poet Renowned for her Beauty.

Burning in the Fires of Longing: The Kokinshu Poetry of Ono no Komachi, an essay and translations by Charles Cabell.

Summoning the Spirit: Poems of Komachi

The Wikipedia page on Ono no Komachi.

Beach Sandals – Brief poems by Anna Swir

Anna Swir (1909-1984), the name by which the Polish poet Anna Świrszczyńska is known in the English-speaking world, was born in the capital city, Warsaw. Her father, Jan Świrszczyński, was an avant-garde painter and her mother was a former singer who had given up a professional career to take care of her family. Anna Swir’s Poems About My Father and My Mother (unpublished until after her death) relate the story of her early childhood  as the family moved from home to home within Warsaw. She grew up in virtual poverty and had to interrupt her education in order to work. She supported herself as she grew older, managing to attend university where she studied medieval and baroque Polish literature. By the 1930s, when her first poems were being published, she was working for a teachers’ association. In 1934, her poem “Noon” was awarded first prize in a poetry competition sponsored by Literary News. In 1936 she published her first book, Poems and Prose. These early brief poems, writes Czeslaw Milosz in his introduction to Talking to My Body, bear the marks both of her upbringing in the artistic milieu (images taken from paintings and albums of reproductions) and of her fascination with the Middle Ages. In 1939 the Nazis invaded Poland, precipitating World War II. Anna Swir joined the Polish resistance and worked as a waitress and as a military nurse in Warsaw while continuing to write for underground journals and participating in clandestine poetry readings. In 1944, while working as a nurse treating soldiers at a military hospital she expected to be executed for her resistance activities, as she recounts in her collection Building the Barricade. Milosz quotes Swir’s summary of this period of her life: War made me another person. Only then did my own life and the life of my contemporaries enter my poems.

One crucial impact of the war on her life was her displacement from Warsaw to Krakow.  For a time, she worked as a literary supervisor at the theatre there where she wrote and adapted plays. She also wrote children’s books, producing over 50 titles—an accomplishment that won her a literary prize in 1973. During the Stalinist years her plays written for adult audiences reflected the spirit of socialist realism, though after Stalin’s death, in 1953, she was able to turn to more psychological and political drama. She also wrote contemporary comedies for popular entertainment, translated poetry, produced opera librettos, and adapted literary works for the stage, radio and television while continuing to write her own poetry privately. She would eventually collect and publish these poems in a series of volumes, beginning in 1958, and these poems established her literary reputation.

When she was 44, she met and married actor Jan Adamski. (The priest who married them, and who later baptised their daughter, Ludmila, was Karol Wojtyla, later to become Pope John Paul II.) Her Catholicism is evident in the poetry in its incarnational matter where the centrality of the flesh and the joys and agonies of embodiment recur throughout the poems, so much so that Milosz would eventually use the phrase, Talking to My Body, as the title of his volume of English translations of Swir’s poems. Of her personal life at this time Milosz once said, The marriage didn’t last long. Then she separated and she had some lovers.

She never married again, but she eventually entered into a lasting relationship with another man, whose identity is known only as “Jozef,” the life companion to whom she dedicated her book, Happy As a Dog’s Tail  (1978). In later years she became a vegetarian and practiced yoga and gymnastics on a regular basis. She also enjoyed jogging and long cross-country walks, activities that served to set her further outside the literary mainstream, both in terms of her life and her work. She wrote unadorned poetry of physical experience in a direct style. In 1984, Milosz, who was in the process of translating a book-length selection of her poems, wrote to inform her of the project. Though she told him that she was pleased that he was translating her poetry, she did not disclose that she was in the final throes of the cancer from which she would die on September 30, 1984. She is buried in the Rakowicki Cemetery in Krakow.

Her final poem, Tomorrow They Will Carve Me, written while on her deathbed, reads

Death came and stood by me.
I said: I am ready.
I am lying in the surgery clinic in Krakow.
they will carve me.

There is much strength in me. I can live,
can run, dance, and sing.
All that is in me, but if necessary
I will go.

I make account of my life.
I was a sinner,
I was beating my head against earth,
I implored from the earth and the sky

I was pretty and ugly,
wise and stupid,
very happy and very unhappy
often I had wings
and would float in air.

I trod a thousand paths in the sun and in snow,
I danced with my friend under the stars.
I saw love
in many human eyes.
I ate with delight
my slice of happiness.

Now I am lying in the surgery clinic in Krakow.
It stands by me.
they will carve me.
Through the window the trees of May, beautiful like life,
and in me, humility, fear, and peace.




I do not speak Polish. I do not read Polish. Yes there is something clever, caustic and evocative in the poems below and in the longer ones available on the Poetry Foundation site that transcends translation. Anna Swir is like a more carnal Emily Dickinson or a more spiritual Sylvia Plath. As she put it memorably, A poet should be as sensitive as an aching tooth. There is an ache and an acute sensitivity to body and soul in her best poetry as is evident below and in the more extensive poems. She was not well-known or much celebrated in her native Poland. (Even today the Wikipedia page on the Rakowicki Cemetery in Krakow, which also contains the graves of Georg Trakl and Wislawa Szymborska,  does not mention her in its list of notable internments.) Czeslaw Milosz explains why he introduced her work to a wider, English speaking audience: he translated her poems in order to repair injustice, because she was underestimated. I consider her a very important poet. But she was somehow in the shade. First of all, she had great difficulty in finding proper expression for her experiences, her war experiences. And then later she had difficulty finding this proper expression also for her love experiences. So she was a latecomer in a way. And for that reason she was not highly known. In 1985, Milosz published Happy as a Dog’s Tail, the first collection in English to consist solely of Swir’s poems. All of the poems were translated by Milosz, in partnership with Leonard Nathan, and consisted of poems from her mature volumes . In 1996, Milosz and Nathan re-edited the volume, adding an additional 65 poems and removing 31 that had been in the first edition, and renamed the book Talking to My Body. New translations of the poems have appeared in  Building the Barricade, translated by Piotr Florczyk in 2009. I leave it to Milosz, in a posthumous tribute, to sum up the enduring appeal of Anna Swir’s poetry: Opening myself to her verses, I have been more and more conquered by her extraordinary, powerful, exuberant, and joyous personality . . . her calm in accepting reality, whether it brought bliss or suffering. A mood of detachment is visible in her late poems. To have met such a person through her poems has inclined me to faith and optimism . . . In her later poems it was apparent that she had been gradually moving toward a supreme quietude.


Brief Poems by Anna Swir



I swam away from myself.
Do not call me.
Swim away from yourself, too.

We will swim away, leaving our bodies
on the shore
like a pair of beach sandals.



Two rucksacks,
two grey heads.
And the roads of all the world
for wandering.



Because there is no me
and because I feel
how much there is no me.



is the hardest
work of all.

The old and sick
should be exempt from it.



You make among the trees
a nest for our love.
But look at the flowers
you’ve crushed.



I am filled with love
as a great tree with the wind,
as a sponge with the ocean,
as a great life with suffering,
as time with death.



I envy you. Every moment
You can leave me.

I cannot
leave myself.



Twenty-four hours
I was dying of fever.

Twenty-four hours
mother knelt
and prayed by my bed.

Twenty-four hours
father lay, face down
on the floor.

They saved me.



Like an eye and an eyelid
United by a tear.



I am jolly as if I were
very fat.
As if I had four
very fat legs. As if I jumped very high
on my four very fat legs.
As if I barked
cheerfully and very loudly
with those four very fat legs.
That’s how jolly I am today.



Whether in daytime or in nighttime
I always carry inside
a light.
In the middle of noise and turmoil
I carry silence.
Always I carry light and silence.



When I am alone
I am afraid to turn
too quickly.

What is behind my back
may not, after all, be ready
to take a shape suitable
for human eyes.

And that would not be good.



She was an evil stepmother.
In her old age she is slowly dying
in an empty hovel.

She shudders
like a clutch of burnt paper.
She does not remember that she was evil.
But she knows
that she feels cold.



She is sixty. She lives
the greatest love of her life.

She walks arm-in-arm with her dear one,
her hair streams in the wind.
Her dear one says:
“You have hair like pearls.”

Her children say:
“Old fool.”



Out of suffering, power is born.
Out of power, suffering is born.

Two words for one



Were I able to shut
My eyes, ears, legs, hands
And walk into myself
For a thousand years,
Perhaps I would reach
—I do not know its name—
what matters most.




I carried two potatoes
a woman came up to me.

She wanted to buy two potatoes
She had children.

I didn’t give her two potatoes
I hid two potatoes.

I had a mother.

translated by Piotr Florczyk



I will survive.

I’ll find the deepest basement,
shut myself inside, won’t let anybody in,
I’ll dig a hole in the ground,
chew out the bricks,
I’ll hide in the wall, I’ll go into the wall
like a centipede.

Everyone will die, and I
will survive.

translated by Piotr Florczyk



Those who gave the first order to fight
let them now count our corpses.

Let them go through the streets
that are not there
through the city
that is not there
let them count for weeks for months
let them count our corpses
till death.

translated by Piotr Florczyk


You Died

You really died in me, not when
another gave me joy.
You died in me
when another gave me pain.

translated by Margaret Marshment and Grazyua Baran




Wiersze i proza (Poems and Prose) (1936)

Liryki zebrane (Collected Poems) (1958)

Czarne słowa (Black Words) (1967)

Wiatr (Wind) (1970)

Jestem baba (I am a Woman) (1972)

Poezje wybrane (Selected Poems) (1973)

Budowałam barykadę (Building the Barricade) (1974)

Szczęśliwa jak psi ogon (Happy as a Dog’s Tail) (1978)

Cierpienie i radość (Suffering and Joy) (1985)



Thirty-four Poems on the Warsaw Uprising (1977), New York. Transl.: Magnus Jan Kryński, Robert A. Maguire.

Building the Barricade (1979), Kraków. Transl.: Magnus Jan Kryński, Robert A. Maguire.

Happy as a Dog’s Tail (1985), San Diego. Transl.: Czesław Miłosz & Leonard Nathan.

Fat Like the Sun (1986), London. Transl.: M. Marshment, G. Baran.

Talking to My Body (Copper Canyon Press, 1996) Transl.: Czesław Miłosz & Leonard Nathan.

Building the Barricade and Other Poems of Anna Swir Tr. by Piotr Florczyk (Calypso Editions, 2011).



Poems and a brief biography on the My Poetic Side website.

Anna Swir & the Poetics of Embodiment by Angela Alaimo O’Donnell.

Poems by Anna Swir on The Gladdest Thing.

Poems by Anna Swir on A Longhouse Birdhouse.

Czeslaw Milosz discusses his translations and her poetry with The San Diego Reader.

The Anna Swir page on the Biographies II site.

An interview with Piotr Florcyz on translating Anna Swir.

Pearls and Toads, Yeast and Froth: Relationships in Anna Świrszczyńska’s Poetry; an essay by Laura Miller-Purrenhage.

Antenna – Brief Poems by Ciaran Carson

Ciaran Carson (October 9th, 1948 – October 6th, 2019) was born on the Lower Falls Road in Belfast into an Irish-speaking family. His father, William, was a postman and an Irish language enthusiast from whom he inherited his love of Irish, and of traditional music and storytelling. His mother, Mary, also an inspiration for his poems, worked in the linen mills. He spent his early years in Andersontown where he attended Slate Street School and, later, St. Gall’s Primary School. After attending St Mary’s Christian Brothers grammar school in Belfast, he studied English at Queen’s University where Seamus Heaney was one of his tutors and where poets Medbh McGuckian and Paul Muldoon were fellow students. After graduation, he worked as the traditional arts officer of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland from 1975 to 1998 with responsibility for traditional Irish music and literature. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, he travelled all over Ireland, playing the flute and the tin whistle in public venues, often accompanied by his future wife, Deirdre Shannon – herself a gifted fiddle-player. In 1998 he was appointed a Professor of English at Queen’s University and in 2003 was appointed director of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at the university. 

He was the author of fourteen poetry collections and six prose books including Last Night’s Fun (1996), a book about traditional music where each chapter bears the title of a beloved song; The Star Factory, (1998) a memoir of Belfast which The Chicago Tribune called “a positive, loving, even celebratory evocation, the work of a man determined to live an ordinary urban life, and to clear in it a place for the imagination”; Shamrock Tea, (2001) a novel longlisted for the Booker Prize which, as The Guardian reviwer put it “claims to be a novel but might equally be filed under History, Philosophy, Art, or Myth and Religion”; Fishing for AmberA Long Story, (2000) which weaves, in an elaborate manner, Irish fairy tales, Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the history of the Dutch golden age into the form of a magical alphabet; a novel The Pen Friend (2009) and a literary thriller set in Paris and Belfast, Exchange Place (2012).  His translation of Dante’s Inferno (2002) was awarded the Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize and in 2003 he was made an honorary member of the Irish Translators’ and Interpreters’ Association. He also translated Rimbaud into alexandrine lines in his collection In the Light Of  (2012) and the lesser-known French writer, Jean Follain, in From Elsewhere (2014) where he accompanied each translation with his own individual response. Unsurprisingly, given his Irish-language background, he also translated the Irish classic The Táin (2007) and Brian Merriman’s classic The Midnight Court (2005).

Ciaran Carson lived in Belfast his whole life. He died of lung cancer on 6 October 2019 at the age of 70, days before the publication of his last collection, Still Life.



Although it has long been superceded by better-known and better-celebrated collections, Ciaran Carson’s first book The New Estate (1976) was, to my mind, a remarkable debut and this first edition with its intriguing woodcuts holds a special place in my collection. A poem like The Bomb Disposal where “The city is a map of the city” prefigures themes that were to be developed, explored and extended throughout subsequent volumes: and a poem like Soot is still, decades on, a memorable and intricate poem. That fascination with maps, a constant throughout his career, is further indulged in his second collection, The Irish for No (1987) where a central section recreates the map of Belfast – the collapsing city – in words. Obliterated streets, bombed-out hotels and demolished facades are recalled and reconstructed in verse. A vibrant and decaying city is celebrated in an explosion of proper nouns. There is a new and frightening maturity at play here as evident in a poem like Campaign. Yet it is in the longer poems, in a style that owes much to the influence of the American poet, C. K. Williams, that Carson was to find his own mature voice. The subsequent collection, Belfast Confetti (1989) which, intriguingly, does not contain that evocative poem Belfast Confetti , further develops the long poem, the nine line poem, the prose poem and, interspersed throughout, a selection of translations of Japanese haiku (see below.) It also begins with a poem about maps, about Belfast, about street names, about directions, about history and, in typical Carson fashion, elides and aligns all together.

Breaking News (2003) is fascinating for the manner in which Carson manages to develop a fragmentary style to convey his typical concerns. That brief and fragmentary style is less successful, to my mind, in later volumes. On the Night Watch (2009) consists of over one hundred and twenty slimmed down, pared down, sonnets dealing with a siege of sickness. It is ingenious but somewhat repetitive. Ever more ingenious, if also repetitive, is the subsequent collection Until Before After (2010) which is about his wife’s hospital stay for a serious illness. The book is divided into three sections (until, before, after) and each poem in each section includes the relevant preposition from the title of that section. Brief poems are also included in his penultimate collection From Elsewhere (2014) a response to the French poet Jean Follain or, as he put it in an introductory note: This book consists of translations of the French poet Jean Follain, faced by “original” poems inspired by these translations: spins or takes on them in other words. Translations of the translations as it were. If many of the translations are a little flat, the translations of the translations, the original poems, some of which are included below, are far more interesting. There are no brief poems is Carson’s last posthumous publication Still Life (2019) but it is a remarkable swan song, one of the best poetry books of the decade, a superb concluding look at life, death and the streets of a Belfast that nourished this remarkable poet throughout his life.


Brief Poems by Ciaran Carson



Rain in summer –
it is the sound of a thousand cows
Being milked.

In winter
The eaves are heavy with ice,
Their snowy teats drip silence.                             

from the Welsh



Now I am bereft of answers
Your questions have gone astray –

Your roofs are open to the wind,
My roof is but cold clay.

after Dafydd Jones




Plains and mountains, skies
all up to their eyes in snow:
nothing to be seen.



I know the wild geese
ate my barley – yesterday?
Today? Where did they go?



These are wild slow days,
echoes trickling in from all
around Kyoto.



I’ve just put on this
borrowed armour: second hand
cold freezes my bones.



In Kyoto, still
longing for Kyoto: cuck-
oo’s two timepworn notes.



Darkness never flows
except down by the river:
shimmering fireflies.




from BREAKING NEWS (2003)



beyond the yellow
shipyard cranes

a blackbird whistles
in a whin bush


beside the motorway
a black taxi

rusts in a field 
of blue thistles



backpack radio



I don’t
read you

what the




red alert
car parked

in a red

about to



so quiet

you can

hear it rust



I met him
in a bar

he shook

my hand

of coffee-grinders


and that

and place

by now

he’d lit

a cigarette

he reeked of


Waste  Not

birds flock
above the field


women with sheaves

the dead

gold braid
and buttons



from a piece of
the Tupperware
lunchbox that hold

the wiring
they could tell
the bombmaker wore

Marigold rubber gloves



the horses fell

a crow
plucked the eyes

time passed

from a socket

a butterfly



the road
to Sevastopal

is paved
with round-shot

the road
from Sevastapol

with boots
that lack feet



from ON THE NIGHT WATCH (2009)

It Is

as late as

you think
you think

you know
the small hours

into decades


or dawn
to the chink

of the first bird



that we two
looked at

last year
does it fall

or what is this

a blinding

dark & stars
we wonder which

is yin
which yang

what then
what now



of his gear

a soldier
by his neck

all 33


the body
laid out where

he went kaput
a bullet

the occipital bone


Night after Night

in room
after book-

filled room
upon storey

after storey
I scan spine

after spine
upon shelf

after shelf
trying to locate

a volume
lodged at

the back
of my mind



So it is

as when
death draws

nigh death
draws a hush

upon the house
until the one

who is about
to die

cries open
the door



toll time

takes we
cannot tell

the order
of our going

hence until
the next

not even


It is

as if another city
dark as this one

dwells in this one
as before now that

you hear it through
the helicopter

beat that swells
from where

the city meets
the city


Time and

again time
after time to

play in time
as we did with

each other for
the last time

before now that
after without you

I still keep
your time in mind


The tag

round your wrist
bore a number

your name
and DOB

two weeks after
two stone less

the day you
came home it

slipped off
no need to snip



from FROM ELSEWHERE (2014)


From time to time
following the rumble of thunder
or a bomb
upon a mantlepiece
a Dresden vase crowded
wIth open-mouthed flowers
trembles about
to topple



Fallen from some
unknown tree
the leaf stuck
to the mushroom
in a moonlit glade
a horseman passes by
into the gloom.



Amid the nosie of gunfire
only the blind man
hears his cane
as he taps his way
through streets thronged with rioters
to the printing press
where they cast bullets
from type.


What Light There Is

By night
a flotilla of helicopters
circles above a city
never seen but heard
a noise indistinguishable
from that of the world
beyond its waves
from time to time
pierced by
a lightning stroke
the shriek of a night bird.


All poems: ©The Gallery Press.




 Poetry Foundation page on Ciaran Carson.

The Gallery Press page on Ciaran Carson.

An interview with Ciaran Carson in The New Yorker.

Michael Hinds discusses the poetry of Ciaran Carson in the Dublin Review of Books.

Still Life: a review by David Wheatley.

The Triumph: In memory of Ciaran Carson, a poem by Paul Muldoon.

Irish Times Obituary.

The New York Times obituary.

Wild Geese – Brief Poems by Takaha Shugyo

Takaha Shugyo (鷹羽狩行) was born in the mountainous Yamagata Prefecture, Japan, on October 5th 1930. Due to the work of his father, he spent his youth in Onomichi (Inland Sea). He began writing haiku when he was 15 years old, studying with Yamaguchi Seishi and Akimoto Fujio. He received the Minister of Education’s Young Poets Award in 1965 for his haiku collection Birth and in 1975, the Mainichi Newspaper Art Award for Wing Lights and Thirteenth Day Moon. He is founder and leader of the haiku magazine KARI (Hunting) established in 1978. In 1979 he resigned from the company for which he had been working since graduating from university and now heads a group called Kari and earns his living as a selector and commentator. Since then he has devoted himself to haiku, providing guidance in the composition of haiku for the Kari Haiku Society’s thousands of members as well as publishing a monthly magazine, also called Kari. To this day he is the President of the Haijin Kyokai (the Association of Haiku Poets), which is the largest association of haiku poets in Japan and has some 14,000 members. Takaha Shugyo has consistently played a central role in the world of contemporary Japanese haiku and at the same time has been an enthusiastic exponent of the art of composing haiku overseas. He is also an executive director of HIA, a haiku judge for the Mainichi newspaper and NHK television’s national haiku contest, a director of the Japan Writers’ Association, and has won many awards for his haiku.

As a professional haiku poet, he has been known to judge some 30,000 haiku each month. That works out at  about 1,000 haiku per day, just the ones he’s judging, mostly for publication. He has even written a poem about this amazing achievement:

the chirping of tree crickets—
after having judged
a thousand verses in one day

He received many prices for his numerous haiku collections and has also written many educational texts about haiku. As one of his translators, Hoshino Tsunehiko has noted, Takaha Shugyo has consistently played a central role in the world of contemporary Japanese haikuand may be said to be one of the busiest and most productive professional haiku poets active in Japan today.


Takaha Shugyo preserves the convention of the 5/7/5 sound symbol pattern and, also, the use of a season-word. He places great importance on tradition and on classical haiku while also adding a contemporary touch to his own compositions. This is evident in one of his best-known poems, the first in the series below which is accompanied by four different translations. This was written in 1969, he explains, on a visit to New York, while looking down from the Empire State Building. During a month-long business trip to America in 1969, I wrote one hundred and seventeen haiku. I looked down on Central Park’s verdure (336 hectares) from the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building. Expressing it just as a miniature garden would be trite like a cheap picture postcard. From this height it looked like the parsley served on a dish in Western cuisine. I felt that this expression could convey my feeling. With the advance of internationalization, this verse was regarded as a groundbreaking example of haiku composed overseas by Japanese haikuists, but many people criticized it for that reason.

Hoshino Tsunehiko explains that the “contemporary note” that Takaha adds to his poems is an “intellectual lyricism” and a skill for “composing haiku overseas”.  He further remarks that this latter tendency “has provided us with many works which can serve as guides or models as to how to adapt season-words—poetic terms which were originally born from Japan’s climate, geography and culture—to the different seasons and climes of foreign countries.

Brief Poems by Takaha Shugyo


matenrō yori shinryoku ga paseri hodo

from the skyscraper
the fresh greenery of the trees—
just like parsley

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington


From a skyscraper,
nothing but so much parsley—
springtime’s new greens

translation by Jack Stamm


from a skyscraper 
fresh green trees 
look like parsley

translation by Michael Dylan Welch and Emiko Miyashita


Seen from the skyscraper
the trees’ fresh greenery:
spring parsley

translation by Michael R. Burch



ochitsubaki ware naraba kyūryū e otsu

fallen camellias—
if I were one,
I’d throw myself into the torrent

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington


if I were a fallen camellia
I would fall
into a rapid stream

Translation by Fay Aoyagi


Oh, fallen camellias,
if I were you,
I’d leap into the torrent!

translation by Michael R. Burch



sukēto no nureba tazusae hitozuma yo

O, somebody’s wife!
carrying ice skates
with wet blades

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington



hātogata horarete ichiju haya mebuku

one tree,
a heart carved on its trunk,
buds early

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington


A single tree,
a heart carved into its trunk,
blossoms prematurely …

translation by Michael R. Burch



utsukushiki gogatsu no ase o nuguwazu ni

sweat in May—
too beautiful
to wipe it off

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington



aki atsushi kago no hishimeku kotoriichi

autumn heat—
the cages jostle
at the bird market

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington



umagoya no ittō de michi kurisumasu

one horse fills
the nativity stable—

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington


kurumi waru kurumi no naka ni tsukawanu heya

cracking open a walnut —
inside the shell,
one unused room

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington


Inside the cracked shell
of a walnut:
one empty room

translation by Michael R. Burch



dōkefuku nugazu tentōmushi no shi yo

still wearing
its clown’s costume,
the ladybird has died

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington


Still clad in its clown’s costume—
the dead ladybird.

translation by Michael R. Burch



kari wataru rashi shoku no hi no yuretsuzuke

geese seem to be flying south—
the candle’s flame
continues to flicker

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington


Are the geese flying south?
The candle continues to flicker …

translation by Michael R. Burch


kari sugishi ato zenten o miseitari

Wild geese pass
leaving the emptiness of heaven

translation by Michael R. Burch


Wild geese pass
The whole of heaven

translation by Tsunehiko Hoshino and Adrian Pinnington




A brief profile and five poems on the Haiku International Association website.

Arriving Geese: Learning from Shugyō Takaha

The Takaha Shugyo page on the Introducing Haiku Poets and Topics site.

Translations by Michael R. Burch of poems by Takaha Shugyo are included on the Haiku: the Best of the Masters page on the HyperTexts site.

The image used on this page is a woodblock print by Utagawa Hiroshige, Full Moon at Takanawa.

I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Michael R. Burch in providing original Japanese poems and his translations for this post.

Garlands – Brief Poems by Meleager of Gadara

Meleager the poet (Μελέαγρος), not to be confused with Meleager the Greek mythological hero, lived during the first century BC (c. 140 BC.-c. 70 BC). He was born in the city of Gadara, now known as Umm Qays in modern Jordan. He was raised and educated in Tyre and, later, lived on the Aegean island of Cos where he died, it is believed at the age of seventy. He claimed to speak Greek, Syrian and Phoenician. His satirical and philosophical essays, based on the beliefs of the Greek Cynics, have not survived. However his sensual poetry, in the form of 134 epigrams, continues to find new translators and new readers. He is famous for an anthology of poetry entitled The Garland, the first anthology of epigrammatic poems written over the previous two centuries. In the preface he names all his contributors and assigns each one the name of a flower, shrub or herb –  hence the title. This work was subsumed into what has become known as The Greek Anthology.

Meleager included his own poems in the anthology. These are primarily erotic epigrams, often written in the first person, dealing with his own experience and emotion. Most of the experiences and much of the emotion derives from the difficulties and distractions of love, sometimes concerning a woman, sometimes concerning a young boy. These brief poems are neatly constructed in a strict metre with a tone varying from the affectionate to the cynical and a language, at times simple, and at times imbued with the traditional imagery of bows, torches, cupids, thunderbolts, honey, light flowers and insects (in one epigram he asks a mosquito to be the messenger to his unfaithful beloved). His poems influenced he epigrammatic tradition which flourished during the Roman Empire and they continue to be translated today. In the 1830’s, J. H. Merivale, in an edition of The Greek Anthology, wrote of Meleager that “as a … composer of epigrams he was very far superior” to the authors he included in The Garland. Some 140 years later, scholar and translator Peter Jay stated, Meleager’s poetic authenticity lies in the mastery of every aspect of his medium.


The epigrams of Meleager have been extensively rendered in English and continue to inspire translations. Walter Headlam brought out Fifty Poems of Meleager (1890); W. R Paton translated them in The Greek Anthology (1916); Richard Aldington translated 128 of them in The Poems of Meleager of Gadara (1920): F. A. Wright translated The Complete Poems of Meleager of Gadara (1924); Peter Whigham produced verse translations of the poems along with prose translations by Peter Jay in The Poems of Meleager (1975); Baron Frederick Corvo (aka Frederick Rolfe) produced The Songs of Meleager (1984). However all the translations below are taken from one source: Puerilities: Erotic Epigrams of The Greek Anthology edited by Daryl Hine (Princeton University Press, 2001) which translates most of the twelfth book of The Greek Anthology. That book, the so-called Musa Puerilis, is given its first complete verse version in English by the Canadian-born poet. Richard Howard had this to say of these translations: Daryl Hine’s translations from The Greek Anthology are the liveliest, frequently loveliest, and certainly the most libidinous versions of these celebrated texts that I’ve ever seen. I know from years of teaching that American students, even of the Classics, are quite vague about what The Greek Anthology was really like—particularly the salacious aspect of those poems. Hine alone gives a fair (or is that foul) sample.


Daryl Hine (1936 – 2012), a Canadian poet and translator, was born in Burnaby and grew up in New Westminster, British Columbia. Having attended McGill University in Montreal, he then went to Europe on a Canada Council scholarship, where he lived for three years. He moved to New York in 1962 and to Chicago in 1963 where he taught courses in poetry and comparative literature at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and the University of Illinois, Chicago. He was the editor of Poetry from 1968 to 1978. Hine was a highly regarded translator of classical writers such as Homer, Hesiod, and Ovid, among others. His translation of Works of Hesiod and the Homeric Hymns (2005) won the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets. He was also  the recipient of a Canada Foundation-Rockefeller fellowship, an Ingram Merrill Award, a Guggenheim fellowship, an American Academy and Institution of Arts and Letters Award and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. He was the author of fifteen books of poetry and six works of verse translation. Following the death of his partner of more than 30 years, the philosopher Samuel Todes, Hine lived in semi-retirement in Evanston, Illinois. In 2012 Daryl Hine died of complications of a blood disorder at the age of 76.


Brief Poems by Meleager of Gadara


Ἠγρεύθην ὁ πρόσθεν ἐγώ ποτε τοῖς δυσέρωσι 
κώμοις ἠιθέων πολλάκις ἐγγελάσας: 
καὶ μ᾽ ἐπὶ σοῖς ὁ πτανὸς Ἔρως προθύροισι, Μυΐσκε, 
στῆσεν ἐπιγράψας ‘ σκῦλ᾽ ἀπὸ Σωφροσύνης.’

I used to laugh at young men who were not 
Successful in their wooing. Now I’m caught; 
Myiscus, on your gate winged Love has placed 
Me, labelled as, “A Trophy of the Chaste.” 


ἦν καλὸς Ἡράκλειτος, ὅτ᾽ ἦν ποτε: νῦν δὲ παρ᾽ ἥβην 
κηρύσσει πόλεμον δέρρις ὀπισθοβάταις. 
ἀλλά, Πολυξενίδη, τάδ᾽ ὁρῶν, μὴ γαῦρα φρυάσσου: 
ἔστι καὶ ἐν γλουτοῖς φυομένη Νέμεσις.

A peach was Heraclitus when — don’t scoff! — 
Still Heraclitus; now he’s past his prime 
His hairy hide puts all assailants off. 
On your cheeks too the curse will come in time. 


οὐκέτι μοι Θήρων γράφεται καλός, οὐδ᾽ ὁ πυραυγὴς 
πρίν ποτε, νῦν δ᾽ ἤδη δαλός, Ἀπολλόδοτος. 
στέργω θῆλυν ἔρωτα: δασυτρώγλων δὲ πίεσμα 
λασταύρων μελέτω ποιμέσιν αἰγοβάταις.

No, Theron’s beauty does no longer please 
Me, nor Apollodotus’ burnt-out charms. 
I like cunt. Let bestial goatherds squeeze 
Their hairy little bumboys in their arms! 


κεῖμαι: λὰξ ἐπίβαινε κατ᾽ αὐχένος, ἄγριε δαῖμον. 
οἶδά σε, ναὶ μὰ θεούς, καὶ ^ βαρὺν ὄντα φέρειν 
οἶδα καὶ ἔμπυρα τόξα. βαλὼν δ᾽ ἐπ᾽ ἐμὴν φρένα πυρσούς, 
οὐ φλέξεις: ἤδη πᾶσα γάρ ἐστι τέφρη.

Yes, kick me when I’m down, you spiteful sprite! 
I feel your weight, I feel your fiery dart. 
But if you try to set fire to my heart, 
You can’t: it is incinerated quite. 


ἢν ἐνίδω Θήρωνα, τὰ πάνθ᾽ ὁρῶ: ἢν δὲ τὰ πάντα 
βλέψω, τόνδε δὲ μή, τἄμπαλιν οὐδὲν ὁρῶ.

When I see Thero I see everything; 
But when he’s absent I can’t see a thing. 


ἤν τι πάθω, Κλεόβουλε, ῾τὸ γὰρ πλέον ἐν πυρὶ παίδων 
βαλλόμενος κεῖμαι λείψανον ἐν σποδιῇ:᾿ 
λίσσομαι, ἀκρήτῳ μέθυσον, πρὶν ὑπὸ χθόνα θέσθαι, 
κάλπιν, ἐπιγράψας ‘ δῶρον Ἔρως Ἀίδῃ.’

If, Cleobulus, I should expire 
Being cast on the juvenile pyre, 
As to ashes I burn 
Sprinkle wine on my urn 
And inscribe it, “ To Death from Desire.” 


εἰ μὴ τόξον Ἔρως, μηδὲ πτερά, μηδὲ φαρέτραν,
μηδὲ πυριβλήτους εἶχε πόθων ἀκίδας,
οὐκ, αὐτὸν τὸν πτανὸν ἐπόμνυμαι, οὔποτ᾽ ἂν ἔγνως
ἐκ μορφᾶς τίς ἔφυ Ζωίλος ἢ τίς Ἔρως.

If Cupid had no bow, no wings, and no 
Quiver filled with fiery arrows of 
Desire, by looks alone you’d never know 
Zoilus from the winged god of love. 


ἁ Κύπρις θήλεια γυναικομανῆ] φλόγα βάλλει: 
ἄρσενα δ᾽ αὐτὸς Ἔρως ἵμερον ἁνιοχεῖ. 
ποῖ ῥέψω; ποτὶ παῖδ᾽ ἢ ματέρα; φαμὶ δὲ καὐτὰν 
Κύπριν ἐρεῖν: ‘νικᾷ τὸ θρασὺ παιδάριον

Lady Venus generates our lust 
For females; Cupid pricks desire for males. 
Which shall I turn to? Even Venus must 
Admit her cheeky little brat prevails. 


ἠοῦς ἄγγελε, χαῖρε, Φαεσφόρε, καὶ ταχὺς ἔλθοις 
ἕσπερος, ἣν ἀπάγεις, λάθριος αὖθις ἄγων.

Hail, morning star, fair messenger of dawn! 
As evening star, bring back the sweet cheat gone. 


Κύπρις ἐμοὶ ναύκληρος, Ἔρως δ᾽ οἴακα φυλάσσει 
ἄκρον ἔχων ψυχῆς ἐν χερὶ πηδάλιον 
χειμαίνει δ᾽ ὁ βαρὺς πνεύσας Πόθος, οὕνεκα δὴ νῦν 
παμφύλῳ παίδων νήχομαι ἐν πελάγει.

My skipper’s Venus, Cupid mans the helm, 
Holding my spirit’s rudder in his hand; 
Desire blows hard enough to overwhelm 
Me, breasting a sea of boys from every land. 


χειμέριον μὲν πνεῦμα: φέρει δ᾽ ἐπὶ σοί με, Μυΐσκε, 
ἁρπαστὸν κώμοις ὁ γλυκύδακρυς Ἔρως. 
χειμαίνει δὲ βαρὺς πνεύσας Πόθος, ἀλλὰ μ᾽ ἐς ὅρμον 
δέξαι, τὸν ναύτην Κύπριδος ἐν πελάγει.

Myiscus, despite this wintry wind I’m swept 
Away by Love’s sweet tears to pay you court. 
Desire is like a hurricane. Accept 
This loving mariner into your port. 



All of the epigrams of Meleager in a prose translation by W. R. Paton.

Ten of the poems translated by Thomas McEvilley.

A large selection of the poems in the original Greek from Maleager: The Poems edited by Jerry Clack.

The Poems of Maleager: Verse Translations by Peter Whigham; Introduction and literal translations by Peter Jay.

Full text of Puerilities: Erotic Epigrams of The Greek Anthology Translated by Daryl Hine.

A review of Puerilities by Otto Steinmayer.

The Canadian Encyclopaedia page on Daryl Hine.

Clock’s Tocks – Brief Poems by George Turberville

A falconer, woodcut illustration from Turberville’s Book of Falconry or Hawking (1575).

George Turberville (c.1540 – c.1610) was an English poet born at Whitechurch in Dorset of a right ancient and genteel family. The Turbervilles were an old Dorsetshire family, the inspiration for the d’Urbervilles of Thomas Hardy’s novel, Tess of the d’Urbervilles. George Turberville was a scholar of Winchester College in 1554 at the age of fourteen and, after studying in New College, Oxford in 1561, he moved to the Inns of Court in London where he gained a reputation as a poet and man of affairs. In 1568 he accompanied, as his secretary, Thomas Randolph, who received a commission from Queen Elizabeth to be ambassador to the Emperor of Russia, Ivan the Terrible. It was in Moscow that he composed his first collection of poems, entitled Poems describing the Places and Manners of the Country and People of Russia, Anno 1568. No copy of this work survives.  In 1575 he acquired a property at Shapwick in Dorset where, according to his friend, Anthony Wood, he was esteemed a most accomplished gentlemen, and his company was much sought after and desired by all men.

His Epitaphs, Epigrams, Songs and Sonnets appeared “newly corrected with additions” in 1567. (The poems below, with modernised spelling, are taken from that collection.) He was the first English poet to publish a book of verses to his lady, a genre that became popular in the Elizabethan age. In that same year he published translations of Ovid and Mantuanus, which included some of the first attempts at blank verse in English. His translation of The Heroycall Epistles of the Learned Poet, Publius Ovidius Naso was odd for the time because it seems to have a sexual aggression, bordering on violence, which was very uncommon in poems of the age. The Book of Falconry or Hawking (from which the image left is taken) and the Noble Art of Venerie (printed together in 1575) were also attributed to Turberville.

George Turberville was popular in his day. His contemporary, Sir John Harington, whose poetry is discussed and anthologised in another Brief Poems post,  has an epitaph in commendation of ‘George Turbervill, a learned gentleman,’ in his first book of Epigrams (1618), which concludes, ‘My pen doth praise thee dead, thine grac’d me living.’ George Gascoigne was friendly with Turbervile, who was probably the ‘G. T.’ from whom the manuscript of Gascoigne’s ‘A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres’ was obtained. Turbervile received the praise of George Puttenham in his Art of Poesie, although he was also called a ‘bad rhymer,’ and it is plain from contemporaries like Thomas Nashe and Gabriel Harvey that he came to be regarded as worthy but also outdated. He had a modest sense of his own worth.  In the epilogue to his collection, he describes himself as paddling along the banks of the stream of Helicon, like a sculler against the tide, for fear of the deep stream and the ‘mighty hulkes’ that adventured out so far. He viewed himself as a gentleman amateur who chose light over serious verse.  I write but of familiar stuffe, because my stile is lowe… Not euery woodman that doth shoote, hath skill to chose his Deere.

The title page of his Tragical Tales (1587), which are translations from Boccaccio and Bandello, says that the book was written at the time of the author’s troubles. What these troubles were is now unknown. A George Turberville was summoned before the council on 22 June 1587 to answer ‘certaine matters objected against him’. His friend, Anthony Wood, says he was living and in high esteem in 1594. From the fact that the 1611 edition of The Book of Falconry or Hawking  is labelled ‘Heretofore published by George Turbervile, gentleman,’ it is assumed that the author was dead prior to that year.


I first came across the poetry of George Turberville in an excellent anthology edited by John Williams, English Renaissance Poetry, a book so battered from  perusal over four decades that it is now almost falling apart. According to Williams, His best poems are either witty or ironic or both; partly because of the perfection of their execution and the smallness of their themes, they remind me of the later Madrigalists, though the language and feeling of Turberville have a Native dryness unlike that of later poets. Yvor Winters, who inspired the anthology, described that Native dryness as the plain style where the poem has a theme usually broad, simple, and obvious, even tending toward the proverbial, but usually a theme of some importance, humanly speaking; a feeling restrained to the minimum required by the subject; a rhetoric restrained to a similar minimum, the poet being interested in his rhetoric as a means of stating his matter as economically as possible, and not, as are the Petrarchans, in the pleasures of rhetoric for its own sake. It is the simplicity and the concision, that stating the matter as economically as possible, I find admirable. When he uses the word sonnet, as he does in a poem below, it is in the old sense of being freely applied to poems of varied rhyme-scheme, length, and meter, and where, as his friend George Gascoigne complained, some thinke that all Poemes (being short) may be called Sonets. In his thematic approach, Turberville’s poetry is mostly conventional for the Elizabethan era, concerned with time passing (the clock tick-tocking) and the vagaries of love, albeit with an often caustic tone. But it continues to resonate today as I hope the selection below exemplifies.



Brief Poems by George Turberville

Master Googe his Sonnet of the pains of Love

Two lines shall tell the grief
that I by Love sustain:
I burn, I flame, I faint, I freeze,
of Hell I feel the pain.

Turberville’s answer and distich to the same.

Two lines shall teach you how
to purchase ease anew:
Let Reason rule where Love did reign,
and idle thoughts eschew.


Of one that had little Wit

I thee advise
If thou be wise
To keep thy wit
Though it be small:
‘Tis rare to get
And far to fet,
‘Twas ever yit
Dearest ware of all.


Of one that had a great Nose.

Stande with thy Nose against
the Sun with open chaps,
and by thy teeth we shall discern
what tis a clock perhaps.


Of Drunkenness

At night when ale is in,
like friends we part to bed;
In morrow gray, when ale is out,
Then hatred is in head.


Of the Clock and the Cock.

Good reason thou allow
one letter more to me
than to the cock: for cocks do sleep
when clocks do wake for thee.


Of the cruel hatred of Stepmothers.

The son-in-law his stepdame being dead,
Began her hearse with garlands to commend:
Meanwhile there fell a stone upon his head
From out the tomb that brought the boy abed,
A proof that stepdames hate hath never end.


The Lover to His Lady, That Gazed Much Up to The Skies

My Girl, thou gazest much
Upon the golden skies:
Would I were Heaven, I would behold
Thee then with all mine eyes.


Of an open foe and a feigned friend

Oh both give me the man
that says, I hate in deed;
than him that hath a knife to kill,
yet wears a friendly weed.


Of a Rich Miser.

A miser’s mind thou hast,
thou hast a prince’s pelf:
which makes thee wealthy to thine heir,
a beggar to thy self.



The Wikipedia Page on George Turberville.

A web version of Epitaphes, epigrams, songs and sonets with a discourse of the friendly affections of Tymetes to Pyndara his ladie. Newly corrected with additions, and set out by George Turbervile Gentleman.

A reproduction of the 1567 edition of Epitaphes, epigrams, songs and sonets with a discourse of the friendly affections of Tymetes to Pyndara his ladie. Newly corrected with additions, and set out by George Turbervile Gentleman.

A reproduction of the 1576 edition of Tubervilles’ Booke of Hunting.


Irish Arses – Brief Poems by Brendan Kennelly

Brendan Kennelly, an Irish poet and novelist, was born in Ballylongford in County Kerry on 17 April 1936.  His parents owned a pub at the village crossroads. He was educated at the inter-denominational school, St. Ita’s College in Tarbert and at Trinity College, where he edited the student literary magazine Icarus. He graduated from Trinity and wrote his PhD thesis there. The subject of his doctoral thesis, Modern Irish Poets and the Irish Epic, was the revival of ancient Gaelic mythology in English verse by notable Irish poets, including Samuel Ferguson and W.B. Yeats. He also studied at Leeds University. He was Professor of Modern Literature at Trinity College, Dublin for thirty years until his retirement from teaching in 2005. In 2010 he was awarded the Irish PEN Award for his contribution to Irish Literature. He now lives in Listowel in County Kerry.


A prolific and fluent writer, Brendan Kennelly has more than fifty books to his credit, over thirty of them collections of poetry. Many of them are book-length sequences, adapting and adopting various voices to his own ends: For me, poetry is an entering into the lives of things and people, dreams and events. An early sequence Cromwell (Beaver Row Press, 1983; Bloodaxe Books, 1987) is a wildly ambitious attempt to convey the historical import of a polarising figure in Anglo-Irish relations by utilising various voices and personae and then putting them through a chronological blender. The use of a persona can be a liberating agent and reveal more about our existence and our way of life than personal outpourings. Not only does Kennelly ventriloquize Cromwell, but he also creates his own gargantuan and rabelesian figures, in particular a mythical mad Irishman with the Joycean name of M.P.G.M. Buffún Esq. (pronounced buffoon). A later book, Moloney Up and At It (Mercier Press, 1984) continues the rabelesian theme, but in a rural manner. Set in his native Kerry and using the local language, these ten comic poems on the themes of sex and death are monologues in the voice of a local man. Kennelly himself appears as a comic foil in the concluding poem.

The poems below are taken from four of Kennelly’s most ambitious books. The Book of Judas (Bloodaxe Books,1991) is an epic poem of nearly 400 pages, almost 800 poems, mediated by the Biblical figure of Judas transported through history, myth and legend to contemporary Ireland. What unites this amazing enterprise is not only the reviled figure of Judas but the sense of ultimate betrayal which he symbolises. I believe, he writes in a preface, that this culture is now in an advanced state of self-betrayal, playing Judas to itself. In this poem I wanted this man to talk to himself, this culture to mutter to itself of what is lost or forgotten or betrayed or grotesquely twisted in memory. Talk to himself, Judas certainly does. The great strength of the book is its relentlessly colloquial style, pouring out cliché, bombast, invective, obscenity, blasphemy and sheer bloody-minded self-exculpation. (From my vantage point as traitor/I see what’s true.) There are times when the sheer effort to cope with the style breaks down and the book splutters and stutters along for pages at a time (Clichés, I said, clichés, is this all you have to give.) But Kennelly works hard to offer a variety of complimentary voices to that given to his anti-hero, what he calls the Judas voice. Biblical, historical and literary figures of betrayal swagger their way through the narrative. Like Paradise Lost, the book is in twelve sections; like Satan, Judas is its compelling anti-hero; and like Milton, Kennelly has created a style appropriate to his grand enterprise, one that owes more to a televisual than a theological age. (I kept a production notebook on the crucifixion.) It is a remarkable work.

Poetry My Arse, subtitled, “A riotous Epic Poem”, (Bloodaxe Books,1995) is equally ambitious. This poem concerns a poet, poetry, language and various forms of relationship. The poet Ace de Horner, moves through his poetry, the city, different relationships. He broods a lot. The city in question is Dublin and, as well as being identified as “post-colonial”, Kennelly also calls it, in a prefatory “Acenote”, the most garrulous city in Christendom. There are elements of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake with Ace de Horner as a latter-day Bloom or HCE. The book is defiantly garrulous, a kind of shuffling arena of voices. These voices lead to a cacophony of bile and bluster, like a Dublin bar-room at closing time. While the poetry is constantly undercutting itself as it spools out, there is a bluntness to the satire. The book, it seems to me, lacks the rigour or intellectual control to transform bitterness into a sustainable satire on Dublin’s literary life. It operates best at the level of burlesque, lampoon, farce and crude jokes. In defiantly undercutting any auspicious or traditional sense of the resonance of poetry, the exuberance and exhibitionism are left to do the work of social and literary criticism. The poems are propelled by the energetic thrust of their defiant style and best read as part of a compelling comedy. Any objection to a book that refuses to take itself seriously is always going to be met with an in-built deflector. Kennelly’s response to one negative reviewer is apt: The reviewer said it was full of shit, sex and violence. He was right. My intention was his perception. But it is also about the connection between the poet and his society. It explores the nature of poetry, my blind Dublin Homer who sees more clearly as he becomes more blind.

Arses reappear in Martial Art (Bloodaxe Books, 2003). Given the scatological, even the pornographic nature of much of Kennelly’s work, it is not surprising that he turned to the Latin poet for inspiration. What is surprising, and welcome, is the manner in which he reins in his exuberance and attains an uncharacteristic concision. The book is no structured translation of much translated poems. It includes translation, but it is also an effort, successful in large parts, to wrest Martial to his own ends. Some of the poems are in the mode of the Latin poet rather than mere translations. There are verses here which I wrote after trying to translate him, or while I tried to translate him.  It is a tribute to the skill with which he conducts the enterprise that it is sometimes hard to know which poem is original and which is a translation. The empathy is emphasised when Kennelly calls Martial a wandering provincial in a confident metropolis. Martial’s movement from the Spanish town of Bilbilis to Rome is mirrored in the transition of Kennelly from the rural Kerry town of Ballylongford to metropolitan Dublin. The identification is further explored in a brief introduction: If he’d been a boxer, he’d have developed a new kind of knockout punch, smiling at his victim as he walked back to his corner. His themes are many and varied. He writes of money, food, wine, furniture, style, power, sex, corruption, love, hatred, streets, darkness, families, poverty, snobbery, poets, poetry, polished deceit, aesthetic back-stabbers, High Art, low artists, metropolitan egotism and arrogance, politics, escape to the countryside, property, law, education, greed, manipulative men and women, cliques, loners, talkers and chatterboxes of every shade and motive, patrons, misery, the happy life, clothes, enemies, gossip, friends, flattery and the old constant problem of personal survival and hope of self-renewal. That’s Rome two thousand years ago. That’s Dublin today… Is one translating Martial? Or is Martial, smiling and mischievous as ever, translating the translator? The rock-star as literary critic, Bono, has endorsed Brendan Kennelly’s translations, in a blurb, This is poetry as base as heavy metal, as high as the Holy Spirit flies, comic and tragic, from litany to rant, roaring at times, soaring at other times. He may be overblowing the achievement, but he has a point.

Three Irish arses make an appearance in Now (Bloodaxe Books, 2006). The first is that of a swan who “cocks his arse/to the full moon.” The second and third use that slang Irish invocation, my arse or, more colloquially, O kiss me arse. (See below.) Typical of Kennelly, he can be both concise and verbose at once. The book consists of more than six hundred and fifty three-line poems: I decided to write a poem sequence of three-liners that would try to convey the sliding identities of “now.” Although they flirt fitfully with terza-rima, epigram, even the odd haiku-like structure, they have more in common with the energetic burst that make up Poetry My Arse. The sequence is autobiographical and contains a motley cast of odd and incongruous characters with names like Tinker, Deborah Breen, Professor Strong, Zachary Hoakes and Professor Hoggett. As if to repay the tribute in the blurb on Martial Art, even Bono makes a grandiloquent appearance in the sequence. In a brief introductory note, and these introductory notes are among the more pleasing aspects of his many collections, Kennelly invokes some of his previous books and argues Now is an attempt to probe the concerns (obsessions?) with time in these poems in a more condensed, immediate way that is influenced by ancient proverbs from different cultures and modern headlines from different countries. Each of these often rhyming triplets posits questions of time, of an inherent Now, of the relation between a personal past and a city’s past. Despite their brevity, they are more loquacious than condensed, the work of one of the most eclectic and energetic of Irish poets.



Brief Poems by Brendan Kennelly


Christmas 1986

At the entrance to the church, in black
Spare lettering: GUNS NOT PRAYER.


Herod’s Epitaph

Time’s children gave him plenty rope:
While there’s death there’s hope.



The camp is nowhere, yet a hundred
Starving stragglers drag in here every day.



Despite madness and heartache
Despite white supremacy and black magic
Despite heaven’s rage and earthquake
Let’s take a commercial break.


How Able is Abel

Saxon shillings, Yankee dollars, Irish mist:
Cutest hoor that ever pissed.
Turns muck to amethyst.


All poems © Bloodaxe Books.




“I like sleeping with Stephen.
I like sleeping with Stephen’s daddy too.
Neither knows I sleep with the other.
I keep two men happy. And you?”


For Adults

“Why are you so intent,”I asked, “on getting
other men’s wives into bed?”
“Adultery is for adults,” he said.



“I know,” she said, “when we laugh and fuck
life’s a blessèd slice of luck.”


The Good News

I told him I was getting married.
His lip
curled into a question:
“Will she take the whip?”



“She broke both legs, we soon forgot her.
If that woman was a horse we’d have shot her.”



She lifted her head, Ace heard her say,
“Well, that’s my protein for today.”


All poems © Bloodaxe Books.



Three Things

Three things make an epigram sing:
brevity, honey, sting.



The god of divination is under stress.
What he’ll say
is anyone’s guess.



When these two talk in their usual way
the sun covers its face and turns away.



When one dines alone
one knows the meaning 
of conversation.


Two souls

I know two souls
who always go to bed late
fearing their sleep
may lessen their hate.



Had Prattus the heaven’s embroidered cloths
he’d wipe his arse with them.



If Martial’s truth were told
all that I give
is less than I withhold.



He sits up late in a cold, dark place.
Why? His wife’s face.


Passion and permanence

What he, in love, bedwhispers to her
is printed on air, scrawled on water.


The art of war

Soldiers never afraid to risk their lives
are quivering cowards before their wives.


Further translations of Martial by Brendan Kennelly, together with the original Latin, are available on the Brief Poems Martial post.

All poems © Bloodaxe Books.

from NOW

He wonders why hate
has such an accomplished smile.
Hell is a paradise of style.


He observes that sometimes in summer leaves fall
as in autumn, whether on a swan’s nest 
or a body in the canal.


Now the philosopher: “There is no difference between living
and dying.” “Why, then, do you not die.”
“Because there is no difference.”


“A poem should not mean
but be.”
“On the matter of meaning and being, we disagree.”


The swan cocks his arse
to the full moon, 
going down.


“Ravenous appetite, my arse!
A man is no more 
than a lusty goat waiting to snore!”


“O kiss me arse,” she chirps, “forget your gloomy style.
It takes forty-two muscles to frown,
seventeen to smile.”


“Will she ever shut up?
Why can’t the thoughtless 
be wordless?”


All poems © Bloodaxe Books.



The “Trinity Writers” Page on Brendan Kennelly.

The Wikipedia page on Brendan Kennelly.

The Bloodaxe Books page on Brendan Kennelly.

The Poetry International page on Brendan Kennelly.

The Poetry Archive page on Brendan Kennelly.

An Irish Times article on Brendan Kennelly by Eileen Battersby.

A review of Martial Art by Paul Davis.


Pillow Cases – Brief Poems by Suzanne Buffam

Suzanne Buffam,  a Canadian poet, was born in Montreal and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia. She earned an MA in English literature from Concordia University in Montreal, and an MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is the author of three collections of poetry. Her third, A Pillow Book (Canarium Books 2016), was named by the New York Times as one of the ten best books of poetry in 2016. Her second book,  The Irrationalist (Canarium Books, 2010), was a finalist for the 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize. Her first, Past Imperfect (House of Anansi Press, 2005), won the Gerald Lampert Award in 2006. She has taught Creative Writing at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the University of Chicago, and Columbia College Chicago. In 2014/2015 she spent some time  in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. She now lives in Chicago with her husband, the poet Srikanth Reddy.


Suzanne Buffam’s second collection, The Irrationalist, was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2011. It is an eclectic collection with many diverse, intriguing and witty poems, including such favourites of mine as Enough, The New Experience and a remarkable prose poem, Trying, about attempting to conceive a child. However, for me, the most enjoyable section of the book is its central section entitled Little Commentaries. This consists of seventy-four poems with the title “On______”. She discusses them in an interview with Sina QueryasI had the title in mind for many years—lifted from a small, hand-bound pamphlet—Commentariolus (Little Commentary)–circulated by Nicolaus Copernicus in the 16th century, in which he first (and covertly) set out his heliocentric theory of the universe. Having been somewhat obsessed with miniature things all my life, I was instantly drawn to the way this revolutionary theory, with its huge philosophical and theological implications, was smuggled into the culture under such an unassuming, self-deflating little cover. It seemed like a great title for a book of small poems…. I hit on this project of miniature poems, or “commentaries,” that gave me the freedom to write about basically anything at all of interest to me, in the Copernican spirit that “there is no one center of the universe.” …  I love epigrams, proverbs, and all pithy things.



Suzanne Buffam’s third collection, A Pillow Book, was named by the New York Times as one of the ten best books of poetry in 2016. Whether it is, in any conventional sense, a poetry book is a moot point. Inspired by a famous eleventh-century Japanese text called The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon, a book, as Wikipedia tells us,  of observations and musings recorded by Sei Shōnagon during her time as court lady to Empress Consort Teishi (定子) during the 990s and early 1000s in Heian Japan, Suzanne Buffam’s collection is her record of insomnia in notes, fragments, memories, dreams and lists, some of them abecedarian. She offers her own description of the form and the genre: A “pillow book” is a sort of miscellany, made up of anecdotes, essays, character sketches, descriptions, diary entries, and lists, among other odds and delights not easily reconciled within Western notions of genre. “The quintessential ungenre,” “the formless form,” “the echt-genre,” as recent scholars have called it, the pillow book was, in a sense, the original blog. 

There is a narrative arc which spans a winter in Chicago; there are recurring characters including a husband, a daughter, a cleaning lady, a caregiver, and a waiter; there are diverse settings, mainly in the house and, most often, in the bed in the bedroom: and there are the lists. The lists came first, and were basically all I wrote during the disorienting blur of early motherhood. At first I saw them as a stand-alone sequence. Their brevity and levity sprang from the same playful impulse that gave rise to the short “little commentaries” in my previous book.

While I enjoyed A Pillow Book and read it in one sitting – not in bed – it did not have the same resonance and depth as The Irrationalist. The lists, while often witty, are hit and miss and, in my view, the briefer they are the better. I include some of my favourite ones below. That said, the book is an ambitious and intriguing project and I look forward to where Suzanne Buffam’s imagination leads her to explore.



Brief Poems by Suzanne Buffam

(from “The Irrationalist”)


Moonlight fills the bathroom sink,
If a person could drink from it
She would be her own ghost.



The first line should pry up
A little corner of the soul

As the first ray of daylight 
Pries open the sleeper’s lids.



Put one dream
Inside another.



Fuck you and the horse you rode in on
Is often just another way of saying come back.



The last line should strike like a lover’s complaint.
You should never see it coming,
And you should never hear the end of it.



Joy unmixed with sorrow
Is like a fountain turned off at night.



Place your face
Into your hands.
A perfect fit!



People who commit suicide don’t fail to believe in life.
They fail to believe in death.



The smaller the heart the swifter the wings.



By moonlight the lily dominates the field.



Classy as a cruise ship
Patient as a pimp.
Simple as a snowflake.
Sexy as an ankh.
Green as the Green Zone.
Cozy as a coffin.
Friendly as fire.
Easy is as easy does.



Wet cigarettes.
A babysitter whose babysitter is sick.
Nunchucks at a fight.
Stiletto heels at the beach.
Last year’s flu shot. 
Next year’s peace talks.



Crows on a fence post.
Ex-lovers on Facebook.
Facing-page translations.
Fellow commuters.
Last season’s computers.



The Andromeda Galaxy.
Pen pals.
Laughter on the far side of the bay.



Raccoons on the roof.
A backwards glance on the street.
Sleeping babies.
The telephone ringing in the dark.



Suzanne Buffam’s poems through her website.

Selected interviews with Suzanne Buffam.

Columns of Amethyst – Brief poems by T. E. Hulme

Thomas  Ernest Hulme (T. E. Hulme) was born at Gratton Hall, Endon, Staffordshire on the 16th September 1883. He grew up in an affluent household with chauffeurs, gardeners and a big house. He was educated at Newcastle-under-Lyme High School where he was a prominent member, nicknamed “The Whip”, of the school debating society. He studied at St John’s College, Cambridge, where he read mathematics. He founded a group called the Discord Club which indulged in provocative bad behaviour and certain disreputable activities after the Boat Race in 1904 led to him being sent down. After his expulsion a mock funeral was held in his honour, seemingly the longest such funeral ever seen in Cambridge. He later returned to Cambridge to study philosophy, but was again expelled after some explicit love letters to an under aged girl were discovered. He then studied at University College London for a time before travelling through Canada where, as he put it, the first time I ever felt the necessity or inevitableness of verse was in the desire to reproduce the peculiar quality of feeling which is induced by the flat spaces and wide horizons of the virgin prairie of Western Canada. He moved to Brussels where he learned French and German. While there he acquainted himself with the works of the French philosopher, Henri Bergson, which led him to develop the ideas which led to the creation of “Imagism” in poetry.

Hulme was noted for his truculence. Over six feet tall with a ruddy complexion, and what Wyndham Lewis called an “extremely fine head” and “legs like a racing cyclist”, his arguments were often physical as well as philosophical. He once fought Wyndham Lewis over a girl, Kate Lechmere. Although the fight had started indoors, when it moved outside in Soho Square, Hulme hung Lewis upside down on the railings by his trousers. His inclination for physical violence and intemperate arguments was aided by a knuckle-duster made for him by the sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. There are strong suggestions from his  biographers that this knuckle-duster was also used to pleasure his lovers. A non-smoking, teetotalling Tory, he loved sex and boiled sweets, and he preferred suet pudding and treacle to cigarettes and alcohol.

in London, in 1908, he established the Poets’ Club, a group who met once a month to discuss and share poetry and prose, and there he advanced his poetic ideas of image particularly in his celebrated  “Lecture on Modern Poetry”, a manifesto of sorts for the Imagist movement. Eventually he grew tired of the Poets’ Club and established a new group that met at the Cafe Tour d’Eiffel where he attempted to create a new English poetry embracing the attitudes of pre-war England. Ezra Pound was part of this group. There was a fractious relationship between the two men with Pound often claiming credit for Hulme’s contributions to Imagism. His interest in poetry declined by 1910 and this led to the dissolution of the Cafe Tour d’Eiffel group. However, he continued to write literary criticism and journalism.

He became increasingly obsessed with the impending world war and when, on August 4, 1914, it was announced that Great Britain had declared war on Germany, after the German Army invaded Belgium on its way to attack France, Hulme entered military service and joined the Honourable Artillery Company. He was sent to the Western Front. His defence of that war irked Bertrand Russell who called him  ‘an evil man’, following their heated public debate over the War in national newspapers. He wrote of his war experiences in his diary: It’s not the idea of being killed that’s alarming, but the idea of being hit by a jagged piece of steel. You hear the whistle of the shell coming, you crouch down as low as you can and just wait. It doesn’t burst merely with a bang, it has a kind of crash with a snap in it, like the crack of a very large whip. They seem to burst just over your head, you seem to anticipate it killing you in the back, it hits just near you and you get hit on the back with clods of earth and (in my case) spent bits of shell and shrapnel bullets fall all around you. I picked up one bullet almost sizzling in the mud just by my toe… What irritates you is the continuation of the shelling. You seem to feel that 20 minutes is normal, is enough – but when it goes on for over an hour, you get more and more exasperated, feel as if it were ‘unfair’. However, he added a postscript: I’m getting used to this kind of life and as long as I don’t get hurt or it doesn’t rain too much, don’t mind it at all.

He was wounded in April 1915 and sent home. In March 1916 he was commissioned into the Royal Marine Artillery and was sent to the Royal Naval Siege guns on the Belgian coast. Initially he enjoyed a quieter war. However the fighting intensified and, on 28th September 1917, he was killed  while manning a gun near Nieuport in  Flanders when he was blown to bits by a direct hit from a shell. He was thirty-four years old. He is buried in the Koksijde (Coxyde) Military Cemetery, Belgium. His headstone carries the inscription “One of the War Poets”.




T. S. Eliot admired Hulme’s small poetic output, about 25 poems totalling some 260 lines. He praised him as the author of two or three of the most beautiful short poems in the language, calling him the forerunner of a new attitude of mind, which should be the twentieth-century mind, if the twentieth century is to have a mind of its own. His poems “Autumn” (see below) and “A City Sunset”, both published in 1909,  have the distinction of being considered the first Imagist poems. His search for a ‘dry, hard, classical verse’ to replace the tired Romanticism of much late Victorian and Georgian poetry, inspired the Imagist movement, supposedly founded by Ezra Pound in 1912. The Complete Poetical Works of T. E. Hulme  first appeared in 1912, at the back of Ezra Pound’s volume Ripostes and contained just five poems, none of them longer than half a page, and the total running to just 33 lines. Yet those five poems ignited the modernist revolution in English poetry, a revolution that embraced brevity, precision of image and language, understatement, free verse and topical everyday experience. 

A philosophical concept of “image” lay at the root of Hulme’s poetic philosophy which incorporated elements of Bergson’s philosophy. Image, he argued, was the untouched material of experience that could be artistically represented in poetry. He was inspired also by Gustave Kahn, a French symbolist poet, who had written about free verse in his book Premiers poemes (1897). Khan’s poems resisted following stringent rules of meter, rhyme, and rhythm; instead, it meandered with the mind of the writer.  Hulme was clear on what he wanted from poetry: I want to speak verse in a plain way as I would of pigs: that is the only honest way. Although Ezra Pound often gets the credit for founding the Imagist movement, (along with English poet Richard Aldington and American poet Hilda Doolittle) and writing the influential ‘A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste’, the ideas had already been formulated by Hulme years earlier. Although Pound and Hulme were associates, Pound later minimised the role Hulme had played in the formation of Imagist practice. However, Pound did acknowledge his significance when he wrote that Hulme set an enviable example to many of his contemporaries who have had less to say. Whatever poetic limitations Hulme’s (and Pound’s) philosophy have, the poetry of T. E. Hulme deserves a modern audience.



Brief Poems by T. E. Hulme


A touch of cold in the Autumn night—
I walked abroad,
And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge
Like a red-faced farmer.
I did not stop to speak, but nodded,
And round about were the wistful stars
With white faces like town children.


Above the Dock

Above the quiet dock in mid night,
Tangled in the tall mast’s corded height,
Hangs the moon. What seemed so far away
Is but a child’s balloon, forgotten after play.


from Fragments

Old houses were scaffolding once 
and workmen whistling.


Three birds flew over the red wall
into the pit of the evening sun.
O daring, dooméd birds that pass from my sight.


Raleigh in the dark tower prisoned
Dreamed of the blue sea and beyond
Where in strange tropic paradise
Grew musk…


Her skirt lifted as a dark mist
From the columns of amethyst.


This to all ladies gay I say.
Away, abhorréd lace, away.


The lark crawls on the cloud
Like a flea on a white belly.


The mystic sadness of the sight
Of a far town seen in the night.


Sounds fluttered, 
like bats in the dusk.


The flounced edge of skirt, 
recoiling like waves off a cliff.


Down the long desolate street of stars.


The bloom of the grape has gone.


When she speaks, almost her breasts touch me.
Backward leans her head.




Extracts from T. E. Hulme: Selected Writings.

The Poetry Foundation Page on T. E. Hulme.

Ten short poems by T. E. Hulme.

Five fascinating facts about T. E. Hulme.

T. E. Hulme: The First Modern Poet?

An essay by Alan Jenkins on the TLS blog.