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This is a personal project by @dellsystem. I built this to help me retain information from the books I'm reading.

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misc/poetry

Philip Larkin, Alex Gallo-Brown, Bertolt Brecht, Robert Hass, Chris Lehmann

poems i like

Always too eager for the future, we
Pick up bad habits of expectancy.
Something is always approaching; every day
Till then we say,

Watching from a bluff the tiny, clear,
Sparkling armada of promises draw near.
How slow they are! And how much time they waste,
Refusing to make haste!

Yet still they leave us holding wretched stalks
Of disappointment, for, though nothing balks
Each big approach, leaning with brasswork prinked,
Each rope distinct,

Flagged, and the figurehead with golden tits
Arching our way, it never anchors; it's
No sooner present than it turns to past.
Right to the last

We think each one will heave to and unload
All good into our lives, all we are owed
For waiting so devoutly and so long.
But we are wrong:

Only one ship is seeking us, a black-
Sailed unfamiliar, towing at her back
A huge and birdless silence. In her wake
No waters breed or break.

—p.50 by Philip Larkin 2 years, 4 months ago

This empty street, this sky to blandness scoured,
This air, a little indistinct with autumn
Like a reflection, constitute the present---
A time traditionally soured,
A time unrecommended by event.

But equally they make up something else:
This is the future furthest childhood saw
Between long houses, under travelling skies,
Heard in contending bells---
An air lambent with adult enterprise,

And on another day will be the past,
A valley cropped by fat neglected chances
That we insensately forbore to fleece.
On this we blame our last
Threadbare perspectives, seasonal decrease.

—p.65 by Philip Larkin 2 years, 4 months ago

Even so distant, I can taste the grief,
Bitter and sharp with stalks, he made you gulp.
The sun's occasional print, the brisk brief
Worry of wheels along the street outside
Where bridal London bows the other way,
And light, unanswerable and tall and wide,
Forbids the scar to heal, and drives
Shame out of hiding. All the unhurried day
Your mind lay open like a drawer of knives.

Slums, years, have buried you. I would not dare
Console you if I could. What can be said,
Except that suffering is exact, but where
Desire takes charge, readings will grow erratic?
For you would hardly care
That you were less deceived, out on that bed,
Than he was, stumbling up the breathless stair
To burst into fulfilment's desolate attic.

from my Goodreads review:

a painful one, about rape. However, the last line, "To burst into fulfilment's desolate attic", feels tragic in a more universal way, and warns of the hidden bleakness of any sort of presumed fulfillment -- in love, career, life -- which honestly just about sums up Larkin's less cheerful poems. (Incidentally, this line was also mentioned by the author in the introduction to Utopia or Bust: A Guide to the Present Crisis, in which the author recalls a bout of depression that coincided the publication of a bestselling novel; the context may differ from that of the poem, but the use of that specific line feels apt.)

—p.67 by Philip Larkin 2 years, 4 months ago

She kept her songs, they took so little space,
 The covers pleased her:
One bleached from lying in a sunny place,
One marked in circles by a vase of water,
One mended, when a tidy fit had seized her,
 And coloured, by her daughter---
So they had waited, till in widowhood
She found them, looking for something else, and stood

Relearning how each frank submissive chord
 Had ushered in
Word after sprawling hyphenated word,
And the unfailing sense of being young
Spread out like a spring-woken tree, wherein
 That hidden freshness sung,
That certainty of time laid up in store
As when she played them first. But, even more,

The glare of that much-mentioned brilliance, love,
 Broke out, to show
Its bright incipience sailing above,
Still promising to solve, and satisfy,
And set unchangeably in order. So
 To pile them back, to cry,
Was hard, without lamely admitting how
It had not done so then, and could not now.

from my GR review:

this one starts off on a light and even sweet note that leaves the reader wholly unprepared for the chilling brutality of the last few lines. This might actually be my absolute favourite.

—p.83 by Philip Larkin 2 years, 4 months ago

Closed like confessionals, they thread
Loud noons of cities, giving back
None of the glances they absorb.
Light glossy grey, arms on a plaque,
They come to rest at any kerb:
All streets in time are visited.

Then children strewn on steps or road,
Or women coming from the shops
Past smells of different dinners, see
A wild white face that overtops
Red stretcher-blankets momently
As it is carried in and stowed,

And sense the solving emptiness
That lies just under all we do,
And for a second get it whole,
So permanent and blank and true.
The fastened doors recede. Poor soul , They whisper at their own distress;

For borne away in deadened air
May go the sudden shut of loss
Round something nearly at an end,
And what cohered in it across
The years, the unique random blend
Of families and fashions, there

At last begin to loosen. Far
From the exchange of love to lie
Unreachable inside a room
The traffic parts to let go by
Brings closer what is left to come,
And dulls to distance all we are.

—p.104 by Philip Larkin 2 years, 4 months ago

When I see a couple of kids
And guess he's fucking her and she's
Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm,
I know this is paradise

Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives---
Bonds and gestures pushed to one side
Like an outdated combine harvester,
And everyone young going down the long slide

To happiness, endlessly. I wonder if
Anyone looked at me, forty years back, And thought, That'll be the life;
No God any more, or sweating in the dark

About hell and that, or having to hide
What you think of the priest. He
And his lot will all go down the long slide
Like free bloody birds. And immediately

Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:
The sun-comprehending glass,
And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.

from my GR review:

probably one of the most memorable of Larkin's poems. The poem as a whole is not my cup of tea -- I guess I just can't relate -- but there's something so aesthetically breathtaking about the last stanza, even out of context.

—p.129 by Philip Larkin 2 years, 4 months ago

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what's really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
---The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused---nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear---no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can't escape,
Yet can't accept. One side will have to go.
Meawhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

—p.190 by Philip Larkin 2 years, 4 months ago

Von den Großen dieser Erde
melden uns die Heldenlieder:
Steigend auf so wie Gestirne
gehn sie wie Gestirne nieder.
Das klingt tröstlich, und man muss es wissen.
Nur: für uns, die sie ernähren müssen
ist das leider immer ziemlich gleich gewesen.
Aufstieg oder Fall: Wer trägt die Spesen?

Freilich dreht das Rad sich immer weiter
dass, was oben ist, nicht oben bleibt.
Aber für das Wasser unten heißt das leider
nur: Dass es das Rad halt ewig treibt.

Ach, wir hatten viele Herren
hatten Tiger und Hyänen
hatten Adler, hatten Schweine
doch wir nährten den und jenen.
Ob sie besser waren oder schlimmer:
Ach, der Stiefel glich dem Stiefel immer
und uns trat er. Ihr versteht: Ich meine
dass wir keine andern Herren brauchen, sondern keine!

Freilich dreht das Rad sich immer weiter
dass, was oben ist, nicht oben bleibt.
Aber für das Wasser unten heißt das leider
nur: Dass es das Rad halt ewig treibt.

Und sie schlagen sich die Köpfe
blutig, raufend um die Beute
nennen andre gierige Tröpfe
und sich selber gute Leute.
Unaufhörlich sehn wir sie einander grollen
und bekämpfen. Einzig und alleinig
wenn wir sie nicht mehr ernähren wollen
sind sie sich auf einmal völlig einig.

Denn dann dreht das Rad sich nicht mehr weiter
und das heitre Spiel, es unterbleibt
wenn das Wasser endlich mit befreiter
Stärke seine eigne Sach betreibt.

translation: The Song of the Waterwheel

Ancient tale and epic story
Tell of heroes' lives untarnished:
Like the stars they rose in glory,
Like the stars they set when vanquished. This is comforting and we should know it.
We, alas, who plant the wheat and grow it
Have but little share in triumph or disasters,
Rise to fame or fall: Who feeds our masters?

Yes, the wheel is always turning madly,
Neither side stays up or down,
But the water underneath fares badly,
For it has to make the wheel go 'round.

Ah, we've had so many masters,
Swine or eagle, lean or fat one:
Some were tigers, some hyenas,
Still we fed this one and that one.
Whether one is better than the other:
Ah, one boot is always like another
When it treads upon you. What I say about them
Is we need no masters: we can do without them!

Yes, the wheel is always turning madly,
Neither side stays up or down,
But the water underneath fares badly,
For it has to make the wheel go 'round.

And they beat each other's heads all bloody
Scuffling over booty,
Call the other fellows greedy wretches,
They, themselves, but do their duty.
Ceaselessly we watch their wars grow ever grimmer,
Would I knew a way for them to be united.
If we will no more provide the fodder
Maybe that's the way all would be righted.

For at last the wheel shall turn no longer, And shall ride the stream no more, When the water joins to water as it gaily Drives itself, freed of the load it bore.

—p.88 From The Theater (66) by Bertolt Brecht 2 years, 2 months ago

Was sind das für Zeiten, wo
Ein Gespräch über Bäume fast ein Verbrechen ist
Weil es ein Schweigen über so viele Untaten einschließt!
Der dort ruhig über die Straße geht
Ist wohl nicht mehr erreichbar für seine Freunde
Die in Not sind?

[...]

Ihr aber, wenn es soweit sein wird
Dass der Mensch dem Menschen ein Helfer ist
Gedenkt unsrer
Mit Nachsicht.

second and last stanzas only. Translation:

Ah, what an age it is
When to speak of trees is almost a crime
For it is a kind of silence about injustice!
And he who walks calmly across the street,
Is he not out of reach of his friends
In trouble?

[...]

But you, when at last it comes to pass
That man can help his fellow man,
Do not judge us
Too harshly.

better translation from https://harpers.org/blog/2008/01/brecht-to-those-who-follow-in-our-wake/:

What times are these, in which
A conversation about trees is almost a crime
For in doing so we maintain our silence about so much wrongdoing!
And he who walks quietly across the street,
Passes out of the reach of his friends
Who are in danger?

[...]

But you, when at last the time comes
That man can aid his fellow man,
Should think upon us
With leniency.

—p.172 From Lieder, Gedichte, un Chöre; Svendborder Gedichte; and unpublished poems (102) by Bertolt Brecht 2 years, 2 months ago

You’re supposed to thank the fumes. To be grateful
for the toxic patch on the rail track.
For the craquelure
in the asphalt, seeping green—
it reroutes you, proffers with each commute a forced
adventure. Who’s to say what you’ll find
in your course of avoidance?
Ideally a willing stranger.
Maybe a glimpse of the most
expensive painting per square inch.
When you can no longer meet your needs
by working, you should feel joyous. No more daily
wear and tear on the blazer.
Now you can keep it pristine. Superlatively
inky. It’ll look smart at funerals.
Of course they’ll invite you to make some brief
remarks, and when you move to retrieve
from your pocket the paper,
out will come a whole sheath of solemn statements—
you’ve lost this year
how many? You’ll shuffle
through the pile. Where is the life
that lived in the body before you? Where is the right
one gone?

—p.35 [You're supposed to thank the fumes. To be grateful] (35) by Chris Lehmann 6 months, 2 weeks ago