National Poetry Month, day eighteen

All the world writes poetry, so it makes sense that one should read poems from all the world. Doing so is yet another way to remind oneself that no matter where humans live, no matter which gods they worship or what challenges they face by virtue of their geography, they are still often confronted by the same issues, and they wrestle with the same problems, and their poets and artists grapple with the same themes.

Here is a Persian poem, written by Hafiz, and translated by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Clearly it is best to read poetry in its original language, but I don’t believe that we should fail to read poetry originally written in other languages if translation is our only recourse. Even if one can’t get the complete sense of the poem, because of the missing connotations and the emotional heft of the cultural references, we can still find our way to the common area of humanity that underlies all art and all poetry.

I said to heaven that glowed above,
O hide yon sun-filled zone,
Hide all the stars you boast;
For, in the world of love
And estimation true,
The heaped-up harvest of the moon
Is worth one barley-corn at most,
The Pleiads’ sheaf but two.

If my darling should depart,
And search the skies for prouder friends,
God forbid my angry heart
In other love should seek amends.

When the blue horizon’s hoop
Me a little pinches here,
Instant to my grave I stoop,
And go find thee in the sphere.

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