From where does poetry come?
From the heart’s intelligence
from a hunch about the unknown
or from a rose in the desert?
The personal is not personal
and the universal not universal

I suppose I am I supposed I’m not
The more I listen to my heart the more I’m filled with the words of the unseen
and lifted high to the treetops
I fly aimless from dream to dream
Belonging to a thousand years of poetry
born in the darkness of white linen
I don’t know who amongst us was I
and who the dream
Am I my dream?

To a Waverer, by Bertolt Brecht

You tell us
It looks bad for our cause.
The darkness gets deeper. The powers get less.
Now, after we worked for so many years
We are in a more difficult position than at the start.
But the enemy stands there, stronger than ever before.
His powers appear to have grown. He has taken on an aspect
of invincibility.
We however have made mistakes; there is no denying it.
Our numbers are dwindling.
Our slogans are in disarray. The enemy has twisted
Part of our words beyond recognition.

What is now false of what we said:
Some or all?
Whom do we still count on? Are we just left over, thrown out
Of the living stream? Shall we remain behind
Understanding no one and understood by none?

Have we got to be lucky?

This you ask. Expect
No other answer than your own.

Sad State of Freedom

You waste the attention of your eyes,
the glittering labour of your hands,
and knead the dough enough for dozens of loaves
of which you’ll taste not a morsel;
you are free to slave for others–
you are free to make the rich richer.

The moment you’re born
they plant around you
mills that grind lies
lies to last you a lifetime.
You keep thinking in your great freedom
a finger on your temple
free to have a free conscience.

Your head bent as if half-cut from the nape,
your arms long, hanging,
you saunter about in your great freedom:
you’re free
with the freedom of being unemployed.

You love your country
as the nearest, most precious thing to you.
But one day, for example,
they may endorse it over to America,
and you, too, with your great freedom–
you have the freedom to become an air-base.

You may proclaim that one must live
not as a tool, a number or a link
but as a human being–
then at once they handcuff your wrists.
You are free to be arrested, imprisoned
and even hanged.

There’s neither an iron, wooden
nor a tulle curtain
in your life;
there’s no need to choose freedom:
you are free.
But this kind of freedom
is a sad affair under the stars.

Translated by Taner Baybars

Nazim Hikmet, a Turkish Marxist poet

Memoir

 

Orwell says somewhere that no one ever writes the real story of their life.
The real story of a life is the story of its humiliations.
If I wrote that story now—
radioactive to the end of time—
people, I swear, your eyes would fall out, you couldn’t peel
the gloves fast enough
from your hands scorched by the firestorms of that shame.
Your poor hands. Your poor eyes
to see me weeping in my room
or boring the tall blonde to death.
Once I accused the innocent.
Once I bowed and prayed to the guilty.
I still wince at what I once said to the devastated widow.
And one October afternoon, under a locust tree
whose blackened pods were falling and making
illuminating patterns on the pathway,
I was seized by joy,
and someone saw me there,
and that was the worst of all,
lacerating and unforgettable.

—Vijay Seshadri

 

In our Insecurity, by Pash

paash

If the security of the land
calls for a life without conscience
To imagine a word other than ‘yes’ is an obscenity
And the mind bends low before the lecherous times
then the security of the land is a threat to us

If the security of the land means
that every strike crushed makes that peace stronger
Martyrdom is no more than death at the borders
Art blooms only at the palace window
Intellect only drives the waterwheel that irrigates the ruler’s crops
Labour is little more than a broom at the palace door
then the security of the land is a threat to us

Pash was the pseudonym of Naxalite poet Avtar Singh Sandhu, assassinated in 1988.

To those born later

I
Truly I live in dark times!
Frank speech is naïve. A smooth forehead
Suggests insensitivity. The man who laughs
Has simply not yet heard
The terrible news.

What kind of times are these, when
To talk about trees is almost a crime
Because it implies silence about so many horrors?
When the man over there calmly crossing the street
Is already perhaps beyond the reach of his friends 10
Who are in need?

It’s true that I still earn my daily bread
But, believe me, that’s only an accident. Nothing
I do gives me the right to eat my fill.
By chance I’ve been spared. (If my luck breaks, I’m lost.)

They say to me: Eat and drink! Be glad you have it!
But how can I eat and drink if I snatch what I eat
From the starving
And my glass of water belongs to someone dying of thirst?
And yet I eat and drink. 20

I would also like to be wise.
In the old books it says what wisdom is:
To shun the strife of the world and to live out
Your brief time without fear
Also to get along without violence
To return good for evil
Not to fulfill your desires but to forget them
Is accounted wise.
All this I cannot do.
Truly, I live in dark times. 30

II
I came to the cities in a time of disorder
When hunger reigned.
I came among men in a time of revolt
And I rebelled with them.
So passed my time
Given me to on earth.

I ate my food between battles
I lay down to sleep among murderers

Bertolt Brecht