disquiet blog

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An Old Man by C.P. Cavafy

An Old Man

At the noisy end of the cafe, head bent over the table, an old man sits alone, a newspaper in front of him.

And in the miserable banality of old age he thinks how little he enjoyed the years when he had strength, eloquence, and looks.

He knows he’s aged a lot: he sees it, feels it. Yet it seems he was young just yesterday. So brief an interval, so brief.

And he thinks of Prudence, how it fooled him, how he always believed – what madness – that cheat who said: “Tomorrow. You have plenty of time.”

He remembers impulses bridled, the joy he sacrificed. Every chance he lost now mocks his senseless caution.

But so much thinking, so much remembering makes the old man dizzy. He falls asleep, his head resting on the cafe table.

C.P. Cavafy

A Winter of Vampires by Lawrence Durrell

A Winter of Vampires

From a winter of vampires he selects one, Takes her to a dark house, undresses her: It is not at all how the story-books say But another kind of reversed success. A transaction where the words themselves Begin to bleed first and everything else follows. The dissolution of the egg In the mind of the lady suggests new Paths to follow, less improbable victories, Just as illusory as the old, I fear. Well, but when the embraces go astray, When you finger the quick recipes Of every known suggestion, why, The whole prosperity of the flesh may be in question.


Durrell, Lawrence. Collected Poems 1931-74 . Faber & Faber.

The Lark Ascending by George Meredith

The Lark Ascending

He rises and begins to round, He drops the silver chain of sound Of many links without a break, In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake, All intervolv’d and spreading wide, Like water-dimples down a tide Where ripple ripple overcurls And eddy into eddy whirls; A press of hurried notes that run So fleet they scarce are more than one, Yet changingly the trills repeat And linger ringing while they fleet, Sweet to the quick o’ the ear, and dear To her beyond the handmaid ear, Who sits beside our inner springs, Too often dry for this he brings, Which seems the very jet of earth At sight of sun, her music’s mirth, As up he wings the spiral stair, A song of light, and pierces air With fountain ardor, fountain play, To reach the shining tops of day, And drink in everything discern’d An ecstasy to music turn’d, Impell’d by what his happy bill Disperses; drinking, showering still, Unthinking save that he may give His voice the outlet, there to live Renew’d in endless notes of glee, So thirsty of his voice is he, For all to hear and all to know That he is joy, awake, aglow, The tumult of the heart to hear Through pureness filter’d crystal-clear, And know the pleasure sprinkled bright By simple singing of delight, Shrill, irreflective, unrestrain’d, Rapt, ringing, on the jet sustain’d Without a break, without a fall, Sweet-silvery, sheer lyrical, Perennial, quavering up the chord Like myriad dews of sunny sward That trembling into fulness shine, And sparkle dropping argentine; Such wooing as the ear receives From zephyr caught in choric leaves Of aspens when their chattering net Is flush’d to white with shivers wet; And such the water-spirit’s chime On mountain heights in morning’s prime, Too freshly sweet to seem excess, Too animate to need a stress; But wider over many heads The starry voice ascending spreads, Awakening, as it waxes thin, The best in us to him akin; And every face to watch him rais’d, Puts on the light of children prais’d, So rich our human pleasure ripes When sweetness on sincereness pipes, Though nought be promis’d from the seas, But only a soft-ruffling breeze Sweep glittering on a still content, Serenity in ravishment.

For singing till his heaven fills, ’T is love of earth that he instils, And ever winging up and up, Our valley is his golden cup, And he the wine which overflows To lift us with him as he goes: The woods and brooks, the sheep and kine He is, the hills, the human line, The meadows green, the fallows brown, The dreams of labor in the town; He sings the sap, the quicken’d veins; The wedding song of sun and rains He is, the dance of children, thanks Of sowers, shout of primrose-banks, And eye of violets while they breathe; All these the circling song will wreathe, And you shall hear the herb and tree, The better heart of men shall see, Shall feel celestially, as long As you crave nothing save the song. Was never voice of ours could say Our inmost in the sweetest way, Like yonder voice aloft, and link All hearers in the song they drink: Our wisdom speaks from failing blood, Our passion is too full in flood, We want the key of his wild note Of truthful in a tuneful throat, The song seraphically free Of taint of personality, So pure that it salutes the suns The voice of one for millions, In whom the millions rejoice For giving their one spirit voice.

Yet men have we, whom we revere, Now names, and men still housing here, Whose lives, by many a battle-dint Defaced, and grinding wheels on flint, Yield substance, though they sing not, sweet For song our highest heaven to greet: Whom heavenly singing gives us new, Enspheres them brilliant in our blue, From firmest base to farthest leap, Because their love of Earth is deep, And they are warriors in accord With life to serve and pass reward, So touching purest and so heard In the brain’s reflex of yon bird; Wherefore their soul in me, or mine, Through self-forgetfulness divine, In them, that song aloft maintains, To fill the sky and thrill the plains With showerings drawn from human stores, As he to silence nearer soars, Extends the world at wings and dome, More spacious making more our home, Till lost on his aërial rings In light, and then the fancy sings.

Artificial Flowers by C.P. Cavavfy

Artificial Flowers

I do not want narcissuses that are real—nor do lilies please me, nor do roses that are real. The gardens they adorn are trite and common. To me their flesh gives bitterness, weariness, and grief — Their perishable beauties tire me.

Give me artificial blooms —the glories of porcelain and metal — which shrivel not and do not rot, with forms that do not age. Blooms of the exquisite gardens of another place, where Theories and Rhythms dwell, and Knowledges.

The blooms I love are fashioned of glass or gold: of a faithful Art, the faithful gifts; dyed in colors more lovely than the natural, worked with nacre and with enamel, with idealized leaves and shoots.

They take their grace from Taste, most wise and pure; in the earth they did not sprout, nor filthily in slime. If they have no aroma, perfumes shall we pour, and burn the incenses of sentiment before them.


The Complete Poems of C.P. Cavafy Daniel Mendelsohn HarperCollins Publishers

Vittoria Colonna by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Vittoria Colonna

VITTORIA COLONNA, on the death of her husband, the Marchese di Pescara, retired to her castle at Ischia (Inarimé), and there wrote the Ode upon his death, which gained her the title of Divine.

Once more, once more, Inarimé, I see thy purple hills!—once more I hear the billows of the bay Wash the white pebbles on thy shore.

High o'er the sea-surge and the sands, Like a great galleon wrecked and cast Ashore by storms, thy castle stands, A mouldering landmark of the Past.

Upon its terrace-walk I see A phantom gliding to and fro; It is Colonna,—it is she Who lived and loved so long ago.

Pescara's beautiful young wife, The type of perfect womanhood, Whose life was love, the life of life, That time and change and death withstood.

For death, that breaks the marriage band In others, only closer pressed The wedding-ring upon her hand And closer locked and barred her breast.

She knew the life-long martyrdom, The weariness, the endless pain Of waiting for some one to come Who nevermore would come again.

The shadows of the chestnut trees, The odor of the orange blooms, The song of birds, and, more than these, The silence of deserted rooms;

The respiration of the sea, The soft caresses of the air, All things in nature seemed to be But ministers of her despair;

Till the o'erburdened heart, so long Imprisoned in itself, found vent And voice in one impassioned song Of inconsolable lament.

Then as the sun, though hidden from sight, Transmutes to gold the leaden mist, Her life was interfused with light, From realms that, though unseen, exist,

Inarimé!Inarimé! Thy castle on the crags above In dust shall crumble and decay, But not the memory of her love.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Lemons by Eugenio Montale

The Lemons

Listen to me, the poets laureate move only among plants with rare names: boxwood, privet and acanthus. But I like roads that lead to grassy ditches where boys scoop up a few starved eels out of half-dry puddles: paths that run along the banks come down among the tufted canes and end in orchards, among the lemon trees.

Better if the riot of the birds dies out, swallowed by the blue: we’ll hear more of the whispering of friendly branches in not-quite-quiet air, and the sensations of this smell that can’t divorce itself from earth and rains a restless sweetness on the heart. Here, by some miracle, the war of troubled passions calls a truce; here we poor, too, receive our share of riches, which is the fragrance of the lemons.

See, in these silences where things give over and seem on the verge of betraying their final secret, sometimes we feel we’re about to uncover an error in Nature, the still point of the world, the link that won’t hold, the thread to untangle that will finally lead to the heart of a truth. The eye scans its surroundings, the mind inquires aligns divides in the perfume that diffuses at the day’s most languid. It’s in these silences you see in every fleeting human shadow some disturbed Divinity.

But the illusion fails, and time returns us to noisy cities where the blue is seen in patches, up between the roofs. And the rain exhausts the earth; winter’s tedium weighs the houses down, the light turns miserly – the soul bitter. Till one day through a half-shut gate in a courtyard, there among the trees, the yellow of the lemons is revealed; and the chill in the heart thaws, and deep in us the golden horns of sunlight pelt their songs.

Translated by Jonathan Galassi

The lemon trees

Eugenio Montale

Listen to me, laurel-wreathed poets move only among plants with noble names: boxwood acanthus or privets. I, for one, love roads that lead to grass covered ditches where in partly desiccated puddles children catch the occasional eel: the lanes that coast these banks descend through tufts of cane and open onto orchards thick with lemons.

Better if the chirruping of the birds dissolves, swallowed by the azure: more clearly, then, resounds the murmur of the amicable branches in an air that is almost still, and the essences of this fragrance which cannot separate itself from the terrain and showers our breast with tumultuous stillness. Here our unsettling passions are miraculously put to rest, here we poor beings too may enjoy our share of wealth and it’s the fragrance of the lemons.

You see, in this silence in which all things abandon themselves and seem close to betraying their ultimate secret, we sometimes expect to find a fault in Nature, the dead nub of the earth, the weak link, the thread that untangled finally places us within reach of a truth. Our eyes search all around, our mind probes accords partitions in the fragrance that sweeps over us when the day is most sluggish. It is the stillness in which we see in every human shadow that drifts away some disturbed Deity.

But the illusion is incomplete and time restores us to the noisy cities where the azure appears in wedges, high above us, between the cornices. The rain then wearies the earth; the tedium of winter thickens over the houses, the light becomes dim – grim the soul. Then one day through a half-open gate among the trees in an orchard we see a glimpse of yellow lemons; and the ice in our hearts melts, and in our breast thunder their songs the golden trumpets of radiance.

Translated by Matilda Colarossi

When the Watchman Saw the Light by C.P. Cavafy

When the Watchman Saw the Light

Winter, summer, the watchman sat there looking out from the roof of Atreus' palace. Now he has good news to report. He's seen the fire light up in the distance and he's happy; besides, the drudgery's over now: it's hard to sit there night and day in heat and cold, waiting for a fire to show on the peak of Arachnaion. Now the longed-for signal has appeared. Yet when happiness comes it brings less joy than one expected. But at least we've gained this much: we've rid ourselves of hope and expectation. Many things will happen to the house of Atreus: no need to be wise to guess this now the watchman has seen the light. So let's not exaggerate. The light is good; and those coming are good, their words and actions also good. And let's hope all goes well. But Argos can do without the house of Atreus. Ancient houses are not eternal. Of course many people will have much to say. We should listen. But we won't be deceived by words such as Indispensable, Unique, and Great. Someone else indispensable and unique and great can always be found at a moment's notice.

Sixteen Haiku And Other Stories

An album by Sigmatropic.

Original poetry in Greek by George Seferis.

Lyrics translated from the Greek by Akis Boyatzis, assisted by Carla Torgerson and James Sclavunos. Translation was based on the book: “George Seferis, Collected Poems” by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, revised edition, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey 1995. The original Greek version of these poems appears in the book: “George Seferis, Poems”, sixteenth edition, Icarus, Athens 1989.

Besides the Sixteen Haiku, the other poems are On Stage (from Three Secret Poems), Dead Sea (from Logbook II), Water Warm (from Sketches for a Summer),This Human Body and The Jasmine.


Bells were heard and messengers arrived - I wasn’t expecting them, even the way they spoke was forgotten - rested, their clothes freshly changed, carrying their fruit in baskets. I was amazed and whispered: ‘I love these amphitheaters.’ The concave shell filled immediately and on the stage the lights dimmed as though for some celebrated murder.

Sixteen Haiku

Haiku One

Into the lake spill a single drop of wine and there fades the sun

Haiku Two

In the meadows not one fourleaf clover; among the three of us, who is to blame?

Haiku Three

In the museum garden Chairs deserted. The statues have gone back to that other museum.

Haiku Four

Could that be the voice of our dead friends or could that be the phonograph?

Haiku Five

She rests her fingers on the sea-blue scarf. Look, there: corals!

Haiku Six

Contemplating heavy are her breasts through the looking glass

Haiku Seven

Again I put on the tree leaves and you, you bleat.

Haiku Eight

Darkness. The wind. Divorce spreads and moves in waves.

Haiku Nine

Naked woman the pomegranate she threw was full of stars.

Haiku Ten

I am raising now a dead butterfly with no make-up.

Haiku Eleven

How can you gather the thousand little pieces of each person?

Haiku Twelve

What's wrong with the rudder? The boat goes in circles and not a single gull in sight

Haiku Thirteen

She has no eyes left, the snakes she was grasping swallow her hands.

Haiku Fourteen-A (sung in greek)

Τούτη η κολώνα Έχει μια τρύπα Βλέπεις την Περσεφόνη

Haiku Fourteen-B

There is a hole in this column. Can you see Persephone?

17: Haiku Fifteen

The world goes down hang on, you'll be left alone in the sun.

Haiku Sixteen

You always write. The ink diminishes. The sea multiplies.

[Dead Sea]

Like the Dead Sea, we are all many fathoms below the surface of the Aegean. Come with me and I will show you the setting:

In the Dead Sea there are no fish there is no seaweed nor any sea-urchins there is no life. There are no creatures that have a belly to suffer hunger that nourish nerves to suffer pain, THIS IS THE PLACE, GENTLEMEN!

In the Dead Sea scornfulness is no one’s trade no one’s worry. Heart and thought congeal in salt that’s full of bitterness and finally join the mineral world THIS IS THE PLACE, GENTLEMEN!

In the Dead Sea enemies and friends wife and children other relations go and find them. They’re in Gomorrah downon the bottom very happy they don’t expect any message. GENTLEMEN,

we continue our tour many fathoms below the surface of the Aegean.

[the water warm]

The water warm, just reminds me every dawn that I have nothing else alive around me.

[this human body]

This human body had a hope: like a branch that could flourish, to bear fruit, and in the frost become a flute imagination has thrust it deep into a buzzing beehive so that, a musical storm may come and torture it.

The Jasmine

Whether it’s dusk or dawn’s first light the jasmine always stays white.

Rest by Christina Rossetti


O Earth, lie heavily upon her eyes; Seal her sweet eyes weary of watching, Earth; Lie close around her; leave no room for mirth With its harsh laughter, nor for sound of sighs. She hath no questions, she hath no replies, Hush’d in and curtain’d with a blessèd dearth Of all that irk’d her from the hour of birth; With stillness that is almost Paradise. Darkness more clear than noonday holdeth her, Silence more musical than any song; Even her very heart has ceased to stir: Until the morning of Eternity Her rest shall not begin nor end, but be; And when she wakes she will not think it long.

Montale’s Lemons by Ishion Hutchinson

Montale’s Lemons

My first snow, I open the pages of Montale, the scent of iron and light coming out of heads

of lemon trees in the middle of an orchard where raucous boys play, not hearing the eel-quiet laureate

who roams under a sky dappled with rust. He comes through the gate, plucks acanthus, unburdening himself of the city

and the classics left in his study. Standing still, his shadow moves to branches brushing earth,

freckling it with flame. Montale stoops in flecked leaves, to a flickering secret, and what could be translated

as winter fixes a spire in my chest and my eyes go low down with that crouching tower;

I cling to a still revolving truth: the world is a golden calyx, but home is a burst lemon,

a child weeping at the cane root.