“Visiting E M Forster” by Debjani Chatterjee

‘But Forster doesn’t live here any more.’

I knew that of course. He died the year before

— before my passage. I told ‘Raised Eyebrows’

That I only wanted… to see his room,

to see the view. Why else would I have come?

‘But this is not a museum, you know.’

(Cambridge, not a museum?) I nodded.

‘An ordinary room.’ Ordinary

is what it takes. I remember my coach

journey from Canterbury. ‘I have come

all the way from India. He was my friend.’

It worked. The brows subsided, defeated.

A bemused stranger occupied the place

— half apologised for everything changed.

The room was functional, anonymous;

he could not have lived here long. ‘I’m afraid

even the furniture is  not the same.’

What did I care, standing at the window.

Olive groves beside the forget-me-not

Mediterranean rolled below, with

a dust haze veiling the Marabar curves.

‘It is the same,’ I said, ‘nothing has changed.’

“I Have Nowhere to Go” by Dilip Chitre

I have nowhere to go

So I occupy a poem

Like a bench

In a public park

 

But a poem offers me

Neither space nor time

No memory of yesterday

No fantasy of tomorrow

 

A poem is uniquely empty

Its sets the world aside

And it unfolds

Words within words

 

Can you hear me

No you cannot

Because I am

Inside a poem now

 

I am inside this grave

This hollowness

And this walled voice

Of the absolute present

Dilip Chitre

“I know a hundred ways to die” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I know a hundred ways to die.
I’ve often thought that I’d try one:
Lie down beneath a motor truck
Some day when standing by one.

Or throw myself from off a bridge—
Except such things must be
So hard upon the scavengers
And men that clean the sea.

I know some poison I could drink.
I’ve often thought I’d taste it.
But mother bought it for the sink,
And drinking it would waste it.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Sometimes, When the Light

Sometimes, when the light strikes at odd angles
and pulls you back into childhood

and you are passing a crumbling mansion
completely hidden behind old willows

or an empty convent guarded by hemlocks
and giant firs standing hip to hip,

you know again that behind that wall,
under the uncut hair of the willows

something secret is going on,
so marvelous and dangerous

that if you crawled through and saw,
you would die, or be happy forever.

Lisel Mueller

Two end of the year poems by Borges

One of the most beautiful moments of 2011 for me was the unbelievably fortuitous manner in which I stumbled upon Jorge Luis Borges’s poetry on the internet. I delve into the Penguin edition I now own every single day, and each time I feel more enriched and blessed. Though it is already 2012 in India and I should be talking about beginnings rather than endings, here are two beautiful end of the year poems by Borges for you to read. The first one is more obviously about the dying year, while the second talks of places we have never been to and those to which we may never return — this inevitably reminds one of the new year and the old.

Year’s End

Neither the symbolic detail
of a three instead of a two,
nor that rough metaphor
that hails one term dying and another emerging
nor the fulfillment of an astronomical process
muddle and undermine
the high plateau of this night
making us wait
for the twelve irreparable strokes of the bell.
The real cause
is our murky pervasive suspicion
of the enigma of Time,
it is our awe at the miracle
that, though the chances are infinite
and though we are
drops in Heraclitus’ river,
allows something in us to endure,
never moving.

(Translated by W.S. Merwin)

Limits

Of all the streets that blur in to the sunset,
There must be one (which, I am not sure)
That I by now have walked for the last time
Without guessing it, the pawn of that Someone

Who fixes in advance omnipotent laws,
Sets up a secret and unwavering scale
for all the shadows, dreams, and forms
Woven into the texture of this life.

If there is a limit to all things and a measure
And a last time and nothing more and forgetfulness,
Who will tell us to whom in this house
We without knowing it have said farewell?

Through the dawning window night withdraws
And among the stacked books which throw
Irregular shadows on the dim table,
There must be one which I will never read.

There is in the South more than one worn gate,
With its cement urns and planted cactus,
Which is already forbidden to my entry,
Inaccessible, as in a lithograph.

There is a door you have closed forever
And some mirror is expecting you in vain;
To you the crossroads seem wide open,
Yet watching you, four-faced, is a Janus.

There is among all your memories one
Which has now been lost beyond recall.
You will not be seen going down to that fountain
Neither by white sun nor by yellow moon.

You will never recapture what the Persian
Said in his language woven with birds and roses,
When, in the sunset, before the light disperses,
You wish to give words to unforgettable things.

And the steadily flowing Rhone and the lake,
All that vast yesterday over which today I bend?
They will be as lost as Carthage,
Scourged by the Romans with fire and salt.

At dawn I seem to hear the turbulent
Murmur of crowds milling and fading away;
They are all I have been loved by, forgotten by;
Space, time, and Borges now are leaving me.

(Translated by Alastair Reid)

A poem…

‘A poem…begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. It is a reaching-out toward expression; an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where an emotion finds the thought and the thought finds the words.’

— Robert Frost

Robert Frost

In Lovers’ Lane

I know a place for loitering feet
Deep in the valley where the breeze
Makes melody in lichened boughs,
And murmurs low love-litanies.

There slender harebells nod and dream,
And pale wild roses offer up
The fragrance of their golden hearts,
As from some incense-brimméd cup.

It holds the sunshine sifted down
Softly through many a beechen screen,
Save where, by deeper woods embraced,
Cool shadows linger, dim and green.

And there my love and I may walk
And harken to the lapsing fall
Of unseen brooks and tender winds,
And wooing birds that sweetly call.

And every voice to her will say
What I repeat in dear refrain,
And eyes will meet with seeking eyes,
And hands will clasp in Lovers’ Lane.

Come, sweet-heart, then, and we will stray
Adown that valley, lingering long,
Until the rose is wet with dew,
And robins come to evensong,

And woo each other, borrowing speech
Of love from winds and brooks and birds,
Until our sundered thoughts are one
And hearts have no more need of words.

Lucy Maud Montgomery

 
I know a place for loitering feet
Deep in the valley where the breeze
Makes melody in lichened boughs,
And murmurs low love-litanies.

There slender harebells nod and dream,
And pale wild roses offer up
The fragrance of their golden hearts,
As from some incense-brimméd cup.

It holds the sunshine sifted down
Softly through many a beechen screen,
Save where, by deeper woods embraced,
Cool shadows linger, dim and green.

And there my love and I may walk
And harken to the lapsing fall
Of unseen brooks and tender winds,
And wooing birds that sweetly call.

And every voice to her will say
What I repeat in dear refrain,
And eyes will meet with seeking eyes,
And hands will clasp in Lovers’ Lane.

Come, sweet-heart, then, and we will stray
Adown that valley, lingering long,
Until the rose is wet with dew,
And robins come to evensong,

And woo each other, borrowing speech
Of love from winds and brooks and birds,
Until our sundered thoughts are one
And hearts have no more need of words.

Lucy Maud Montgomery