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World poetry

Imants Ziedonis

(3 May 1933 – 27 February 2013) was a Latvian poet and writer who first rose to fame during the Soviet era in Latvia.

Ziedonis was born in the Sloka fisherman’s district of Jūrmala, Latvia. He was educated at the University of Latvia in Riga where he earned a degree in philology in 1959. He earned an additional degree in advanced literature in Moscow in 1964. As a young man, Ziedonis worked in a wide variety of jobs ranging from librarian to road construction worker and from teacher to literary editor


*      *      *

It’s hardest of all when another’s in pain.
Yourself you can bear it — the time’s not the first.
It’s hardest of all when another’s in pain,
He stands there, beside you, live, open to hurts,
But won’t let out tears, nor betray to another
His anguish, though all may be night in his soul.
It’s hardest of all when another’s in pain;
One longs to, but cannot assist him at all.
*      *      *
A loveless world is mean and petty.
A loveless life is like a yoke.
In   loveless   homes   knives   won’t  cut   breadloaves,
The house is blackened up with smoke.
And someone with a blunted hatchet
Chops slivers off the logs of days.
The imp of boredom climbs the curtain
And as it climbs, the curtain sways.
And you don’t understand how flowers
Can grow before the windowpane,
Why you must wake up in the morning
And go to sleep at night again.
A loveless life — one can’t endure it,
For all are free from all in it.
All by yourself you gulp your tea down,
All by yourself you eat your bit.
You walk alone, alone you chuckle
And hoe the hard soil of your cares.
It isn’t something that can kill you,
One can live on like that for years.
No, certainly, it cannot kill you…
*      *      *
It was a wonderful summer.
We spoke to each other only through flowers.
Through dandelions we spoke in May
When words would reach us like bees in flight
Becoming perfectly yellow
With sticky dandelion dust.
Through cat’s feet, too, it is nice
                                                   to speak.
To speak through a bush of lilac is difficult.
During lilac nights the words all burn up.
Just the ashes of words remain in the heart.
We spoke through poppies in July.
And the seeds of words got into the poppyheads.
Now, when alone, when nobody
                                                    sees me,
I shake the poppyhead rattles.
That is how I speak to you now
When I remain alone.
Later we spoke through nettles,
Spoke quite a lot through
Perhaps, altogether too much.
Perhaps we shouldn’t have done it at all.
Shouldn’t have  spoken through nettles at the time,
Because in autumn,
When we spoke through gladioli,
One through a pinkish, common one,
And the other through flowers of bright red,
We didn’t understand each other any more.
And then there were asters
Of every colour.
You spoke through a violet wind
And I through a yellow one,
And I could no longer hear a word.
And then one fine day everything
And all that remained
Was a hard immortelle.
Yesterday I put in winter frames
and there, between the two panes,
the dry immortelle loomed dark.
I  sit by the window,
Speaking to myself
Through that hard immortelle.
And I say,
“One of these days
Glades of ice-flowers
Will appear on the window
Through which I won’t say a word —
Not a word.”
In the air flies a bumble-bee, humming.
Now there are two of them — humming Bach.
Now there are three, four, five of them humming,
As if, indeed, there existed five Bachs;
But no — all five hum the only one.
There, fancy how great he was —
Five live, golden-hued bumble-bees
Can’t even hum like him!
From a volcano come Bach’s chorals.
Now two volcanoes are roaring Bach’s chorals.
Now there are three, four, five of them roaring,
As if, indeed, there existed five Bachs,
But no — all five roar the only one.
There, fancy how great he was:
five volcanoes, shaking the earth
can’t even roar like him!
A star from the skies fell into a flower.
Two stars were swallowed inside the flower.
Now there were three, four, five of them falling,
As if there had been five lilies,
But no — all five fell into one flower.
There,  what a wonderful flower;
Five stars, that fell down from the skies
Got swallowed up inside it…


No, there  is no  such  thing as boundless joy,
And all the talk about it bears no weight.
All that there is are little bits of joy.
Just random smiles sent down by gracious fate.
When someone else can understand our point,
When somebody shows sympathy with us,
When there’s no need for us to change a coin
To pay the fare in a chock-full trolleybus.
When all is well at work, no spite, no rows,
No envy and no” raking up of muck,
Then boundless joy may finally arise
From such small joys, such miniscules of luck.
You go into a shop and there’s no queue!
Ah, joy indeed! Now multiply by ten —
Ten joys a day! Ah, lucky, lucky you!
The total makes you truly opulent.
Let little joys more often be our guests,
Then smiles will outweigh sorrows on life’s trip.
Yet if that boundless joy indeed exists,
We are no fools, and will not let it slip.
Mozart had nothing to boast of, in truth.
All he had was from the Almighty.
To  me,  though,  God  never  gave  anything  free—
I sweat for it daily and nightly.
Like a flock of angels in heavenly spheres
Were the tunes that Mozart crooned.
While I—every note that my soul brings forth
Blooms like a nocturnal wound.
To  Mozart God  offered his  star-basket:
“Choose Anything—have your pick!”
I, though, for every note of mine
Through frozen snowdrifts must dig.
At night, when forsaking both peace and sleep,
I make bold to indulge in rhyming,
Do angels over my shoulder
No, not one of them, blimey!
It’s silly with Mozart to be
It doesn’t flatter or warm me.
My music is nothing but heavy
                                                  work —
No deity labours for me.
*      *      *
On bushes blossom barren flowers.
For whose delight, what for and why?
The bees will fly for kilometres
To other flowers, but pass these by.
Enormous bull-sires in a  farmyard
And pumpkins fat show Nature’s power.
But when we feel contempt for someone,
We say, “Look at that barren flower!”
A barren flower — the wind’s its comrade
It opens like all flowers do.
A barren flower — who cares about it?
Yet year by year it blossoms too.
No pollen on its yellow stamen,
And not a drop of juice within,
So easy, though, to be mistaken
For someone of its fruitful kin.
It looks ridiculous among them.
Then why, what for does it appear?
Nobody knows. And yet it blossoms
Like all the rest, year after year.
*      *      *
Damp snowflakes fall into the roadway mud,
The wind sweeps foam-like paper scraps past me,
While at the sky’s edge sits a little god
And rocks a little star upon his knee.
Out of a turd-heap, cumbersome and slow,
A dung-beetle climbs, green, with jet-black head,
And a white rose swings over him. Then lo —
The rose admits the brute into her bed.
Tonight the moon reminds me of a liar,
Dressed in a black frock-coat, face pale with spite.
The sky itself is like a skinny miser
That locks away his dentures for the night.
How lovely life is only he can see
Who won’t accuse another man of blindness.
Today perhaps the sun may tumble down
Into a well—who knows what may betide us?
For miracles do happen in this world:
Mountains can move, and rivers change their course.
The rhythm of life miraculously prompts
Our poems’ rhythms and rhymes and metaphors.
Only at times grief, that old rat, slips by—
A ghost of evil done in times long gone.
And then a poem glints, like mica, dull,
Though meant to sparkle like a precious stone.
*      *      *
Here’s New Year’s Eve:
See — melting tin,  it sits*
A stone flung from the hills
My forehead hits.
Just grazing me, it flies
On, full of drive.
Thanks to all stones that leave
Us whole and live!
He only whom a stone has grazed
Can be a bard.
Be thankful you’re not killed
But only scarred!
* A popular tradition: on New Year’s Eve fortunes are told by pouring molten tin into water. The shape of the cast is interpreted as a symbol of good or bad luck in  the coming year. — Tr.
*      *      *
On the earth grows grass. Beneath the earth
lies the dust of countless generations.
Late tonight my baby son was born
and was brought to me, my own creation.
Now enough debating cost and price,
what we may, may not, are or
                                               aren’t able.
He is born. Who else, if not myself,
must cut down the tree to make his cradle?
Peter, say, what do you shame me for?
Tell me, why do you reproach me, Janis?
Late tonight my baby son was born.
Shall I leave him naked, cold and famished?
What to me are clamorous debates?
I can hear time flowing past and ebbing.
Every moment, weakening my ties
with this life, drives me into Death’s webbing.
On the earth grows grass. Beneath the earth
lies the dust of countless generations.
Late tonight my baby son was born
and was brought to me, my own creation.
*      *      *
The candle burns.
Ah, how the candle burns!
Its quaking flame casts magic spells on all.
And darkness goes, and light again returns,
And God and Devil bargain for my soul.
The candle burns.
Ah, how the candle burns!
A minute, and the draught will put it out.
Its wax will overflow the saucer soon.
There’s someone coming for my soul, no doubt!
The candle burns.
Ah, how the candle burns!
The darkness is defeated, it appears.
Right to the bottom will the candle burn
Although the wick is smothered with hot tears.
But now the candle’s flame
Has disappeared.
The wind puts out the flicker
                                              in my eyes.
 Now God and Devil for the candle’s soul
Will bargain in the market
                                              of the skies.
Yes, Adam committed only one sin:
Falling in love with Eve.
When it came to the Lord Almighty’s ears
His wrath was too great to believe.
“How could you have done it, Adam?” quoth God.
“I won’t leave it so, mind you;
Love is for God, I’d have you know!”
But Adam rejoined: “Me too!”
“Oh no, sir, no, no!” said Almighty God.
“You’re just a confounded wretch!
How could you have fallen so low, my lad,
With Eve — that fat-bottomed wench!”
“We never fell lower,” Adam rejoined,
“Than the earth you yourself created.
And is it, О Lord, such an awful sin
That we’ve got to be expatriated?”
Yet the Lord sent them packing from Paradise.
Thank God that he did so, too,
Leaving us free to do with our wives
Whatever we wish to do.
We cast the fig-leaf away to the winds
Undoing the braids of our wives,
And that is our sole sin, not born of earth.
But inherited from Paradise.
We’ll never return to Eden again.
Perhaps, only Adam’s sin
Opens for us the heavenly gates
Letting us for a moment in.
*      *     *
I’ve plunged into a chill of alienation.
Off! Let me go away, alone and free.
No longer will I be detained by sunshine
As once I used to be, beside this tree.
How strange! I was so eager as a youngster
To come here. Aye, I thought these leaves would be
Closer to me than any branch of kinship.
It seems, I was mistaken terribly.
Even this snowflake, of all stars most sorry,
Melting between my fingers as of old,
Even this snowflake, of all stars most sorry,
Seems to reject me, alien and cold.


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