The HyperTexts

The Best Poetry Translations of Michael R. Burch, or, "How the Hell Did I End Up Translating Other People's Poetry?"

Modern English Translations of: Old English/Anglo-Saxon poems; Middle English poems by William Dunbar; ancient Greek epigrams, epitaphs and lyric poems by Sappho and other poets; an ancient Egyptian love poem; an ancient Norse poem; haiku and tanka by Basho and other Oriental Masters; Native American poems and proverbs; Arabic and Palestinian poems; Urdu love poems by Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Mirza Ghalib; German poems by Rainer Maria Rilke; Russian poems by Marina Tsvetaeva; Chinese poems by Li Qingzhao; French poems by Charles Baudelaire and Veronica Franco; Holocaust poems by Miklós Radnóti, Paul Celan, Primo Levi and Wladyslaw Szlengel; a Hiroshima poem by Kurihara Sadako; and nine poems by Allama Iqbāl.

If there was one thing I was damn sure I'd never do, it was translate poetry. Writing original poetry in one's native tongue is hard enough; only a masochist would try to translate someone else's poetry into other languages. And I sure as hell never dreamed of translating Anglo-Saxon or Ye Olde Englishe poems into modern English, because I had always found high-school- and college-enforced readings of lengthy "Beowulf" and Chaucer passages beyond tedious. But something made me change my mind: the stunning lyric poem immediately below. I fell in love with it, but I didn't really care for any of the translations I had been able to find ... hence I was forced to attempt the impossible, or, at the very least, the highly implausible ...

Wulf and Eadwacer (circa 960-990 AD)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

My clan's curs pursue him like crippled game.
They'll rip him apart if he approaches their pack.
It is otherwise with us.

Wulf's on one island; I'm on another.
His island's a fortress, fastened by fens.
Here, bloodthirsty curs roam this island.
They'll rip him apart if he approaches their pack.
It is otherwise with us.

My thoughts pursued Wulf like panting hounds.
Whenever it rained and I wept, disconsolate,
the bold warrior came: he took me in his arms:
good feelings for him, but for me loathsome!
Wulf, O, my Wulf, my ache for you
has made me sick; your infrequent visits
have left me famished, deprived of real meat!
Do you hear, Eadwacer? A wolf has borne
our wretched whelp to the woods.
One can easily sever what never was one:
our song together.

What an earthy, dirty, brutally honest poem written from a female perspective about what sounds like war, a family being split apart, and perhaps rape, sex slavery and child abduction and/or infanticide. Much remains in doubt: did Wulf abduct the child, perhaps thinking the child was his, or did the the mother, the rapist or perhaps the rapist's wife get rid of the child? In my opinion the original poem is one of the truly great poems in the English language, so my translation seems like a worthwhile endeavor, especially if other people like what I've done.

There was another poem that also vexed me because I didn't really care for the translations of it that I had read, and it was perhaps the first poem to be written in the then-fledgling English language:

Cædmon's Hymn (circa 658-680 AD)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Now let us honour      heaven-kingdom's Guardian,
the might of the Architect      and his mind-plans,
the work of the Glory-Father.      First he, the Eternal Lord,
established      the foundation of wonders.
Then he, the First Poet,      created heaven as a roof
for the sons of men,      Holy Creator,
Maker of mankind.      Then he, the eternal Lord,
afterwards made men middle-earth:      Master almighty!

"Cædmon's Hymn" was composed sometime between 658 and 680 AD and may be the oldest extant poem in the English language. According to the Venerable Bede (673-735), Cædmon was an illiterate herdsman who was given the gift of poetic composition by an angel. In the original poem, hardly a word is recognizable as English because Cædmon was writing in a somewhat Anglicized form of ancient German. The word "England" harkens back to Angle-land; the Angles were a Germanic tribe. Nevertheless, by Cædmon's time the foundations of English poetry were being laid, particularly in the areas of accentual meter and alliteration. Poets were considered to be "Makers" (as in William Dunbar's "Lament for the Makaris"), and poetry was considered to have a divine origin, so the poem may express a sort of affinity between the poet and his God.

Is this the first villanelle in the English language, but its first major poet? ...

Merciles Beaute ("Merciless Beauty")
by Geoffrey Chaucer
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Your eyes slay me suddenly;
their beauty I cannot sustain,
they wound me so, through my heart keen.

Unless your words heal me hastily,
my heart's wound will remain green;
for your eyes slay me suddenly;
their beauty I cannot sustain.

By all truth, I tell you faithfully
that you are my life and my death, my queen ...
for at my death this truth shall be seen:
Your eyes slay me suddenly;
their beauty I cannot sustain,
they wound me so, through my heart keen.

Now here are four splendid but little-known poems from the early 13th century that may predate Chaucer. Please note the introduction of end rhyme ...

Here is my translation of a brief lyric found in a partbook, circa 1530 ...

Western Wind (Anonymous English Lyric, circa 1530 AD)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Western wind, when will you blow,
so the small raindrops can downward rain?
Christ, that my love were in my arms,
and I in my bed again!

How Long the Night (Anonymous Old English Lyric, circa early 13th century AD)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

It is pleasant, indeed, while the summer lasts
with the mild pheasants' song ...
but now I feel the northern wind's blast—
its severe weather strong.
Alas! Alas! This night seems so long!
And I, because of my momentous wrong
now grieve, mourn and fast.

Pity Mary (Anonymous Old English Lyric, circa early 13th century AD)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Now the sun passes under the wood:
I rue, Mary, thy face—fair, good.
Now the sun passes under the tree:
I rue, Mary, thy son and thee.

In the poem above, note how "wood" and "tree" invoke the cross while "sun" and "son" seem to invoke each other. Sun-day is also Son-day, to Christians. The anonymous poet who wrote the poem above may have been been punning the words "sun" and "son." The poem is also known as "Now Goeth Sun Under Wood" and "Now Go'th Sun Under Wood." Here's another poem from the same era:

Fowles in the Frith (Anonymous Medieval English Lyric, circa 13th-14th century AD)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The fowls in the forest,
the fishes in the flood
and I must go mad:
such sorrow I've had
for beasts of bone and blood!

Sounds like an early animal rights activist! The use of "and" is intriguing ... is the poet saying that his walks in the wood drive him mad because he is also a "beast of bone and blood," with a similar fate?

I am of Ireland (Anonymous Medieval Irish Lyric, circa 13th-14th century AD)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I am of Ireland,
and of the holy realm of Ireland.
Good sir, I pray thee:
for the sake of holy charity,
come dance with me
in Ireland.

The poem above still smacks of German, as the first line reads: "Ich am of Irlaunde." But a metamorphosis was clearly in progress: English poetry was evolving to employ meter and rhyme, as well as Anglo-Saxon alliteration. And it's interesting to note that "ballad," "ballet" and "ball" all have the same root: the Latin ballare (to dance) and the Italian ballo/balleto (a dance). Think of a farm community assembling for a hoe-down, doing the two-step to music with lyrics. That is apparently how many early English poems originated. And the more regular meter of the evolving poems would suit music well. Now here's my translation of a wonderful poem by an early Scottish master, William Dunbar. "Sweet Rose of Virtue" has been one of my favorite poems since I first read it. I decided to translate it myself, to make it more accessible to modern readers:

Sweet Rose of Virtue
by William Dunbar [1460-1525]

loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Sweet rose of virtue and of gentleness,
delightful lily of youthful wantonness,
richest in bounty and in beauty clear
and in every virtue that is held most dear―
except only that you are merciless.

Into your garden, today, I followed you;
there I saw flowers of freshest hue,
both white and red, delightful to see,
and wholesome herbs, waving resplendently―
yet everywhere, no odor but rue.

I fear that March with his last arctic blast
has slain my fair rose of pallid and gentle cast,
whose piteous death does my heart such pain
that, if I could, I would compose her roots again―
so comforting her bowering leaves have been.

Now skruketh rose and lylie flour (Anonymous Medieval English Lyric, circa 11th century AD)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Now skruketh rose and lylie flour,                                                Now skyward the rose and the lily flower,                               skruketh = break forth, burst open
That whilen ber that suete savour                                                  That will bear for awhile that sweet savor: 
In somer, that suete tyde;                                                              In summer, that sweet tide; 
Ne is no quene so stark ne stour,                                                  There is no queen so stark in her power,                                  stour = strong, stern, hardy
Ne no luedy so bryht in bour                                                         Nor no lady so bright in her bower
That ded ne shal by glyde:                                                             That dead shall not glide by:
Whoso wol fleshye lust for-gon and hevene-blisse abyde               Whoever will forgo lust, in heavenly bliss will abide
On Jhesu be is thoht anon, that tharled was ys side.                       With his thoughts on Jesus anon, thralled at his side.                  tharled = thralled?, made a serf?, bound?

A similar poem to the one above, in time and language, is "Blow Northerne Wynd," which has been called the "most ancient love poem in the English language," perhaps composed during the reign of King John. But I prefer the lovely poem above, if not the Christians sentiments of the closing couplet. 

IN LIBRARIOS
by Thomas Campion
 
Impressionum plurium librum laudat
Librarius; scortum nec non minus leno.
 
Novelties
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Booksellers laud authors for novel editions
as pimps praise their whores for exotic positions.

Brut (circa 1100 AD, written by Layamon, an excerpt)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch


Now he stands on a hill overlooking the Avon,
seeing steel fishes girded with swords in the stream,
their swimming days done,
their scales a-gleam like gold-plated shields,
their fish-spines floating like shattered spears.

Layamon's Brut is a 32,000-line poem composed in Middle English that shows a strong Anglo-Saxon influence and contains the first known reference to King Arthur in English. The passage above is a good example of Layamon's gift for imagery. It's interesting, I think, that a thousand years ago a poet was dabbling in surrealism, with dead warriors being described as if they were both men and fish.


Around the same time that I was finding myself frustrated with other people's translations of the poems above, I also discovered certain Greek epigrams that seemed to deserve more attention. So I created a collection of English epigrams modeled after epitaphs gleaned from ancient Greek gravestones and called the collection:

Athenian Epitaphs

Mariner, do not ask whose tomb this may be,
but go with good fortune: I wish you a kinder sea.
Michael R. Burch, after Plato

Does my soul abide in heaven, or hell?
Only the sea gulls in their high, lonely circuits may tell.
Michael R. Burch, after Glaucus

Passerby,
tell the Spartans we lie
here, dead at their word,
obedient to their command.
Have they heard?
Do they understand?
Michael R. Burch, after Simonides

Here he lies in state tonight: great is his Monument!
Yet Ares cares not, neither does War relent.
Michael R. Burch, after Anacreon

Blame not the gale, or the inhospitable sea-gulf, or friends’ tardiness,
mariner! Just man’s foolhardiness.
Michael R. Burch, after Leonidas of Tarentum

Now that I am dead sea-enclosed Cyzicus shrouds my bones.
Faretheewell, O my adoptive land that nurtured me, that suckled me;
I take rest at your breast.
Michael R. Burch, after Erycius

If you liked these modernizations of ancient Greek epigrams, there are more at the bottom of this page. Now here are three of my translations of the epigrams of Sappho, one of the first great lyric poets, and perhaps the first great female poet whose name we know today:

Sappho, fragment 42
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Eros harrows my heart:
wild winds whipping desolate mountains
uprooting oaks.

Sappho, fragment 155
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

A short transparent frock?
It's just my luck
your lips were made to mock!

Sappho, fragment 130

loose translation by Michael R. Burch

May the gods prolong the night
  —yes, let it last forever!—
as long as you sleep in my sight.

Haiku can be similar to the best Greek epigrams: short and sweet, or (more often) short and bittersweet. Here's my translation of one of my favorite haiku, by the master Basho:

The butterfly
perfuming its wings
fans the orchid
Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Here's another haiku I particularly love:

Oh, fallen camellias,
if I were you,
I'd leap into the torrent!

Takaha Shugyo, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Here is my only translation of a tanka (at least to date). Again I am struck by the similarity of great Oriental poetry to the best ancient Greek epigrams:

Our life here on earth:
to what shall we compare it?
It is not like a rowboat
departing at daybreak,
leaving no trace of man in its wake?
― Takaha Shugyo, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Here are more of my haiku translations; every other poem is by the Master Basho; I consider him one of the greatest poets of all time, in any language:

Deep autumn:
my neighbor,
how does he continue, I wonder ...
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

One apple, alone
In the abandoned orchard
reddens for winter
― Patrick Blanche, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Come, investigate loneliness!
a solitary leaf
clings to the Kiri tree
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

A kite floats
at the same place in the sky
where yesterday it floated ...
― Buson Yosa, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Let us arrange
these lovely flowers in the bowl
since there's no rice
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Grasses wilt:
the braking locomotive
grinds to a halt
― Yamaguchi Seishi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

An ancient pond,
the frog leaps:
the silver plop and gurgle of water
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Wild geese pass
leaving the emptiness of heaven
revealed
― Takaha Shugyo, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The first soft snow:
leaves of the awed jonquil
bow low
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch


There are more haiku translations toward the end of this page.

Walid Khazindar was born in 1950 in Gaza City. He is considered one of the best Palestinian poets; his poetry has been said to be "characterized by metaphoric originality and a novel thematic approach unprecedented in Arabic poetry." He was awarded the first Palestine Prize for Poetry in 1997.


Distant Light
by Walid Khazindar
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Bitterly cold,
winter clings to the naked trees.
If only you would free
the bright sparrows
from the tips of your fingers
and release a smile—that shy, tentative smile—
from the imprisoned anguish I see.
Sing! Can we not sing
as if we were warm, hand-in-hand,
shielded by shade from a glaring sun?
Can you not always remain this way,
stoking the fire: more beautiful than necessary, and silent?
Darkness increases; we must remain vigilant
and this distant light is our only consolation—
this imperiled flame, which from the beginning
has been flickering,
in danger of going out.
Come to me, closer and closer.
I don't want to be able to tell my hand from yours.
And let's stay awake, lest the snow smother us.

Here are my translations of three German poems by Rainer Maria Rilke:

Archaic Torso of Apollo
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

We cannot know the beheaded god
nor his eyes' forfeited visions. But still
the figure's trunk glows with the strange vitality
of a lamp lit from within, while his composed will
emanates dynamism. Otherwise
the firmly muscled abdomen could not beguile us,
nor the centering loins make us smile
at the thought of their generative animus.
Otherwise the stone might seem deficient,
unworthy of the broad shoulders, of the groin
projecting procreation's triangular spearhead upwards,
unworthy of the living impulse blazing wildly within
like an inchoate star—demanding our belief.
You must change your life.

The Panther
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

His weary vision's so overwhelmed by iron bars,
his exhausted eyes see only blank Oblivion.
His world is not our world. It has no stars.
No light. Ten thousand bars. Nothing beyond.
Lithe, swinging with a rhythmic easy stride,
he circles, his small orbit tightening,
an electron losing power. Paralyzed,
soon regal Will stands stunned, an abject thing.
Only at times the pupils' curtains rise
silently, and then an image enters,
descends through arrested shoulders, plunges, centers
somewhere within his empty heart, and dies.

Autumn Day
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Lord, it is time. Let the immense summer go.
Lay your long shadows over the sundials
and over the meadows, let the free winds blow.
Command the late fruits to fatten and shine;
O, grant them another Mediterranean hour!
Urge them to completion, and with power
convey final sweetness to the heavy wine.
Who has no house now, never will build one.
Who's alone now, shall continue alone;
he'll wake, read, write long letters to friends,
and pace the tree-lined pathways up and down,
restlessly, as autumn leaves drift and descend.

Here are my translations of four poems by the great Holocaust poet Miklós Radnóti. They were written on what became his death march as Nazi soldiers herded Jewish concentration camp prisoners away from the advancing Russian armies.

Postcard 1
by Miklós Radnóti
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Out of Bulgaria, the great wild roar of the artillery thunders,
resounds on the mountain ridges, rebounds, then ebbs into silence
while here men, beasts, wagons and imagination all steadily increase;
the road whinnies and bucks, neighing; the maned sky gallops;
and you are eternally with me, love, constant amid all the chaos,
glowing within my conscience — incandescent, intense.
Somewhere within me, dear, you abide forever —
still, motionless, mute, like an angel stunned to silence by death
or a beetle hiding in the heart of a rotting tree.

Postcard 2
by Miklós Radnóti
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

A few miles away they're incinerating
the haystacks and the houses,
while squatting here on the fringe of this pleasant meadow,
the shell-shocked peasants quietly smoke their pipes.
Now, here, stepping into this still pond, the little shepherd girl
sets the silver water a-ripple
while, leaning over to drink, her flocculent sheep
seem to swim like drifting clouds.

Postcard 3
by Miklós Radnóti
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The oxen dribble bloody spittle;
the men pass blood in their piss.
Our stinking regiment halts, a horde of perspiring savages,
adding our aroma to death's repulsive stench.

Postcard 4
by Miklós Radnóti
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I toppled beside him — his body already taut,
tight as a string just before it snaps,
shot in the back of the head.
"This is how you’ll end too; just lie quietly here,"
I whispered to myself, patience blossoming from dread.
"Der springt noch auf," the voice above me jeered;
I could only dimly hear
through the congealing blood slowly sealing my ear.

This was his final poem, written October 31, 1944 near Szentkirályszabadja, Hungary. "Der springt noch auf" means something like "That one is still twitching."

Here's my translation of a moving poem by Hiroshima survivor Kurihara Sadako:

Let Us Be Midwives!
by Kurihara Sadako
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Midnight . . .
the basement of a shattered building . . .
atomic bomb survivors sniveling in the darkness . . .
not a single candle between them . . .
the odor of blood . . .
the stench of death . . .
the sickly-sweet smell of decaying humanity . . .
the groans . . .
the moans . . .
Out of all that, suddenly, miraculously, a voice:
"The baby's coming!"
In the hellish basement, unexpectedly,
a young mother had gone into labor.
In the dark, lacking a single match, what to do?
Scrambling to her side,
forgetting their own . . .

These are my translations of poems by the great Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva:

I Know The Truth
by Marina Tsvetaeva
loose translation by  Michael R. Burch

I know the truth—abandon lesser truths!
There's no need for anyone living to struggle!
See? Evening falls, night quickly descends!
So why the useless disputes, generals, poets, lovers?

The wind is calming now; the earth is bathed in dew;
the stars' infernos will soon freeze in the heavens.
And soon we'll sleep together, under the earth,
we who never gave each other a moment's rest above it.

I Know The Truth (Alternate Ending)
by Marina Tsvetaeva
loose translation by  Michael R. Burch

I know the truth—abandon lesser truths!
There's no need for anyone living to struggle!
See? Evening falls, night quickly descends!
So why the useless disputes, generals, poets, lovers?

The wind caresses the grasses; the earth gleams, damp with dew;
the stars' infernos will soon freeze in the heavens.
And soon we'll lie together under the earth,
we who were never united above it.

Poems about Moscow
by Marina Tsvetaeva
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

5
Above the city Saint Peter once remanded to hell
now rolls the delirious thunder of the bells.

As the thundering high tide eventually reverses,
so, too, the woman who once bore your curses.

To you, O Great Peter, and you, O Great Tsar, I kneel!
And yet the bells above me continually peal.

And while they keep ringing out of the pure blue sky,
Moscow's eminence is something I can't deny ...

though sixteen hundred churches, nearby and afar,
all gaily laugh at the hubris of the Tsars.

Here are two translations of poems by a wonderful female Chinese poet:

Li Qingzhao (Li Ching-chao, 1084-1155)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The migrant songbird on the nearby yew
brings
tears to my eyes with her melodious trills—
this fresh downpour renewing the stains of older spills;
another spring gone, and still no word from you ...

Li Qingzhao (Li Ching-chao, 1084-1155)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

This year with the end of autumn
I find my reflection graying at the edges.
And now that the evening gale hammers these ledges,
what shall become of the plum blossoms?

Here are my translations of three erotic poems ....

Le Balcon (The Balcony)
by Charles Baudelaire
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Paramour of memory, ultimate mistress,
source of all pleasure, my only desire;
how can I forget your ecstatic caresses,
the warmth of your breasts by the roaring fire,
paramour of memory, ultimate mistress?

Each night illumined by the burning coals
we lay together where the rose-fragrance clings—
how soft your breasts, how tender your soul!
Ah, and we said imperishable things,
each night illumined by the burning coals.

How beautiful the sunsets these sultry days,
deep space so profound, beyond life’s brief floods ...
then, when I kissed you, my queen, in a daze,
I thought I breathed the bouquet of your blood
as beautiful as sunsets these sultry days.

Night thickens around us like a wall;
in the deepening darkness our irises meet.
I drink your breath, ah! poisonous yet sweet!,
as with fraternal hands I massage your feet
while night thickens around us like a wall.

I have mastered the sweet but difficult art
of happiness here, with my head in your lap,
finding pure joy in your body, your heart;
because you’re the queen of my present and past
I have mastered love’s sweet but difficult art.

O vows! O perfumes! O infinite kisses!
Can these be reborn from a gulf we can’t sound
as suns reappear, as if heaven misses
their light when they sink into seas dark, profound?
O vows! O perfumes! O infinite kisses!

An Ancient Egyptian Love Lyric (circa 1085-570 BC)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Is there anything sweeter than these hours of love,
when we’re together, and my heart races?
For what is better than embracing and fondling
when you visit me and we surrender to delights?

If you reach to caress my thigh,
I will offer you my breast also —
it’s soft; it won't jab you or thrust you away!

Will you leave me because you’re hungry?
Are you ruled by your belly?
Will you leave me because you need something to wear?
I have chests full of fine linen!
Will you leave me because you’re thirsty?
Here, suck my breasts! They’re full to overflowing, and all for you!

I glory in the hours of our embracings;
my joy is incalculable!

The thrill of your love spreads through my body
like honey in water,
like a drug mixed with spices,
like wine mingled with water.

Oh, that you would speed to see your sister
like a stallion in heat, like a bull to his heifer!
For the heavens have granted us love like flames igniting straw,
desire like the falcon’s free-falling frenzy!

A Courtesan's Love Lyric
by Veronica Franco
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

My rewards will be commensurate with your gifts
if only you give me the one that lifts
me laughing ...

And though it costs you nothing,
still it is of immense value to me.

Your reward will be
not just to fly
but to soar, so high
that your joys vastly exceed your desires.

And my beauty, to which your heart aspires
and which you never tire of praising,
I will employ for the raising
of your spirits. Then, lying sweetly at your side,
I will shower you with all the delights of a bride,
which I have more expertly learned.

Then you who so fervently burned
will at last rest, fully content,
fallen even more deeply in love, spent
at my comfortable bosom.

When I am in bed with a man I blossom,
becoming completely free
with the man who loves and enjoys me.


Here's another loose translation of mine, this one of a poem written in Scots by Hugh MacDiarmid. A "watergaw" is a fragmentary rainbow. This "translation" may be a bit unusual, since MacDiarmid wrote both English and Scots versions of the poem, but I like my English version better ...

The Watergaw
by Hugh MacDiarmid
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

One wet forenight in the sheep-shearing season
I saw the uncanniest thing—
a watergaw with its wavering light
shining beyond the wild downpour of rain
and I thought of the last wild look that you gave
when you knew you destined for the grave.

There was no light in the skylark's nest
that night—no—nor any in mine;
but now often I've thought of that foolish light
and of these irrational hearts of men
and I think that, perhaps, at last I ken
what your look meant then.

Here are my translations of several Urdu love poems by two wonderful poets, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Mirza Ghalib:

Last Night
by Faiz Ahmed Faiz
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Last night, your memory stole into my heart
as spring sweeps uninvited into barren gardens,
as morning breezes reinvigorate dormant deserts,
as a patient suddenly feels well, for no apparent reason ...

Tonight
by Faiz Ahmed Faiz
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Do not strike the melancholy chord tonight!
Days smoldering with pain end up in ashes
and who the hell knows what the future may bring?
Last night’s long lost, tomorrow's horizon’s a wavering mirage,
and how can we know if we’ll see another dawn?
Life is nothing, unless together we make it ring!
Tonight we are gods! Sing!

Do not strike the melancholy chord tonight!
Don’t harp constantly on human suffering!
Stop complaining; let Fate conduct her song!
Give no thought to the future, seize now, this precious thing!
Shed no more tears for temperate seasons long vanished!
All sighs and cries soon weakly dissipate ... stop dithering!
Oh, do not strike the same flat chord again!

Ghazal
by Mirza Ghalib
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Life becomes even more complicated
when a man can’t think like a man ...

What irrationality makes me so dependent on her
that I rush off an hour early, then get annoyed when she's "late"?

My lover is so striking! She demands to be seen.
The mirror reflects only her image, yet still dazzles and confounds my eyes.

Love’s stings have left me the deep scar of happiness
while she hovers above me, illuminated.

She promised not to torment me, but only after I was mortally wounded.
How easily she “repents,” my lovely slayer!

Ghazal
by Mirza Ghalib
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

It’s time for the world to hear Ghalib again!
May these words and their shadows like doors remain open.

Tonight the watery mirror of stars appears
while night-blooming flowers gather where beauty rests.

She who knows my desire is speaking,
or at least her lips have recently moved me.

Why is grief the fundamental element of night
when everything falls as the distant stars rise?

Tell me, how can I be happy vast oceans from home
when mail from my beloved lies here, so recently opened?

Ghazal
by Mirza Ghalib
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

You should have stayed a little longer;
you left all alone, so why not linger?

We’ll meet again, you said, some other day like this,
as if days like this can ever recur!

You left our house as the moon deserts night's skies,
as the evening light abandons its cycle.

You hated me: a wife abnormally distant;
you left me before your children were grown.

Only fools ask why Ghalib still lives:
his fate is to live desiring death.

Ghazal
by Mirza Ghalib
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Not the blossomings of song nor the adornments of music:
I am the voice of my own heart breaking.

You toy with your long, dark curls
while I remain captive to my dark, pensive thoughts.

We congratulate ourselves that we two are different:
this weakness has burdened us both with inchoate grief.

Now you are here, and I find myself bowing:
as if sadness is a blessing, and longing a sacrament.

I am a fragment of sound rebounding;
you are the walls impounding my echoes.

Now here's a poem whose second line enthralled C. S. Lewis. I'm not sure about the source of the original poem, but my "translation" is based on a poem of the same name by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ...

Tegner's Drapa
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I heard a voice, that cried,
“Balder the beautiful lies dead, lies dead . . .”
a voice like the flight of white cranes
intent on a sun sailing high overhead—
but a sun now irretrievably setting.

Then I saw the sun’s corpse
—dead beyond all begetting—
borne through disconsolate skies
as blasts from the Nifel-heim rang out with dread,
“Balder lies dead, our fair Balder lies dead! . . .”

Lost—the sweet runes of his tongue,
so sweet every lark hushed its singing!
Lost, lost forever—his beautiful face,
the grace of his smile, all the girls’ hearts wild-winging!
O, who ever thought such strange words might be said,
as “Balder lies dead, gentle Balder lies dead! . . .”

These are three English translations of Holocaust poems written in German by the Jewish poet Paul Celan. The first poem, "Death Fugue" ("Todesfuge" in the original German) is one of the most famous Holocaust poems, with its haunting refrain of a German "master of death" killing Jews by day and writing "Your golden hair Margarete" by starlight. The poem demonstrates how terrible things can become when one human being is granted absolute power over other human beings.

Death Fugue
by Paul Celan
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Black milk of daybreak, we drink it come morning;
we drink it come midday; we drink it, come night;
we drink it and drink it.
We are digging a grave like a hole in the sky; there’s sufficient room to lie there.
The man of the house plays with vipers; he writes
in the Teutonic darkness, "Your golden hair Margarete ..."
He writes poems by the stars, whistles hounds to stand by,
whistles Jews to dig graves, where together they’ll lie.
He commands us to strike up bright tunes for the dance!

Black milk of daybreak, we drink you each morning;
we drink you at midday; we drink you at night;
we drink you and drink you.
The man of the house plays with serpents, he writes ...
he writes when the night falls, "Your golden hair Margarete ...
Your ashen hair Shulamith ..."
We are digging dark graves where there’s more room, on high.
His screams, "You dig there!" and "Hey you, dance and sing!"
He grabs his black nightstick, his eyes pallid blue,
cries, "Hey you, dig more deeply! You others, keep dancing!"

Black milk of daybreak, we drink you each morning;
we drink you at midday, we drink you at night;
we drink you and drink you.
The man of the house writes, "Your golden hair Margarete ...
Your ashen hair Shulamith." He toys with our lives.
He screams, "Play for me! Death’s a master of Germany!"
His screams, "Stroke dark strings, soon like black smoke you’ll rise
to a grave in the clouds; there’s sufficient room for Jews there!"

Black milk of daybreak, we drink you at midnight;
we drink you at noon; Death’s the master of Germany!
We drink you come evening; we drink you and drink you ...
a master of Deutschland, with eyes deathly blue.
With bullets of lead our pale master will murder you!
He writes when the night falls, "Your golden hair Margarete ..."
He unleashes his hounds, grants us graves in the skies.
He plays with his serpents; he’s a master of Germany ...

your golden hair Margarete ...
your ashen hair Shulamith.

O, Little Root of a Dream
by Paul Celan
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

O, little root of a dream
you enmire me here;
I’m undermined by blood —
no longer seen,
enslaved by death.

Touch the curve of my face,
that there may yet be an earthly language of ardor,
that someone else’s eyes
may see yet see me,
though I’m blind,
here where you
deny me voice.

You Were My Death
by Paul Celan
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

You were my death;
I could hold you
when everything abandoned me —
even breath.

Here are two translations of poems by the Italian Jewish Holocaust survivor Primo Levi:

Shema
by Primo Levi
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

You who live secure
in your comfortable houses,
who return each evening to find
warm food,
welcoming faces ...

consider whether this is a man:
who toils in the mud,
who knows no peace,
who fights for crusts of bread,
who dies at another man's whim,
at his "yes" or his "no."

Consider whether this is a woman:
bereft of hair,
of a recognizable name
because she lacks the strength to remember,
her eyes as void
and her womb as frigid
as a frog's in winter.

Consider that such horrors have been:
I commend these words to you.
Engrave them in your hearts
when you lounge in your house,
when you walk outside,
when you go to bed,
when you rise.
Repeat them to your children,
or may your house crumble
and disease render you helpless
so that even your offspring avert their faces from you.

Buna
by Primo Levi
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Wasted feet, cursed earth,
the interminable gray morning
as Buna smokes corpses through industrious chimneys.

A day like every other day awaits us.
The terrible whistle shrilly announces dawn:
"You, O pale multitudes with your sad, lifeless faces,
welcome the monotonous horror of the mud ...
another day of suffering has begun."

Weary companion, I see you by heart.
I empathize with your dead eyes, my disconsolate friend.
In your breast you carry cold, hunger, nothingness.
Life has broken what's left of the courage within you.

Colorless one, you once were a strong man,
A courageous woman once walked at your side.
But now you, my empty companion, are bereft of a name,
my forsaken friend who can no longer weep,
so poor you can no longer grieve,
so tired you no longer can shiver with fear.

O, spent once-strong man,
if we were to meet again
in some other world, sweet beneath the sun,
with what kind faces would we recognize each other?

Note: Buna was the largest Auschwitz sub-camp.

Here's a translation of a poem by Wladyslaw Szlengel about his friend Janusz Korczak. Both were victims of the Nazis during the Holocaust ...

Excerpts from "A Page from the Deportation Diary"
by Wladyslaw Szlengel
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I saw Janusz Korczak walking today,
leading the children, at the head of the line.
They were dressed in their best clothes—immaculate, if gray.
Some say the weather wasn’t dismal, but fine.

They were in their best jumpers and laughing (not loud),
but if they’d been soiled, tell me—who could complain?
They walked like calm heroes through the haunted crowd,
five by five, in a whipping rain.

The pallid, the trembling, watched high overhead,
through barely cracked windows—pale, transfixed with dread.

And now and then, from the high, tolling bell
a strange moan escaped, like a sea gull’s torn cry.
Their “superiors” looked on, their eyes hard as stone.
So let us not flinch, as they march on, to die.

Footfall . . . then silence . . . the cadence of feet . . .
O, who can console them, their last mile so drear?
The church bells peal on, over shocked Leszno Street.
Will Jesus Christ save them? The high bells career.

No, God will not save them. Nor you, friend, nor I.
But let us not flinch, as they march on, to die.

No one will offer the price of their freedom.
No one will proffer a single word.
His eyes hard as gavels, the silent policeman
agrees with the priest and his terrible Lord:
                                  “Give them the Sword!”

At the town square there is no intervention.
No one tugs Schmerling’s sleeve. No one cries
“Rescue the children!” The air, thick with tension,
reeks with the odor of vodka, and lies.

How calmly he walks, with a child in each arm:
Gut Doktor Korczak, please keep them from harm!

A fool rushes up with a reprieve in hand:
“Look Janusz Korczak—please look, you’ve been spared!”
No use for that. One resolute man,
uncomprehending that no one else cared
enough to defend them,
his choice is to end with them.

Here's one of the first Old English/Anglo Saxon poems to employ a refrain:

Deor's Lament (Anglo Saxon poem, circa 10th century AD)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Weland knew the agony of exile.
That indomitable smith was wracked by grief.
He endured countless troubles:
sorrows were his only companions
in his frozen island dungeon
after Nithad had fettered him,
many strong-but-supple sinew-bonds
binding the better man.
   That passed away; this also may.

Beadohild mourned her brothers' deaths
but even more, her own sad state
once she discovered herself with child.
She predicted nothing good could come of it.
   That passed away; this also may.

We have heard that the Geat's moans for Matilda,
his lady, were limitless,
that his sorrowful love for her
robbed him of regretless sleep.
   That passed away; this also may.

For thirty winters Theodric ruled
the Mæring stronghold with an iron hand;
many knew this and moaned.
   That passed away; this also may.

We have also heard of Ermanaric's wolfish ways,
of how he held wide sway in the realm of the Goths.
He was a grim king! Many a warrior sat,
full of cares and maladies of the mind,
wishing constantly that his kingdom might be overthrown.
   That passed away; this also may.

If a man sits long enough, sorrowful and anxious,
bereft of joy, his mind constantly darkening,
soon it seems to him that his troubles are endless.
Then he must consider that the wise Lord
often moves through the earth
granting some men honor, glory and fame,
but others only shame and hardship.
This I will say for myself:
that for awhile I was the Heodeninga's scop,
dear to my lord. My name was Deor.
For many winters I held a fine office,
faithfully serving a just lord. But now Heorrenda
a man skilful in songs, has received the estate
the protector of warriors gave me.
   That passed away; this also may.

"The Wife's Lament" or "The Wife's Complaint" is an Old English (Anglo Saxon) poem found in the Exeter Book which is generally considered to be an elegy in the manner of the German frauenlied, or "woman's song," although there are other interpretations of the poem's genre and purpose. The Exeter Book has been dated to 960-990 AD, but of course the poem may have been written earlier.

The Wife's Lament
loose translation by  Michael R. Burch

I draw these words from deep wells of my grief,
care-worn, unutterably sad.
I can recount woes I've borne since birth,
present and past, never more than now.
I have won, from my exile-paths, only pain.

First, my lord forsook his folk, left,
crossed the seas' tumult, far from our people.
Since then, I've known
wrenching dawn-griefs, dark mournings ... oh where,
where can he be?

Then I, too, left—a lonely, lordless refugee,
full of unaccountable desires!
But the man's kinsmen schemed secretly
to estrange us, divide us, keep us apart,
across earth's wide kingdom, and my heart broke.

Then my lord spoke:
"Take up residence here."
I had few friends in this unknown, cheerless
region, none close.
Christ, I felt lost!

Then I thought I had found a well-matched man –
one meant for me,
but unfortunately he
was ill-starred and blind, with a devious mind,
full of murderous intentions, plotting some crime!

Before God we
vowed never to part, not till kingdom come, never!
But now that's all changed, forever –
our friendship done, severed.
I must hear, far and near, contempt for my husband.

So other men bade me, "Go, live in the grove,
beneath the great oaks, in an earth-cave, alone."
In this ancient cave-dwelling I am lost and oppressed –
the valleys are dark, the hills immense,
and this cruel-briared enclosure—an arid abode!

The injustice assails me—my lord's absence!
On earth there are lovers who share the same bed
while I pass through life dead in this dark abscess
where I wilt, summer days unable to rest
or forget the sorrows of my life's hard lot.

A young woman must always be
stern, hard-of-heart, unmoved,
opposing breast-cares and her heartaches' legions.
She must appear cheerful
even in a tumult of grief.

Like a criminal exiled to a far-off land,
moaning beneath insurmountable cliffs,
my weary-minded love, drenched by wild storms
and caught in the clutches of anguish,
is reminded constantly of our former happiness.

Woe be it to them who abide in longing.

Here are my translations of poems by Sir Muhammad Iqbal (علامہمحمداقبال), also known as Allama Iqbāl (علامہاقبال, Allāma meaning "The Learned One"), a Lahori Muslim poet, philosopher and politician.

O, Colorful Rose!
by Allama Iqbāl
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

You are not troubled with solving enigmas
O, beautiful Rose! nor do you have sublime feelings in your heart

Though you ornament the assembly, still you flower apart
(In life's assembly I am not permitted such comforts)

In my garden I am the complete orchestra of longing
While your life is devoid of love's passionate warmth

To pluck you from the branch is not my custom
(I am not blinded by mere appearances)

O, colorful rose this hand is not your tormentor
(I am no callous flower picker!)

I am no intern to analyze you with scientific eyes
Like a lover, I see you with nightingales' eyes

Despite your innumerable tongues, you have chosen silence
What secrets, O Rose, lie concealed in your bosom?

Like me you're a leaf from the garden of Ñër
Far from the garden I am, far from the garden we both are

You are content, but I am a scattered fragrance
Pierced by the sword of love in my quest

This turmoil within me might be a means of fulfillment
This torment, a source of illumination

My frailty might be the beginning of strength
My envy might mirror the cup of divination

My constant vigil is a world-illuminating candle
And teaches this steed, the human intellect, to gallop

Bright Rose
by Allama Iqbāl
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

You cannot loosen the heart's knot;
perhaps you have no heart,
no share in the chaos

of this garden, where I yearn (for what?)
but harvest no roses.
Of what use to me is wisdom?

Having abandoned the garden,
you are at peace, while I remain anxious,
disconsolate in my terror.

Perhaps Jamshid's empty cup
foretold the future, but may wine
never satisfy my mouth,

till I find you in the mirror.

Jamshid's empty cup: Jamshid saw the reflection of future events in a wine cup.

Withered Roses
by Allama Iqbāl
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

What words of mine can describe you,
desire of the nightingale's heart?
The morning breeze was your nativity,
the afternoon garden, a tray of perfumes.

My tears welled up like dew,
till in my abandoned heart your rune grew,
this dream-emblem of love:
this spray of withered roses.

Firefly
by Allama Iqbāl
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

A candle among roses
In the evening garden
A shooting star
A flash of the moon's gown
A spark of the sun's hem
In syncopated eclipse

Emissary of day
In night's dark kingdom
Unseen at home
Lucid in exile
Opposite of the moth
The firefly is light

The Age of Infancy
by Allama Iqbāl
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The earth and sky remained unknown to me
The expanse of my mother's bosom was my only world

Her every movement communicated life's pleasures to me
Yet my own voice conveyed only meaningless words

During infancy's pain, if someone made me cry
The clank of the door chain would comfort me

Oh! How I stared at the moon those long, lonely hours,
Regarding its silent journey through broken clouds

I would ask repeatedly about its mountains and its plains
Only to be surprised by some prudent lie

My eye was devoted to seeing, my lips to speech
My heart was inquisitiveness personified

Fiction
by Allama Iqbāl
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

"Why didn't you make me immortal?"
Beauty asked God, perplexed.

God, vexed, said "The world is a fiction
fashioned from emptiness.

You were born bright, ever-changing:
true beauty is transient, estranging."

The moon overheard their discord,
beamed it on to the morning star

who whispered dawn's clouds their dark secret
till the dew heard it all, formed a tear,

and drenched all the shivering rose petals
(now survived by the hardier nettles).

Coal to Diamond
Allama Iqbāl, after Nietzsche
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

My flesh is so vile, I am less than dust
while your brilliance out-blazes the mirror's heart.
My darkness defiles the chafing-dish
before my cremation; a miner's boot
tramples my cranium; I'm covered with ashes.

Do you know my life's bleak essence?
Condensations of smoke, black clouds stillborn
from a single spark; while in feature and nature
starlike, your every facet's a splendor,
gleam of the King's crown, the scepter's jewel.

"Please, friend, be wise," the diamond replied,
"assume a gemlike dignity! Carbon must harden,
to fill one's bosom with radiance. Burn
because you are soft. Banish fear and grief.
Be hard as stone, be diamond."

Excerpts from "The Tulip of Sinai"
by Allama Iqbāl
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

1

My heart is bright, from burning inwardly.
My eyes weep blood, for all the world to see.
Am I the fool, or is it only he
Who calls all Love mere wild insanity!

3

Love grants the garden soft breezes of May.
Love teaches the meadow sunflowers to be gay.
Love rockets bright rays even into the deep
So that fishes' schools can find their way.

4

Love reckons the price of eagles cheap.
Love surrenders pheasants to the falcons’ steep
Murderous dives. Our offended hearts weep
till suddenly, out of ambush, Love leaps!

5

Love paints the tulip petals’ hue.
Love stirs the spirit’s bitter rue.
And, should you could cleave this carrion of clay,
You would behold Love’s bloodshed too.

7

A spent scent in a garden: hopes expire.
I know not what I seek, no, nor require.
But whether I am satisfied, or starved,
Still here I burn: a martyr to desire.

13

How long, my heart, will you be like the moth,
Infatuated with a bit of cloth
Or winking flame? Just once, my foolish heart,
Be fully consumed in yourself, or depart.

Excerpts from "Cordoba"
by Allama Iqbāl
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I

Chain of day and night
Creator of events
Foundation of life and death
Two-toned silken thread
Weave of attributes
Pitch of future prospects
Chain of day and night
Sitting in judgment
Setting a value upon us
Whenever we're lacking
Death, your destiny
Death, my destiny
What else is reality?
The pulse of an age
Neither day nor night
All crafts vanish
Black and white blur
Annihilation, the end

II

And yet in this form
Hues of eternal life
Splendor of man's love
Love, life's foundation
Death has no claim on love
Love, the tide
Stemming the torrent
Love, the nameless eras
Love, Gabriel's breath
Love, the Prophet of God
Love, the Word of God
Love, the radiant rose
Love, the transcendent wine
Love, the goblet of kings
Love, life's music
Love, the passion for life
Love, the fire of life

III

O, Mosque of Cordoba
Born of love with no past
Color or mortar or stone
Lyre or song or speech
Man's passionate creation
A drop of blood turns
Stone to beating hearts
The heart's cry is joy
Illumination and melody
You brighten my heart
My song wells up in my breast
You draw man's heart
Into the presence of God
But the passion of love
For God is man's alone
I ignite man's passion
Though his sight is finite
His heart's more expansive than the sky
So what if God desires, rules?
He doesn't earn the pain!
I am an Indian infidel
Witness my fervor
In my heart, prayers
On my lips, blessings
Love is my flute
Love, my song
In my every bone
"God is God"

IV

Witness of man's worth
Your glory mirrors his soul
Stone columns soar
Palms freshen Syrian sands
Sinai's roofs gleam
Gabriel crowns the minaret
A Muslim can never despair
Standing where Prophets once stood
His horizon infinite
Tigris, Danube, Nile flood his veins
Cup-bearer, stallion-rider
In love, a warrior
A sword's shadow his armor
"There is no god but God"

V

You reveal man's destiny
The ardor of his days
The dissolution of his nights
His submission
Is to God's hand
As is the believer's
Man prospers according to his deeds
He is clay and fire
Divine within
Free of both worlds
His ambition, small
His purpose, immense
Pure-hearted in peace and war
God's compass revolves
Around man's faith
Yet the world is illusion
The man of God is reason's horizon
The harvest of love
The fire of the ingathering
Heaven's passion

Here are more of my translations of haiku and other Oriental poetry:

Silently observing
the bottomless mountain lake:
water lilies
― Inahata Teiko, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

This snowy morning:
cries of the crow I despise
(ah, but so beautiful!)
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

We cannot see the moon
and yet the waves still rise
― Shiki Masaoka, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Like a heavy fragrance
snow-flakes settle:
lilies on rocks
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The first morning of autumn:
the mirror I investigate
reflects my father’s face
― Shiki Masaoka, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Whistle on, twilight whippoorwill,
solemn evangelist
of loneliness
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Cranes
flapping ceaselessly
test the sky's distant limits
― Inahata Teiko, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

An empty road
lonelier than abandonment:
this autumn evening
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The new calendar:
as if tomorrow
is assured ...
― Inahata Teiko, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Spring has come:
the nameless hill
lies shrouded in mist
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Because morning glories
hold my well-bucket hostage
I go begging for water
― Chiyo-ni, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The first chill rain:
poor monkey, you too could use
a woven cape of straw
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Ah butterfly,
what dreams do you ply
with your beautiful wings?
― Chiyo-ni, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The cheerful-chirping cricket
contends gray autumn's gay,
contemptuous of frost
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Tonight I saw
how the peony crumples
in the fire's embers
― Katoh Shuhson, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Pausing between clouds
the moon rests
in the eyes of its beholders
Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

War
stood at the end of the hall
in the long shadows
― Watanabe Hakusen, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

No sky,
no land:
just snow eternally falling ...
― Kajiwara Hashin, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

See: whose surviving sons
visit the ancestral graves
white-bearded, with trembling canes?
― Matsuo Basho, translated by Michael R. Burch

Along with spring leaves
my child's teeth
take root, blossom
― Nakamura Kusatao, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Graven images of long-departed gods,
dry spiritless leaves:
companions of the temple porch
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Stillness:
a single chestnut leaf glides
on brilliant water
― Ryuin, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The sea darkening,
the voices of the wild ducks:
my mysterious companions!
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The snake slipped away
but his eyes, having held mine,
still stare in the grass
― Kyoshi Takahama, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Will we meet again?
Here at your flowering grave:
two white butterflies
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The bitter winter wind
ends here
with the frozen sea
― Ikenishi Gonsui, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

These brown summer grasses?
The only remains
of "invincible" warriors ...
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I remove my beautiful kimono:
its varied braids
surround and entwine my body
― Hisajo Sugita, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Fever-felled mid-path
my dreams resurrect, to trek
into a hollow land
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Right at my feet!
When did you arrive here,
snail?
― Issa, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

This day of chrysanthemums
I shake and comb my wet hair,
as their petals shed rain
― Hisajo Sugita, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Oh, brilliant moon
is it true that even you
must fly as if you're tardy?
― Issa, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Falling snowflakes'
glitter
tinsels the sea
― Inahata Teiko, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Blizzards here on earth,
blizzards of stars
in the sky
― Inahata Teiko, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Completely encircled
in emerald:
the glittering swamp!
― Inahata Teiko, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Spring
stirs the clouds
in the sky's teabowl
― Kikusha-ni, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

It fills me with anger,
this moon; it fills me
and makes me whole
― Takeshita Shizunojo, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Because he is slow to wrath,
I tackle him, then wring his neck
in the long grass
― Shimazu Ryoh, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Pale mountain sky:
cherry petals play
as they tumble earthward
― Kusama Tokihiko, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The frozen moon,
the frozen lake:
two oval mirrors reflecting each other.
― Hashimoto Takako, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Oh, bitter winter wind,
why bellow so
with no leaves to fell?
― Natsume Sôseki, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Winter waves
roil
their own shadows
― Tominaga Fûsei, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

As thunder recedes
a lone tree stands illuminated in sunlight:
cicadas shrill
― Masaoka Shiki, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Girls gather sprouts of rice:
reflections of the water flicker
on the backs of their hats
― Kyoshi Takahama, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Murmurs follow the hay cart
this blossoming summer day
― Ippekiro Nakatsuka, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The wet nurse
paused to consider a bucket of sea urchins
then walked away
― Ippekiro Nakatsuka, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

May I be with my mother
wearing her summer kimono
by the morning window
― Ippekiro Nakatsuka, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The hands of a woman exist
to remove the insides of the spring cuttlefish
― Sekitei Hara, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The moon
hovering above the snow-capped mountains
rained down hailstones
― Sekitei Hara, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Oh, dreamlike winter butterfly:
a puff of white snow
cresting mountains
― Kakio Tomizawa, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Spring snow
cascades over fences
in white waves
― Suju Takano, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Petals fill the fountain;
the ochre of the orange-coloured rose leaves
clings to the stone.
― by Ts'ai Chi'h (also Ts'ao Chih, Cao Zhi), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Now here's my translation of a another poem by an early Scottish master, William Dunbar. My translation of Dunbar's "Sweet Rose of Virtue" appears toward the top of this page.

Lament for the Makaris [Makers, or Poets]
by William Dunbar [1460-1525]
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

i who enjoyed good health and gladness
am overwhelmed now by life’s terrible sickness
and enfeebled with infirmity ...
how the fear of Death dismays me!

our presence here is mere vainglory;
the false world is but transitory;
the flesh is frail; the Fiend runs free ...
how the fear of Death dismays me!

the state of man is changeable:
now sound, now sick, now blithe, now dull,
now manic, now devoid of glee ...
how the fear of Death dismays me!

no state on earth stands here securely;
as the wild wind shakes the willow tree,
so wavers this world’s vanity ...
how the fear of Death dismays me!

Death leads the knights into the field
(unarmored under helm and shield)
sole Victor of each red mêlée ...
how the fear of Death dismays me!

that strange, despotic Beast
tears from its mother’s breast
the babe, full of benignity ...
how the fear of Death dismays me!

He takes the champion of the hour,
the captain of the highest tower,
the beautiful damsel in her tower ...
how the fear of Death dismays me!

He spares no lord for his elegance,
nor clerk for his intelligence;
His dreadful stroke no man can flee ...
how the fear of Death dismays me!

artist, magician, scientist,
orator, debater, theologist,
must all conclude, so too, as we:
“how the fear of Death dismays me!”

in medicine the most astute
sawbones and surgeons all fall mute;
they cannot save themselves, or flee ...
how the fear of Death dismays me!

i see the Makers among the unsaved;
the greatest of Poets all go to the grave;
He does not spare them their faculty ...
how the fear of Death dismays me!

i have seen Him pitilessly devour
our noble Chaucer, poetry’s flower,
and Lydgate and Gower (great Trinity!) ...
how the fear of Death dismays me!

since He has taken my brothers all,
i know He will not let me live past the fall;
His next prey will be — poor unfortunate me! ...
how the fear of Death dismays me!

there is no remedy for Death;
we all must prepare to relinquish breath
so that after we die, we may be set free
from “the fear of Death dismays me!”

Here are more of my epigrams based on ancient Greek epitaphs ...

More Athenian Epitaphs

Be ashamed, O mountains and seas: these were men of valorous breath.
Assume, like pale chattels, an ashen silence at death.
Michael R. Burch, after Parmenio

These men earned a crown of imperishable glory,
nor did the maelstrom of death obscure their story.
Michael R. Burch, after Simonides

They observed our fearful fetters, braved the overwhelming darkness.
Now we extol their excellence: bravely, they died for us.
Michael R. Burch, after Mnasalcas

Stranger, flee!
But may Fortune grant you all the prosperity
she denied me.
Michael R. Burch, after Leonidas of Tarentum

I am thine, O master, even in the grave:
just as you now are death’s slave.
Michael R. Burch, after Dioscorides

Dead as you are, though you lie as
still as cold stone, huntress Lycas,
my great Thessalonian hound,
the wild beasts still fear your white bones;
craggy Pelion remembers your valor,
splendid Ossa, the way you would bound
and bay at the moon for its whiteness
as below we heard valleys resound.
And how brightly with joy you would leap and run
the strange lonely peaks of high Cithaeron!
Michael R. Burch, after Simonides

Having never earned a penny,
nor seen a bridal gown slip to the floor,
still I lie here with the love of many,
to be the love of yet one more.
Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

I lie by stark Icarian rocks
and only speak when the sea talks.
O, tell my dear father that I gave up the ghost
on the Aegean coast.
Michael R. Burch, after Theatetus

Everywhere the sea is the sea, the dead are the dead.
What difference to me—where I rest my head?
The sea knows I’m buried.
Michael R. Burch, after Antipater of Sidon

Stripped of her stripling, if asked, she’d confess:
“I am now less than nothingness.”
Michael R. Burch, after Diotimus

Here are my translations of Sappho in their entirety:

Sappho, fragment 42
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Eros shakes my soul:
a wind on desolate mountains
leveling oaks.

Sappho, fragment 130

loose translation by Michael R. Burch

May the gods prolong the night
  —yes, let it last forever!—
as long as you sleep in my sight.

Sappho, fragment 155
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

A short transparent frock?
It's just my luck
your lips were made to mock!

Sappho, fragment 137
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Gold does not rust,
yet my son becomes dust?

Sappho, fragment 52
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The moon has long since set;
the Pleiades are gone;
now half the night is spent
and yet I sleep alone.

Sappho, fragment 145
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

If you're squeamish,
don’t toe or trouble
the beach rubble.

Sappho, fragment 94
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Shepherds trample the hyacinth;
its petals litter the heath ...
foreshadowing shepherds' grief.

Sappho, fragment 134
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Selene came to Endymion in the cave,
made love to him as he slept,
then crept away before the sun could prove
its light the more adept.

Sappho, fragment 137
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Death is evil;
the Gods have so judged:
for, had it been good,
the Gods would die
(or do the Gods lie?).

Sappho, fragment 145
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Prometheus the Fire-Bearer
robbed the Gods and the Sun, and so
brought mankind and himself to woe ...
must you repeat his error?

Sappho, fragment 156
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

She keeps her scents in a dressing-case
and her sense? In some undiscoverable place.

Sappho, fragments 122 & 123
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Your voice—a sweeter liar
than the lyre,
more dearly sold
and bought, than gold.

Sappho, fragment 42
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

She wrapped herself then in
most delicate linen.

Sappho, fragment 70
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

What country girl bewitches your heart
whose most beguiling art
is not hiking her dress
to reveal her nakedness?

Sappho, fragment 100
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The softest pallors grace
her lovely face.

Sappho, fragment 113
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

No buzzing bee
but the bearer of honey
for me!

Sappho, fragment 121
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

A tender maiden plucking flowers
      persuades the knave
      to heroically brave
the world's untender hours.

Sappho, fragment 125
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Love, bittersweet Dispenser of pain,
Weaver of implausible fictions:
     flourishes in prosperity,
     weeps for life's perversity,
     quails before adversity,
dies haggard, believing she's pretty.

Sappho, fragment 127
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

To the brightness of Love
not destroying the sight—
sweet, warm noonday sun
lightening things dun:
whence comes the Night?

Sappho, fragment 132
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Love, the child of Aphrodite and heaven;
Sappho, of earth;
Who had the more divine birth?

Sappho, fragment 133
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Of all the stars the fairest,
Hesperus,
Lead the maiden straight to the bridegroom's bed,
honoring Hera, the goddess of marriage.

Sappho, fragment 138
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The beautiful courtesan Rhodopis,
lies here entombed, more fair
than when she walked with white lilies
plaited in her dark hair,
but now she's as withered as they:
whose dust is more gray?

Sappho, fragment 140
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Phaon ferried the Goddess across:
the Goddess of Love, so men say
who crowned him with kingly laurels.
Was he crowned for only a day?

Sappho, fragment 148
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

A vagabond friendship,
a public blessing ...
gentle Rhodopis!

Sappho, fragment 153
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Queen Dawn,
solemn Dawn,
come!

Sappho, fragment 129
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Sappho's sweetest utterance
Was the hymeneal hymn of Love.

Sappho, fragment 159
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

May I lead?
Will you follow?
Foolish man!
Ears so hollow,
minds so shallow,
never can!

Sappho, fragment 68
loose translation by Michael R. Burch
 
Death shall rule thee
eternally
now, my Lady,
for see:
your name lies useless, silent and forgotten
here and hereafter;
never again will you gather
the roses of Pieria, but only wander
misbegotten,
rotten
and obscure through Hades
flitting forlorn among the dismal shades.

Whew ... that's quite a bit of work for someone who was damn sure he'd never translate a line of poetry in his life! I certainly hope you found something worth the time you spent here, especially if you read this far.

Related Pages in Chronological Order: Song of Amergin, Caedmon's Hymn, Bede's Death Song, Deor's Lament, Wulf and Eadwacer, The Wife's Lament, Anglo-Saxon Riddles and Kennings, How Long the Night, Ballads, Sumer is Icumen in, Fowles in the Frith, Ich am of Irlaunde, Tom O'Bedlam's Song, Now Goeth Sun Under Wood, Pity Mary, Sweet Rose of Virtue, Lament for the Makaris

The HyperTexts