New Series No. 18 - 2001
from Venetian Epigrams
What, in the scheme of things, is one man’s life? Yet thousands
might discuss a person – what they did, and how.
Poems are even less; yet thousands might enjoy them,
thousands denounce them. My friend, let life, and your poems, flow!
How, carved by the artist’s hand, the delicate figure,
soft and boneless, swims like an invertebrate!
Limbs, and joints, are everything, and everything is
pleasing, in proportion, a strict-tempo dance.
People I’ve seen, and animals, birds as well as fishes,
curious worm-like things, a vast and marvellous world;
yet I’m astounded by the marvel that’s you, Bettina,
being all of these at once – and an angel to boot.
Writing’s a pleasant trade, I do though find it expensive:
as these pages pile up, so does my overdraft.
All those preachy apostles of freedom, I never could bear them:
all in the end they’re after is running the show themselves.
If you’d free the masses, risk everything, and serve them.
Level of danger entailed, what do you think? Just try!
Every prophet should be crucified at thirty;
once he’s known the world’s deceit, he’ll just turn bad.
“Of course we’re in the right, we have to betray the masses.
Look at how they carry on, so banal, so crude.”
Crude and banal, OK, but only because you’ve betrayed them;
treat them well and, believe me, they’ll be straight and true.
Autocrats will mint, on thinly silvered copper,
their imposing features; selling the people short.
Chancers will mint the spirit’s likeness on lies and garbage:
lacking critical tools, you’d think it heaven on earth.
Say there’s a lad, and the road to his girl is less than straightforward,
give him this book: it offers both consolation, and charms.
Should one day a lass await her lover, it’s this book
she should have too, though once he arrives, she can throw it away.
Words have failed me, and you’re put out? I mean, why? You hardly
register my gentle sighing, my eloquent gaze.
Knows your lips’ encrypted password, a single goddess;
only Aurora, the day she stirs you awake in my bed.
Then indeed I’d hymn the early gods with praises,
just as Memnon’s statue once voiced sweet mysteries.
Out with the Lord’s remains! out with God’s remains!
yelled an unhappy creature, blind with hysterical rage
when, to display the sacred relics on Maundy Thursday,
a shifty figure appeared on the platform in St Mark’s.
Lass, how are these splinters of God supposed to help you?
Better the healing atoms of the Lampsacus sage.
Politicians, priests and pundits have us hoodwinked,
yet, en masse, we worship them, this gang of three.
Sadly there’s little these days, in terms of honest discussion,
which the media, the state and the god-squad don’t debase.
Undiscerning, Nauger burned the works of Martial.
Pedant! – You’d chuck the silver just because it’s not gold?
Horace didn’t want more: one can, he found, want less with
greater credit, not that one receives even that.
Everyone keeps telling me, child, of your deceptions:
oh, deceive and deceive and deceive me, all you like.
Tessa Ransford’s translations from Rilke appeared in MPT 16 (German and French Poetry).
Translated by Ken Cockburn
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- Coffee House, The
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- Journal, The
- Lamport Court
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- Modern Poetry in Translation
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