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To a Daughter More Precious than Gems
by Otomo no Sakanoue no Iratsume (c. 700-750)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Heaven's cold dew has fallen
and thus another season arrives.
Oh, my child living so far away,
do you pine for me as I do for you?

I have trusted my jewel to the gem-guard;
now there's nothing to do, my pillow,
but for the two of us to sleep together!

I cherished you, my darling,
as the Sea God his treasury's pearls.
But you are pledged to your husband
(such is the way of the world)
and torn from me like a blossom.

I left you for faraway Koshi;
since then your lovely eyebrows
curving like distant waves
ever linger in my eyes.

My heart is as unsteady as a rocking boat;
besieged by such longing I weaken with age
and come close to breaking.

If I could have prophesied such longing,
I would have stayed with you,
gazing on you constantly
as into a shining mirror.

I gaze out over the fields of Tadaka
seeing the cranes that cry there incessantly:
such is my longing for you.

Oh my child,
who loved me so helplessly
like bird hovering over shallow river rapids!

Dear child, my daughter, who stood
sadly pensive by the gate,
even though I was leaving for a friendly estate,
I think of you day and night
and my body has become thin,
my sleeves tear-stained with weeping.

If I must long for you so wretchedly,
how can I remain these many months
here at this dismal old farm?

Because you ache for me so intently,
your sad thoughts all confused
like the disheveled tangles of your morning hair,
I see you, dear child, in my dreams.

Otomo no Sakanoue no Iratsume (c. 700-750) was an important ancient Japanese poet. She had 79 poems in Manyoshu ("Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves"), the first major anthology of classical Japanese poetry, mostly waka. The compiler of the anthology was Otomo no Yakamochi (c. 718-785). Otomo no Sakanoue no Iratsume was his aunt, tutor and poetic mentor. In the first stanza, Lady Otomo has left her children in Nara, possibly to visit her brother. In the second stanza, it is believed that the jewel is Lady Otomo's daughter and that she has been trusted to the care of her husband. As for the closing stanza, according to the notes of the Manyoshu, it was popularly believed that a person would appear in the dreams of the one for whom he/she yearned. Keywords/Tags: Otomo, Sakanoue, Iratsume, Japanese, translation, mother, daughter, precious, gems, gem, jewels, jewel, pearls, pearl, Koshi, Tadaka
Survivors
by Michael R. Burch

(for the victims and survivors of 9/11 and their families)

In truth, we do not feel the horror
of the survivors,
but what passes for horror:

a shiver of “empathy.”

We too are “survivors,”
if to survive is to snap back
from the sight of death

like a turtle retracting its neck.

Published by The HyperTexts, Gostinaya (Russia), Ulita (Russia), Promosaik(Germany), The Night Genre Project and Muddy Chevy; also turned into a YouTube video by Lillian Y. Wong. Keywords: survivors, victims, families, 911, 9/11, terrorist, attack, terrorism, empathy, sympathy, truth, horror, death, survive, survival
An Excelente Balade of Charitie (“An Excellent Ballad of Charity”)
by Thomas Chatterton, age 17
modernization/translation by Michael R. Burch

As wroten bie the goode Prieste
Thomas Rowley 1464

In Virgynë the swelt'ring sun grew keen,
Then hot upon the meadows cast his ray;
The apple ruddied from its pallid green
And the fat pear did bend its leafy spray;
The pied goldfinches sang the livelong day;
'Twas now the pride, the manhood of the year,
And the ground was mantled in fine green cashmere.

The sun was gleaming in the bright mid-day,
Dead-still the air, and likewise the heavens blue,
When from the sea arose, in drear array,
A heap of clouds of sullen sable hue,
Which full and fast unto the woodlands drew,
Hiding at once the sun's fair festive face,
As the black tempest swelled and gathered up apace.

Beneath a holly tree, by a pathway's side,
Which did unto Saint Godwin's convent lead,
A hapless pilgrim moaning did abide.
Poor in his sight, ungentle in his ****,
Long brimful of the miseries of need,
Where from the hailstones could the beggar fly?
He had no shelter there, nor any convent nigh.

Look in his gloomy face; his sprite there scan;
How woebegone, how withered, dried-up, dead!
Haste to thy parsonage, accursèd man!
Haste to thy crypt, thy only restful bed.
Cold, as the clay which will grow on thy head,
Is Charity and Love among high elves;
Knights and Barons live for pleasure and themselves.

The gathered storm is ripe; the huge drops fall;
The sunburnt meadows smoke and drink the rain;
The coming aghastness makes the cattle pale;
And the full flocks are driving o'er the plain;
Dashed from the clouds, the waters float again;
The heavens gape; the yellow lightning flies;
And the hot fiery steam in the wide flamepot dies.

Hark! now the thunder's rattling, clamoring sound
Heaves slowly on, and then enswollen clangs,
Shakes the high spire, and lost, dispended, drown'd,
Still on the coward ear of terror hangs;
The winds are up; the lofty elm-tree swings;
Again the lightning―then the thunder pours,
And the full clouds are burst at once in stormy showers.

Spurring his palfrey o'er the watery plain,
The Abbot of Saint Godwin's convent came;
His chapournette was drenchèd with the rain,
And his pinched girdle met with enormous shame;
He cursing backwards gave his hymns the same;
The storm increasing, and he drew aside
With the poor alms-craver, near the holly tree to bide.

His cape was all of Lincoln-cloth so fine,
With a gold button fasten'd near his chin;
His ermine robe was edged with golden twine,
And his high-heeled shoes a Baron's might have been;
Full well it proved he considered cost no sin;
The trammels of the palfrey pleased his sight
For the horse-milliner loved rosy ribbons bright.

"An alms, Sir Priest!" the drooping pilgrim said,
"Oh, let me wait within your convent door,
Till the sun shineth high above our head,
And the loud tempest of the air is o'er;
Helpless and old am I, alas!, and poor;
No house, no friend, no money in my purse;
All that I call my own is this―my silver cross.

"Varlet," replied the Abbott, "cease your din;
This is no season alms and prayers to give;
My porter never lets a beggar in;
None touch my ring who in dishonor live."
And now the sun with the blackened clouds did strive,
And shed upon the ground his glaring ray;
The Abbot spurred his steed, and swiftly rode away.

Once more the sky grew black; the thunder rolled;
Fast running o'er the plain a priest was seen;
Not full of pride, not buttoned up in gold;
His cape and jape were gray, and also clean;
A Limitour he was, his order serene;
And from the pathway side he turned to see
Where the poor almer lay beneath the holly tree.

"An alms, Sir Priest!" the drooping pilgrim said,
"For sweet Saint Mary and your order's sake."
The Limitour then loosen'd his purse's thread,
And from it did a groat of silver take;
The needy pilgrim did for happiness shake.
"Here, take this silver, it may ease thy care;
"We are God's stewards all, naught of our own we bear."

"But ah! unhappy pilgrim, learn of me,
Scarce any give a rentroll to their Lord.
Here, take my cloak, as thou are bare, I see;
'Tis thine; the Saints will give me my reward."
He left the pilgrim, went his way abroad.
****** and happy Saints, in glory showered,
Let the mighty bend, or the good man be empowered!

TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: It is possible that some words used by Chatterton were his own coinages; some of them apparently cannot be found in medieval literature. In a few places I have used similar-sounding words that seem to not overly disturb the meaning of the poem. Keywords/Tags: Chatterton, Romantic, Rowley, fraud, forger, forgery, ballad, charity, alms, almer, varlet, beggar, pilgrim, storm, thunderstorm, tempest, holly, Abbot, Saint, Godwin, priest, Limitour
Song from Ælla: Under the Willow Tree, or, Minstrel's Song
by Thomas Chatterton, age 17 or younger
Modernization/Translation by Michael R. Burch

MYNSTRELLES SONGE ("MINSTREL'S SONG")

O! sing unto my roundelay,
O! drop the briny tear with me,
Dance no more at holy-day,
Like a running river be:
My love is dead,
Gone to his death-bed
All under the willow-tree.

Black his crown as the winter night,
White his flesh as the summer snow
Red his face as the morning light,
Cold he lies in the grave below:
My love is dead,  
Gone to his death-bed
All under the willow-tree.
      
Sweet his tongue as the throstle's note,
Quick in dance as thought can be,                      
Deft his tabor, cudgel stout;
O! he lies by the willow-tree!
My love is dead,
Gone to his death-bed
All under the willow-tree.

Hark! the raven ***** his wing
In the briar'd dell below;
Hark! the death-owl loud doth sing
To the nightmares, as they go:
My love is dead,
Gone to his death-bed
All under the willow-tree.

See! the white moon shines on high;
Whiter is my true-love's shroud:
Whiter than the morning sky,
Whiter than the evening cloud:
My love is dead,  
Gone to his death-bed          
All under the willow-tree.

Here upon my true-love's grave      
Shall the barren flowers be laid;
Not one holy saint to save
All the coldness of a maid:
My love is dead,  
Gone to his death-bed          
All under the willow-tree.

With my hands I'll frame the briars
Round his holy corpse to grow:
Elf and fairy, light your fires,
Here my body, stilled, shall go:
My love is dead,
Gone to his death-bed          
All under the willow-tree.

Come, with acorn-cup and thorn,
Drain my heart's red blood away;
Life and all its good I scorn,
Dance by night, or feast by day:
My love is dead,  
Gone to his death-bed          
All under the willow-tree.
          
Water witches, crowned with plaits,
Bear me to your lethal tide.
I die; I come; my true love waits.
Thus the damsel spoke, and died.

The song above is, in my opinion, competitive with Shakespeare's songs in his plays, and may be the best of Thomas Chatterton's Rowley poems. It seems rather obvious that this song was written in modern English, then "backdated." One wonders whether Chatterton wrote it in response to Shakespeare's "Under the Greenwood Tree." The greenwood tree or evergreen is a symbol of immortality. The "weeping willow" is a symbol of sorrow, and the greatest human sorrow is that of mortality and the separations caused by death. If Chatterton wrote his song as a refutation of Shakespeare's, I think he did a **** good job. But it's a splendid song in its own right.

William Blake is often considered to be the first English Romantic. Blake is the elder of the so-called “big six” of Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats. I would add the great Scottish poet Robert Burns, making it a big seven. However, I believe Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley and Keats actually nominated an earlier poet as the first of their tribe: Thomas Chatterton. Unfortunately, Chatterton committed suicide in his teens, after being accused of literary fraud. What he did as a boy was astounding.

On this page, I prove that Thomas Chatterton could not possibly be guilty of the crime he was accused of:
(http://www.thehypertexts.com/Thomas%20Chatterton%20Modern%20English%20Translations%20Moderniza­tions%20Burch.htm)

Keywords/Tags: Chatterton, Romantic, Rowley, fraud, forger, forgery, roundelay, minstrel, song, Aella, willow
Longing
by Michael R. Burch


We stare out at the cold gray sea,
overcome
with such sudden and intense longing . . .

our eyes meet,
inviolate,
and we are not of this earth,
this strange, inert mass.


Before we crept
out of the shoals of the inchoate sea,
before we grew
the quaint appendages
and orifices of love . . .


before our jellylike nuclei,
struggling to be hearts,
leapt
at the sight of that first bright, oracular sun,
then watched it plummet,
the birth and death of our illumination . . .


before we wept . . .
before we knew . . .
before our unformed hearts grew numb,
once again,
in the depths of the sea’s indecipherable darkness . . .


When we were only
a swirling profusion of recombinant things
wafting loose silt from the sea’s soft floor,
writhing and ******* in convulsive beds
of mucousy foliage,


flowering,
flowering,
flowering . . .


what jolted us to life?

Keywords/Tags: life, evolution, love, desire, longing, passion, lust, ***, appendages, orifices
Laughter from Another Room
by Michael R. Burch

Laughter from another room
mocks the anguish that I feel;
as I sit alone and brood,
only you and I are real.

Only you and I are real.
Only you and I exist.
Only burns that blister heal.
Only dreams denied persist.

Only dreams denied persist.
Only hope that lingers dies.
Only love that lessens lives.
Only lovers ever cry.

Only lovers ever cry.
Only sinners ever pray.
Only saints are crucified.
The crucified are always saints.

The crucified are always saints.
The maddest men control the world.
The dumb man knows what he would say;
the poet never finds the words.

The poet never finds the words.
The minstrel never hits the notes.
The minister would love to curse.
The warrior longs to spare his foe.

The warrior longs to spare his foe.
The scholar never learns the truth.
The actors never see the show.
The hangman longs to feel the noose.

The hangman longs to feel the noose.
The artist longs to feel the flame.
The proudest men are not aloof;
the guiltiest are not to blame.

The guiltiest are not to blame.
The merriest are prone to brood.
If we go outside, it rains.
If we stay inside, it floods.

If we stay inside, it floods.
If we dare to love, we fear.
Blind men never see the sun;
other men observe through tears.

Other men observe through tears
the passage of these days of doom;
now I listen and I hear
laughter from another room.

Laughter from another room
mocks the anguish that I feel.
As I sit alone and brood,
only you and I are real.

Keywords/Tags: laughter, mockery, ridicule, another, room, anguish, brood, real, reality, dreams, persist, lovers, sinners, saints, madmen, poets, artists, minstrels, ministers, warriors, scholars, actors, proud, guilty, merry, blind, tears
This Distant Light
by Walid Khazindar
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Bitterly cold,
winter clings to the naked trees.

If only you would free
the bright sparrows
from your fingertips
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,
sheltered by shade from a sweltering sun?

Can you not always remain this way,
stoking the fire: more beautiful than expected, in reverie?

Darkness increases and we must remain vigilant
since this distant light is our sole consolation ...
this imperiled flame, which from the beginning
has constantly flickered,
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.

Walid Khazindar was born in Gaza City. He is considered to be one of the very 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. Keywords/Tags: Arabic, translation, Arab, Palestine, Palestinian, Gaza, distant, light, flame, fire, autumn, winter, trees, birds, sparrows, fingertips, smile, sing, shade, sun, fire, darkness, hand, hands, snow
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