More Selections from Carter’s Traditional Japanese Poetry

Fujiwara no Teika, “Winter Morning”

After a full year
of gazing out, one morning
I open my door–
to at thin snowfall, frozen–
the far edge of loneliness.

The Go-Kyogoku Regent and Former Chancellor Fujiwara no Yoshitsune

A cricket cries out
near my straw mattress, in the cold
of a frosty night–
as I spread my rob
to spend the night alone.

Minamoto no Sanetomo, Winter, on the topic “white”

On a white sandspit
where seagulls have come to earth
snow has been falling–
and in the clearing sky above,
the clear gleam of the moon.

Same author, “Black”

In midnight gloom
as black as leopard-flower seeds,
off beyond the clouds,
hidden behind layers of cloud–
I hear wild gees calling.

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A Dream

A Dream
Charles Williams

NO more in any house can I be at peace,
Because of a house that waits, far off or near,
To-morrow or (likelier) after many a year,
Where a room and a door are that shall fulfil my fear.
For last night, dreaming, I stood in a house and saw
Softly the room door open, and one came in,
Its owner, and as round the edge his evil grin
Peep’d ere he pass’d, I knew him for visible Sin.
Unwash’d, unshaven, frowsy, abominable,
In a green greasy hat, a green greasy coat,
Loose-mouth’d, with silent tread and the smell of the goat,
He stole in, and helplessness stifled rage in my throat.
For this was he who came long since to my heart,
This was he who enter’d the house of my soul long ago;
Now he possesses imagination, and O
I shall meet him yet in some brick-built house, I know.
He shall come, he shall turn from the long parch’d street he treads
For ever, shuffling, hand rubb’d over hand unclean,
Servile yet masterful, with satiate spleen
Watching his houses, and muttering of things obscene.
He shall come to my flesh as he came last night to my dream;
Eyes shall know him as soul and insight have known;
Though all the world be there, I shall stand alone
Watching him peer and enter and find out his own.
Noisier he shall not move, nor loudlier speak,
Than the first sly motion of lewd delight in me
Long since—which then I shall know none other than he,
Now visible, aged, and filled with monstrous glee.
Therefore now in terror I enter all houses, all rooms
Enter in dread, and move among them in fear,
Watching all doors, saying softly ‘It draws more near
Daily; and here shall it be in the end—or here?’

Gipsy Queen

Gipsy Queen
John Alexander Chapman

Gipsy queen of the night, wraith of the fire-lit dark,
Glittering eyes of ice, sharp as glacier green,
Lisping falling kisses, syllabled flakes of snow,
Down on the stubble fields, over my eyes and hair;
If on my mouth one falls, it is tasteless and light and cold—
She mocks you, gipsy queen, the brown-eyed child of earth;
As berry that grew from flower, she, as grape of the vine,
Is warm and sweet for man; the wine, in herself, and cup.
Why do you haunt me then? Are you for me, not she?
Am I a leafless branch, bowed with a load of snow;
Not for warm hands to pluck, but alone in the world of cold;
Black against pale-washed sky, grey never vein’d with red?
But so the better for you, cold shape of the dark outside;
You banish’d from rose too red for ice-green eyes to see;
Chased before lambing time, ere even the snowdrops come,
Poor gipsy-wraith of the snow, but knowing your brother,
and come
To him? Then come to me. I will give you a cold, cold kiss.
My roses are dead, they too. My lips are grey. My eyes
Have neither iris nor pupil. They died, and now all is white;
White in a face of stone. Sister, cold lover, come.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

PART IV
‘I fear thee, ancient Mariner!
I fear thy skinny hand!
And thou art long, and lank, and brown,
As is the ribbed sea-sand.

I fear thee and thy glittering eye,
And thy skinny hand, so brown.’—
Fear not, fear not, thou Wedding-Guest!
This body dropt not down.

Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.

The many men, so beautiful!
And they all dead did lie:
And a thousand thousand slimy things
Lived on; and so did I.

I looked upon the rotting sea,
And drew my eyes away;
I looked upon the rotting deck,
And there the dead men lay.

I looked to heaven, and tried to pray;
But or ever a prayer had gusht,
A wicked whisper came, and made
My heart as dry as dust.

I closed my lids, and kept them close,
And the balls like pulses beat;
For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky
Lay dead like a load on my weary eye,
And the dead were at my feet.

The cold sweat melted from their limbs,
Nor rot nor reek did they:
The look with which they looked on me
Had never passed away.

An orphan’s curse would drag to hell
A spirit from on high;
But oh! more horrible than that
Is the curse in a dead man’s eye!
Seven days, seven nights, I saw that curse,
And yet I could not die.

The moving Moon went up the sky,
And no where did abide:
Softly she was going up,
And a star or two beside—

Her beams bemocked the sultry main,
Like April hoar-frost spread;
But where the ship’s huge shadow lay,
The charmèd water burnt alway
A still and awful red.

Beyond the shadow of the ship,
I watched the water-snakes:
They moved in tracks of shining white,
And when they reared, the elfish light
Fell off in hoary flakes.

Within the shadow of the ship
I watched their rich attire:
Blue, glossy green, and velvet black,
They coiled and swam; and every track
Was a flash of golden fire.

O happy living things! no tongue
Their beauty might declare:
A spring of love gushed from my heart,
And I blessed them unaware:
Sure my kind saint took pity on me,
And I blessed them unaware.

The self-same moment I could pray;
And from my neck so free
The Albatross fell off, and sank
Like lead into the sea.

Saigyo

In my limited experience of Japanese poetry, Saigyo, a monk writing during the 12th century is by far my favorite poet. A few selections, again from Carter’s Traditional Japanese Poetry:

Spring

On a roadside
next to a clear flowing stream
in a willow’s shade
I stopped–for a moment, I thought–
but ended up staying on

Autumn

It creates a heart
even in those among us
who think of themselves
as indifferent to all things–
this first wind of autumn.

Spring. Written when people were composing on the topic “Blossoms Falling in a Dream” at the home of the Kamo Virgin:

In a dream I saw
the winds of spring scattering
the cherry blossoms–
and after I woke, the sound
was still rustling in my breast.

Winter. “Leaves falling at dawn”:

Raindrops, I first thought
as I lay awake in my bed–
but what I heard
was the unbroken patter
of leaves giving in to storm winds.

A Musical Instrument

A Musical Instrument
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I.
WHAT was he doing, the great god Pan, 
    Down in the reeds by the river ? 
Spreading ruin and scattering ban, 
Splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat, 
And breaking the golden lilies afloat 
    With the dragon-fly on the river. 

II.
He tore out a reed, the great god Pan, 
    From the deep cool bed of the river : 
The limpid water turbidly ran, 
And the broken lilies a-dying lay, 
And the dragon-fly had fled away, 
    Ere he brought it out of the river. 

III.
High on the shore sate the great god Pan, 
    While turbidly flowed the river ; 
And hacked and hewed as a great god can, 
With his hard bleak steel at the patient reed, 
Till there was not a sign of a leaf indeed 
    To prove it fresh from the river. 

IV.
He cut it short, did the great god Pan, 
    (How tall it stood in the river !) 
Then drew the pith, like the heart of a man, 
Steadily from the outside ring, 
And notched the poor dry empty thing 
    In holes, as he sate by the river. 

V.
This is the way,’ laughed the great god Pan, 
    Laughed while he sate by the river,) 
The only way, since gods began 
To make sweet music, they could succeed.’ 
Then, dropping his mouth to a hole in the reed, 
    He blew in power by the river. 

VI.
Sweet, sweet, sweet, O Pan ! 
    Piercing sweet by the river ! 
Blinding sweet, O great god Pan ! 
The sun on the hill forgot to die, 
And the lilies revived, and the dragon-fly 
    Came back to dream on the river. 

VII.
Yet half a beast is the great god Pan, 
    To laugh as he sits by the river, 
Making a poet out of a man : 
The true gods sigh for the cost and pain, — 
For the reed which grows nevermore again 
    As a reed with the reeds in the river. 

Woodworker’s Ballad

Woodworker’s Ballad
Herbert Edward Palmer

ALL that is moulded of iron
Has lent to destruction and blood;
But the things that are honour’d of Zion
Are most of them made from wood.

Stone can be chisell’d to Beauty,
And iron shines bright for Defence;
But when Mother Earth ponder’d her duty
She brought forth the forest, from whence

Come tables, and chairs, and crosses,
Little things that a hot fire warps,
Old ships that the blue wave tosses,
And fiddles for music, and harps;

Oak boards where the carved ferns mingle,
Monks’ shrines in the wilderness,
Snug little huts in the dingle,
All things that the sad poets bless.

King Arthur had a wood table;
And Our Lord blessed wood; for, you see,
He was born in a wooden stable,
And He died on a wooden tree;

And He sailed in a wooden vessel
On the waters of Galilee,
And He work’d at a wooden trestle
At His wonderful carpentry.

Oh, all that is moulded of iron
Has lent to destruction and blood;
But the things that are honour’d of Zion
Are most of them made from wood.



Good Friday

Good Friday
By Christina Rossetti

AM I a stone and not a sheep
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy Cross,
To number drop by drop Thy Blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon—
I, only I.

Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

The Donkey

The Donkey
G.K. Chesterton

When fishes flew and forests walked
   And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
   Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
   And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
   On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
   Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
   I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
   One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
   And palms before my feet.

Farewells from Paradise

Farewells from Paradise
Elizabeth Barrett Browning


River-spirits
HARK! the flow of the four rivers—
Hark the flow!
How the silence round you shivers,
While our voices through it go,
Cold and clear.

A softer voice
Think a little, while ye hear,
Of the banks
Where the willows and the deer
Crowd in intermingled ranks,
As if all would drink at once
Where the living water runs!—
Of the fishes’ golden edges
Flashing in and out the sedges;
Of the swans on silver thrones,
Floating down the winding streams
With impassive eyes turned shoreward
And a chant of undertones,—
And the lotus leaning forward
To help them into dreams.
Fare ye well, farewell!
The river-sounds, no longer audible,
Expire at Eden’s door.
Each footstep of your treading
Treads out some murmur which ye heard before.
Farewell! the streams of Eden
Ye shall hear nevermore!

Bird-spirit
I am the nearest nightingale
That singeth in Eden after you;
And I am singing loud and true,
And sweet,—I do not fail.
I sit upon a cypress bough,
Close to the gate, and I fling my song
Over the gate and through the mail
Of the warden angels marshall’d strong,—
Over the gate and after you!
And the warden angels let it pass,
Because the poor brown bird, alas,
Sings in the garden, sweet and true.
And I build my song of high pure notes,
Note over note, height over height,
Till I strike the arch of the Infinite,
And I bridge abysmal agonies
With strong, clear calms of harmonies,—
And something abides, and something floats,
In the song which I sing after you.
Fare ye well, farewell!
The creature-sounds, no longer audible,
Expire at Eden’s door.
Each footstep of your treading
Treads out some cadence which ye heard before.
Farewell! the birds of Eden
Ye shall hear nevermore!