– Inger Christensen. excerpt from alphabet

translated by Susanna Nied






Appetence now is pilot, not of errant 
trees, but of entire, mutable forests, 
and first to leave Ocean, the father of waters 
    —of whose vast royal domain 
    the Sun, who day after day 
is born in his waves and in his waves finds death, 
does not wish to know boundaries or extent— 
with hair turned white by the spume greed leaves behind,      
    though he admits no second 
in professing those limits to the world.

Three firs of Appetence were those that violated 
    the trident of Neptune, 
venturing farther than any other, 
kissing the turquoise curtains that Occident 
closes for the Sun in his dark blue bed 
    of deep marine waters.

    Then in spite of flying asps 
—shadow on the sun and venom on the wind—                   
of arrowed Caribs, greed’s flags and banners 
always glorious, always fluttering 
broke the Lestrigons that the isthmus armed 
with multitudes of feathers, beasts with wings: 
the isthmus that divides Ocean in two,
and—serpent of crystal—prevents the union 
    of the head, in the North crowned, 
and the scaled tail that illuminates the South 
    with Antarctican stars.

Greed sent second barks to a second pole                           
in a new sea that offered him not only 
the beautiful white daughters of its shells, 
but murderous metals Midas never learned 
    to possess successfully.

Then it was not enough that this element
guided in orcas, enlisted monstrous whales, 
erected battlements of foaming mountains, 
defamed its own sands by blanching them white 
with so many traces of the first daring 
venture—piteous even to the vultures—                             
for those piteous traces to restrain 
a second wave of bold temerities.

You, Appetence, oh you, hellish mariner 
    of deep Stygian waters,
you scorn all the sepulchers the savage sea 
    opens wide for your bones.

The promontory whose rocks Aeolus used 
as locks for other new grottoes, a cave 
for Auster the wind with wings that never dry, 
for Mistral who breathes through a hundred mouths,            
you rounded joyfully, and with obstinate 
lateen yard transformed the cape into Good Hope.

– Luis de Gongora. excerpt from The Solitudes. First Solitude

translated by Edith Grossman

‘My body is immortal.’ That’s what people know.
  Moment to moment:
  something like that,
  a shadow at noon.
       That’s what people think they know.
Body to body:
  some debt to be repayed—
  engrossing! So they don’t perceive
  death overhead.
One dream, the next dream:
  after a while you’re proud—
  and then the truth dawns.
Water drop by drop:
  look how the world revolves—
  arises, demises,
  never once sticks.
Five sides there are,
  but only one body.
  On the black lotus petal, the bee—
       That’s what people know ‘My body is immortal.’
       That’s what people think they know.

– Kabir. ‘My body is immortal.’ That’s what people know

translated by John Stratton Hawley

. . . Deep into the wave you raced,
Leaping from white horses,
Whirling the night on running feet.
But loudly I shouted, “Dearest,
You’re mine!” Then you, the Tortoise,
Skipping, ran to the rutted garth
Of the great court. These things I
Lament and sorrow, sad Baucis.
These are for me, O Maiden,
Warm trails back through my heart:
Joy, once filled, smoulders in ash;
Young, in rooms without a care,
We held our miming dolls—girls
In the pretense of young brides
(And the toward-dawn-mother
Lotted wool to tending women,
Calling Baucis to salt the meat);
O, what trembling when we were small
And fear was brought by MORMO—
Huge of ear up on her head,
With four feet walking, always
Changing from face to other.
But mounted in the bed of
Your husband, dearest Baucis,
You forgot things heard from mother,
While still the littler child.
Fast Aphrodite set your
Forgetful heart. So I lament,
Neglecting though your obsequies:
Unprofaned, my feet may not leave
And my naked hair’s not loosed abroad,
No lighted eye may disgrace your corpse
And in this house, O my Baucis,
Purpling shame grips me about.
Wretched Erinna! Nineteen,
I moan with a blush to grieve. . . .
Old women voice the mortal bloom. . . .
One cries out the lamenting flame. . . .
Hymen! . . . O Hymenaeus! . . .
While the night whirls unvoiced
Darkness is on my eyes . . .

– Erinnafragment from The Distaff

translated by Daniel Haberman