Wednesday, October 01, 2014


You've seen this bird before; he's eating suet. But the photo has been altered using one of those iPhone apps. One sees different things about a black and white photo, and its color source. I think the expression of the woodpecker shows better in this one. 

I am reading today a book of translations of the poems of Miyazawa Kenji (1896-1933) The translations were done by a translator whose work I much admire, for the haiku and other Japanese classics that Hiroaki Sato has brought to us in English versions. Most of the translations in the books are his, but he has also included some translations by others. Here are two translations of what I think is the same poem in Japanese.


Beyond the pampas-grass flowers
     and the dark grove
a new sort of wind is blowing
---through dazzling wrinkly cloud fretwork
                     and spring sun
with a shiver of strange odors.

And from the hill behind the empty creek
and the barely rising black smoke
of the tile works
a big cheerful racket.
---listening in the farmers fields
it seems pleasant enough work all right
But every night Chuchi
comes home from there exhausted
                             and bad-tempered.
(translated by Gary Snyder)


Beyond the miscanthus flowers and the dark woods
some different specimen of wind is ringing.
In the lattice of glistering kinky clouds and blue light
the wind, with a mysterious fragrance, is trembling.
Reflecting the sky the river's empty
and a brick factory raises a bit of smoke.
From the table behind it
the echo comes clear, again.
Listening to it here, in the vegetable patch,
it sounds like a pleasant, bright sort of work.
But at night Chuichi returns from there,
tired, furious.

From Spring and Asura by Miyazawa Kenji
in Miyazawa Kenji: Selections
edited and with an introduction by Hiroaki Sato, Univ. of California Press, 2007. Pages 155-156.

One thing I can take from this, particularly for my own work, is that a radical reworking of a poem I am writing is certainly possible without damaging the spirit of the poem. Think about translating some thing you are working on using different plants, colors, weather or diction. Steal a word or two form John Clare maybe; not too many!

I hope to blog more about Miyazawa, (Wikipedia: Buddhist, vegetarian and social activist) after I finish reading the 60 pages of introduction. But I am interested already because of the Pre-World War II time frame in Japanese literature.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Autumn Birds by John Clare

Autumn is clearly begun. This is the meadow south of the house; 
we often see deer and turkeys and sometimes other wild things here. 
In the morning they move from right to left 
and in the late afternoon from right to left. 
We assume that they are going to shelter 
in the woods for the night.

Autumn Birds

The wild duck startles like a sudden thought,
And heron slow as if it might be caught.
The flopping crows on weary wings go by
And grey beard jackdaws noising as they fly.
The crowds of starnels whizz and hurry by,
And darken like a clod the evening sky.
The larks like thunder rise and suthy round,
Then drop and nestle in the stubble ground.
The wild swan hurries hight and noises loud
With white neck peering to the evening clowd.
The weary rooks to distant woods are gone.
With lengths of tail the magpie winnows on
To neighbouring tree, and leaves the distant crow
While small birds nestle in the edge below.

John Clare (1793-1864)

John Clare loved and observed the birds in his part of Britain; he wrote about them many times. One of the distinct pleasures of reading John Clare is to delight in his antique and regional spellings and words, that are nevertheless quite understandable to the modern reader willing to make a very slight effort. For nearly 100 years, editions of his poetry would "fix" what editors regarded as a problem; now poems are printed in much more the way they were written. A good place to start would be Carolyn Kizer's edition The Essential John Clare, Ecco, 1995.

A bird that is not mentioned in the poem above is the Red Bellied Woodpecker. Today, I managed to get this one blurry shot before he flew. This is the first time I have seen him this year. A suet-fan of course. I've thought it was funny that this is another of the birds who seems to have gotten his name from a specimen which had been shot to examine. One bird book says the belly has a pinkish cast; another says it is "buff-colored." And you might be excused for thinking as it flew over your head that is was snowy white. And it is clearly a woodpecker. The red streak that runs down the back of his head is a large and vivid streak of pure red.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Autumn and Primavera and Words

I try to photograph this grove of Big-Toothed Aspen every year when the bracken yellows and the graceful trunks show at their best, still holding the silvery-green leaves. It is west of the house, where the woods begin. The photographs always remind me of Botticelli's Primavera. It is something about the similar rectangular format, the trees at the right of the painting, the pastel palette and just an overall general sinuous quality. I took this picture today during a gentle rain.

There are many fine poems here; this one, by W. S.Merwin is eloquent 
on  a subject which had occupied many people who write.

To the Words

When it happens you are not there
oh you beyond numbers

beyond recollection

passed on from breath to breath

given again

from day to day from age

to age

charged with knowledge

knowing nothing
indifferent elders

indispensable and sleepless
keepers of our names

before ever we came

to be called by them
you that were

formed to begin with

you that were cried out

you that were spoken

to begin with

to say what could not be said
ancient precious

and helpless ones
say it

—W. S. Merwin

And I can never decide whether to show more or less of the ferns.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Autumn; the middle sister, turning

In the back yard, the middle one of the young maples I named The Three Sisters is beginning to turn. It is flanked by two dead aspens that the woodpeckers visit on their progress to and from the suet feeder. I took this iPhone photo yesterday morning through the upstairs hall window; I love these soft pastels in the morning light. The embroidered half-curtain was designed by Martha Stewart (I think for K-Mart) in the days before both Stewart and K-Mart fell on hard times. Sometimes, I think about her and her brave choice to go to prison and get it over with, and how she taught other inmates to knit or crochet. One's mind is stuffed full of these (often unimportant) shreds of the past, our own pasts and the pasts of other people. Right now I am a little more than halfway through the giant biography of Nureyev by Julie Kavanagh. And, once again, I am glad not to be famous, or have to deal with famous, and or, rich people. The lifestyles of the rich and famous, or their personalities, as portrayed here, do not appeal. But the information on dancing is amazing: the discipline and the various styles and the daily attention needed to achieve high standards of repeatable skills. I don't think Rudi was a very nice person, and it would have been very stressful to be around him.

Speaking of things that are probably too long, like some biographies, here is an autumn poem by John Clare, the British nature poet.


The summer-flower has run to seed,
And yellow is the woodland bough
And every leaf of bush and weed
Is tipt with autumn’s pencil now.

And I do love the varied hue,
And I do love the browning plain;
And I do love each scene to view,
That’s mark’d with beauties of her reign.

The woodbine-trees red berries bear,

That clustering hang upon the bower;
While, fondly lingering here and there,
Peeps out a dwindling sickly flower.

The trees’ gay leaves are turned brown,
By every little wind undress’d;
And as they flap and whistle down,
We see the birds’ deserted nest.

No thrush or blackbird meets the eye,
Or fills the ear with summer’s strain;
They but dart out for worm and fly,
Then silent seek their rest again.

Beside the brook, in misty blue,
Bilberries glow on tendrils weak,
Where many a bare-foot splashes through,
The pulpy, juicy prize to seek:

For ’tis the rustic boy’s delight,
Now autumn’s sun so warmly gleams,
And these ripe berries tempt his sight,
To dabble in the shallow streams.

And oft his rambles we may trace,
Delv’d in the mud his printing feet,
And oft we meet a chubby face
All stained with the berries sweet.

The cowboy oft slives down the brook,
And tracks for hours each winding round,
While pinders, that such chances look,
Drive his rambling cows to pound.

The woodland bowers, that us’d to be
Lost in their silence and their shade,
Are now a scene of rural glee,
With many a nutting swain and maid.

The scrambling shepherd with his hook,
’Mong hazel boughs of rusty brown
That overhang some gulphing brook,
Drags the ripen’d clusters down.

While, on a bank of faded grass,
Some artless maid the prize receives;
And kisses to the sun-tann’d lass,
As well as nuts, the shepherd gives.

I love the year’s decline, and love
Through rustling yellow shades to range,
O’er stubble land, ’neath willow grove,
To pause upon each varied change:

And oft have thought ’twas sweet, to list
The stubbles crackling with the heat,
Just as the sun broke through the mist
And warm’d the herdsman’s rushy seat;

And grunting noise of rambling hogs,
Where pattering acorns oddly drop;
And noisy bark of shepherds’ dogs,
The restless routs of sheep to stop;

While distant thresher’s swingle drops
With sharp and hollow-twanking raps;
And, nigh at hand, the echoing chops
Of hardy hedger stopping gaps;

And sportsmen’s trembling whistle-calls
That stay the swift retreating pack;
And cowboy’s whoops, and squawking brawls,
To urge the straggling heifer back.

Autumn-time, thy scenes and shades
Are pleasing to the tasteful eye;
Though winter, when the thought pervades,
Creates an ague-shivering sigh.

Grey-bearded rime hangs on the morn,
And what’s to come too true declares;
The ice-drop hardens on the thorn,
And winter’s starving bed prepares.

No music’s heard the fields among;
Save where the hedge-chats chittering play,
And ploughman drawls his lonely song,
As cutting short the dreary day.

Now shatter’d shades let me attend,
Reflecting look on their decline,
Where pattering leaves confess their end,
In sighing flutterings hinting mine.

For every leaf, that twirls the breeze,
May useful hints and lessons give;
The falling leaves and fading trees
Will teach and caution us to live.

“Wandering clown,” they seem to say,
“In us your coming end review:
Like you we lived, but now decay;
The same sad fate approaches you.”

Beneath a yellow fading tree,
As red suns light thee, Autumn-morn,
In wildest rapture let me see
The sweets that most thy charms adorn.

O while my eye the landscape views,
What countless beauties are display’d;
What varied tints of nameless hues, —
Shades endless melting into shade.

A russet red the hazels gain,
As suited to their drear decline;
While maples brightest dress retain,
And in the gayest yellows shine.

The poplar tree hath lost its pride;
Its leaves in wan consumption pine;
They hoary turn on either side,
And life to every gale resign.

The stubborn oak, with haughty pride
Still in its lingering green, we view;
But vain the strength he shows is tried,
He tinges slow with sickly hue.

The proudest triumph art conceives,
Or beauties nature’s power can crown,
Grey-bearded time in shatters leaves;
Destruction’s trample treads them down.

Tis lovely now to turn one’s eye,
The changing face of heaven to mind;
How thin-spun clouds glide swiftly by,
While lurking storms slow move behind.

Now suns are clear, now clouds pervade,
Each moment chang’d, and chang’d again;
And first a light, and then a shade,
Swift glooms and brightens o’er the plain.

Poor pussy through the stubble flies,
In vain, o’erpowering foes to shun;
The lurking spaniel points the prize,
And pussy’s harmless race is run.

The crowing pheasant, in the brakes,
Betrays his lair with awkward squalls;
A certain aim the gunner takes,
He clumsy fluskers up, and falls.

But hide thee, muse, the woods among,
Nor stain thy artless, rural rhymes;
Go leave the murderer’s wiles unsung,
Nor mark the harden’d gunner’s crimes.

The fields all clear’d, the labouring mice
To sheltering hedge and wood patrole,
Where hips and haws for food suffice,
That chumbled lie about their hole.

The squirrel, bobbing from the eye,
Is busy now about his hoard,
And in old nest of crow or pye
His winter-store is oft explor’d.

The leaves forsake the willow grey,
And down the brook they whirl and wind;
So hopes and pleasures whirl away,
And leave old age and pain behind.

The thorns and briars, vermilion-hue,
Now full of hips and haws are seen;
If village-prophecies be true,
They prove that winter will be keen.

Hark! started are some lonely strains:
The robin-bird is urg’d to sing;
Of chilly evening he complains,
And dithering droops his ruffled wing.

Slow o’er the wood the puddock sails;
And mournful, as the storms arise,
His feeble note of sorrow wails
To the unpitying frowning skies.

More coldly blows the autumn-breeze;
Old winter grins a blast between;
The north-winds rise and strip the trees,
And desolation shuts the scene.

John Clare (1793-1864) from The Village Minstrel, 1821.

Did you get this far?? Not everything we love is new! I am particularly fond (to no useful purpose, I am sure) of the dialect and older English rural language in this poem. I have never seen a puddock, or a bilberry, or what scraps mice chumble about their nests, and the noun "shatters" survives only in other forms. And what a fine work is "fluskers"! I like "tipt" also. A long poem in quatrains is easy to deal with. Good night and good autumn!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Autumn Buck: Elegy

This fellow is in the prime of his life, strong and in good shape, nimble and delicate in motion,
(I am almost finished with the biography of Rudolf Nureyev, which I am reading on my Kindle at bedtime. This has made me pay attention to the structures of the body.) This young buck's ribs, other bones, and components of muscle and ligament clearly show. The whitetail deer are naturally graceful, like dancers, in the way they move about, scratch behind an ear with a hind hoof, and bounce off at a run into the forest. It is almost hunting season here, when convenience stores
all sport huge new tied-up banners: WELCOME HUNTERS! So, as I watch these few deer
browse my lawn, I am feeling elegiac.

There are more photos of deer grace below ths wonderful poem.

Elegy for the Giant Tortoises

Let others pray for the passenger pigeon
the dodo, the whooping crane, the eskimo:
everyone must specialize

I will confine myself to a meditation
upon the giant tortoises
withering finally on a remote island.

I concentrate in subway stations,
in parks, I can't quite see them,
they move to the peripheries of my eyes

but on the last day they will be there;
already the event
like a wave travelling shapes vision:

on the road where I stand they will materialize,
plodding past me in a straggling line
awkward without water

their small heads pondering
from side to side, their useless armour
sadder than tanks and history,

in their closed gaze ocean and sunlight paralysed,
lumbering up the steps, under the archways
toward the square glass altars

where the brittle gods are kept,
the relics of what we have destroyed,
our holy and obsolete symbols.

Margaret Atwood

Selected Poems, Houghton Mifflin, 1976, page 56.

Friday, September 26, 2014

September's Glory

This was taken last year almost exactly one year ago. The meadow is developing the same way now. The bare tree isn't quite bare yet and the red tree isn't red clear to the bottom. 
Autumn is The Season of Seasons in Northern Michigan 
and I am very grateful that I get to be here again this year.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver
This is her title poem from Wild Geese, Bloodaxe Books, 2004

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The beauty of feathers

This is another portrait of the Mother of Nine. I haven't seen her now for a couple of days, 
but I know she is still protecting her brood.

I have been looking at a collection of mini-essays by poets on "the line" called A Broken Thing; poets on the line, edited by Emily Rosko and Anton Vander Zee and published by the University of Iowa Press in 2011. It is a splendid idea for a book, but I haven't read enough in it yet to see how useful it might be to most of us. The epigraph to the book is from Kora in Hell by William Carlos Williams, a book I have rarely been tempted to pick up, much less actually read. But this is so great that it is tonight's poem, all by itself. I hope it has eight brothers and sisters, like the turkey family, and will have to go looking for them. It is on Kindle for 99 cents.

Thus a poem is tough by no quality it borrows from a logical recital of events, nor from the events themselves but solely from that attenuated power which draws perhaps many broken things into a dance giving them thus a full being.

William Carlos Williams, from Kora in Hell.

Notice that there isn't any punctuation, and that that makes one work just a little bit harder. Is that a good thing? A bad thing?

Always watchful, the Mother of Nine!