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March 29, 2006
7:17 AM   Subscribe

Other loves
still breathe deep inside me.
This one's too short of breath even to sigh.
"First Love", by Wislawa Szymborska. (via the Daily Poems of poems.com)
posted by matteo (19 comments total)

 
Translated by Clare Cavanaugh
posted by matteo at 7:20 AM on March 29, 2006


Clare Cavanagh

my bad
posted by matteo at 7:21 AM on March 29, 2006


In an old interview with the Chicago Review, professor Cavanagh says:
WM: As a translator, how do you come to the poets you're working on, or how have you come to, say, Szymborska?

CC: It keeps changing all the time. I came to Szymborska because I was Stanislaw Baranczak's research assistant at Harvard, and I was correcting his English for articles, and somebody asked him to do some translations of a contemporary poet--it happened to be Krynicki, who I'm just coming back to now. And he didn't feel like he was up to it himself, and we just really liked working together. And he was so generous, as a teacher, a collaborator. He never said, "Oh you don't know enough," or "your Polish isn't good enough"--both of which were completely true-he just said, "Go for it." And that's how we started on that anthology. [4] And then when we got to Szymborska, this was the mid-eighties, and I think it was in 1986 that her collection Ludzie na moscie (People on a bridge) came out. It had just come out while we were working on this thing, and we were going to pick some poems out of there, and we couldn't pick, we just did the whole collection. And then we just felt like, you know, it's not enough. So we j ust started doing nonstop Szymborska, basically. It took us a while to get it all done (it always takes me longer than him) and to find a publisher. But it basically started with that, not being able to pick out of Ludzie na moscie. Even back then I kept thinking, it's a little bit like Elizabeth Bishop, she reminds me of Elizabeth Bishop, she's so unassuming as a poet, and I loved translating her so much that it made me underestimate her, because it just seemed like too much fun, too much pleasure. I remember Stanislaw saying back then, "I think she's as great as Milosz." And it was really great for him to say that, because it validated my feelings. I kept thinking, "If I like her this much it can't be true." And he was right, and Stockholm agreed with him. That was really great. So, that's how we did Szymborska.
posted by matteo at 7:26 AM on March 29, 2006


Yeesh. His is not my experience, by a long shot. I still get stomach-quiveringly giddy just thinking about how crazy in love I was that first time.

Standing out in the rain, waiting, waiting. Even the rain was a blessing of sacrifice. The water pouring off of my hat a libation to the god of my own insane desire.

But, eh, to each his own.
posted by darkstar at 7:29 AM on March 29, 2006


I love her! This one's my favourite:

Cat in an empty apartment

Dying--you wouldn't do that to a cat.
For what is a cat to do
in an empty apartment?
Climb up the walls?
Brush up against the furniture?
Nothing here seems changed,
and yet something has changed.
Nothing has been moved,
and yet there's more room.
And in the evenings the lamp is not on.

Read the rest of it here
posted by katiecat at 7:31 AM on March 29, 2006


A bit off-topic perhaps (not a polish poet) but here's my all-time favorite love poem, and its about death too.

Eurydice Reveals Her Strength

Dying is the easy part.
As you live, my dear, why did you come?
You should learn an easing of the heart
As I have, now, for truly some

Prefer this clarity of mind, this death
Of all the body's imperious demands:
That constant interruption of the breath,
That fever-greed of eyes and hands

To digest your beauty whole.
You strike a tune upon a string:
They say that it is beautiful.
You sing to me, you sing, you sing.

I think, how do the living hear?
But I remember now, that it was just
A quiver in the membrane of the ear,
And love, a complicated lust.

And I remember now, as in a book,
How you pushed me down upon the grass and stones,
Crushed me with your kisses and your hands and took
What there is to give of emptiness, and moans.

We strained to be one strange new beast enmeshed,
And this is what we strained against, this death,
And clawed as if to peel away the flesh,
Crawled safe inside another's hollowness,

Because we feared this calm of being dead.
I say this. You abhor my logic, and you shiver,
Thinking I may as well be just some severed head
Floating down a cool, forgetful river,

Slipping down the shadows, green and black,
Singing to myself, not looking back.


Copyright © 2002 A. E. Stallings All rights reserved


From Verse Daily Archives
posted by elendil71 at 7:40 AM on March 29, 2006


It occurs to me I probably shouldnt have reposted the entire poem - copyright and all that. Sorry about that.
posted by elendil71 at 7:42 AM on March 29, 2006


It's tragic, but whenever I see anything starting with "They say" I immediately say it like that Kids in the Hall skit where Scott is playing the aging jaded queen
posted by poppo at 7:48 AM on March 29, 2006


First love and all.

Art Brut - Emily Kane

I was your boyfriend when we were 15
It's the happiest that I've ever been
Even though we didn't understand
How to do much more than just hold hands
There's so much about you I miss
The clumsy way we used to kiss
I wish I convinced you, you've made a mistake
If memory serves, we're still on a break

Other girls went and other girls came
I can't get over my old flame
I'm still in love with Emily Kane

Every girl that I've seen since
Looks just like you when I squint
I know you said it's for the best
I still don't understand why you left
So much about you I miss
Everytime I see a couple kiss
I hope this song finds you fame
I want schoolkids on buses singing your name

Other girls went and other girls came
I can't get over my old flame
I'm still in love with Emily Kane

I don't even know where she lives
I've not seen her in 10 years...
9 months, 3 weeks, 4 days, 6 hours, 13 minutes, 5 seconds

Other girls went and other girls came
I can't get over my old flame
All my friends think I'm insane
I'm still in love with Emily Kane

There's a beast in my soul that can't be tamed
I'm still in love with Emily Kane
I thought I'd never love again
I'm still in love with Emily Kane

The torch that I hold, is always a-flame
I'm still in love with Emily Kane
I hope this song finds you fame
I want schoolkids on buses singing your name

All my friends think I'm insane
I'm still in love with Emily Kane
Emily Kane, Emily Kane, Emily Kane!

posted by ND¢ at 7:49 AM on March 29, 2006


While I'm certainly not in love with my first girlfriend, when I was, I was. And if I think about it, I am right back there. I can smell her scent this second, clearly. A sweet mix of jasmine, clean skin [ivory soap] and what- baby powder maybe?

And what darkstar said.

I put the daily poetry link on my sidebar a while ago, and get the rss, and I look at it every morning- for some reason I didn't today, so thanks for the fpp.
posted by exlotuseater at 8:05 AM on March 29, 2006


It occurs to me I probably shouldnt have reposted the entire poem - copyright and all that. Sorry about that.
posted by elendil71 at 7:42 AM PST on March 29 [!]

Never apologize for posting a poem!

(I have nothing to do with the rules around here - maybe you're about to be shot! I was just happy reading it - and "Emily Kane" too. So there!)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:19 AM on March 29, 2006


Love Sonnet XI

I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair.
Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets.
Bread does not nourish me, dawn disrupts me, all day
I hunt for the liquid measure of your steps.

I hunger for your sleek laugh,
your hands the color of a savage harvest,
hunger for the pale stones of your fingernails,
I want to eat your skin like a whole almond.

I want to eat the sunbeam flaring in your lovely body,
the sovereign nose of your arrogant face,
I want to eat the fleeting shade of your lashes,

and I pace around hungry, sniffing the twilight,
hunting for you, for your hot heart,
like a puma in the barrens of Quitratue.

-- Pablo Neruda
posted by exlotuseater at 10:26 AM on March 29, 2006


Lovely poem in the original post. But no-one beats Brian Patten for love poetry:

When I think of her sparkling face
And of her body that rocked this way and that,
When I think of her laughter,
Her jubilance that filled me,
It’s a wonder I’m not gone mad.

She is away and I cannot do what I want.
Other faces pale when I get close.
She is away and I cannot breathe her in.

The space her leaving has created
I have attempted to fill
With bodies that numbed upon touching,
Among them I expected her opposite,
And found only forgeries.

Her wholeness I know to be a fiction of my making,
Still I cannot dismiss the longing for her;
It is a craving for sensation new flesh
Cannot wholly calm or cancel,
It is perhaps for more than her.

At night above the parks the stars are swarming.
The streets are thick with nostalgia;
I move through senseless routine and insensitive chatter
As if her going did not matter.
She is away and I cannot breathe her in.
I am ill simply through wanting her.
posted by Pericles at 11:21 AM on March 29, 2006


what exlotuseater and darkstar said.

Something was and wasn't there between us,
something went on and went away.


if his first love ended this passively, i wonder what he wrote after the ones that ended badly.
posted by three blind mice at 11:43 AM on March 29, 2006


She, not he. Wislawa Szymborska is a woman.
posted by funambulist at 11:50 AM on March 29, 2006


She, not he.

Thanks funambulist. Now it makes sense.

But still.
posted by three blind mice at 12:11 PM on March 29, 2006


Um, it's a poem. Not autobiography. Not an op-ed piece. A poem. It's hard to evaluate poems when they're not in their original languages, since a poem is basically (or should be) a distillation of the language it's written in as refracted through a particular sensibility, but don't judge it on whether you agree with it's "message." It doesn't have one. It's just sitting there singing.

Nice post, matteo. I still prefer Milosz, but she's a fine poet.
posted by languagehat at 1:15 PM on March 29, 2006


(Thanks for the tip that the author's a woman.)

RE lost loves, I find Li Po to be transcendent in dealing with parting from close friends and loved ones.

From Ezra Pound's translation of Li Po's "Exile's Letter" is this poignantly beautiful verse, which slays me afresh:

And if you ask how I regret that parting:
It is like the flowers falling at Spring's end
Confused, whirled in a tangle.
What is the use of talking, and there is no end of talking,
There is no end of things in the heart.



And from my own translation of Li Po's "Leavetaking, or Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend":

Blue mountains lie beyond the north wall;
Past the east wall flows the white water.
Here we part, friend, now forever.
Ten thousand miles, drifting away
Like an uprooted blade of water-grass.

The thoughts of a wanderer are floating white clouds
And each sunset is the longing for an old friend.
We ride into the distance, waving goodbye,
While our horses neigh softly, softly...

posted by darkstar at 1:29 PM on March 29, 2006


While I'm certainly not in love with my first girlfriend, when I was, I was. And if I think about it, I am right back there. I can smell her scent this second, clearly. A sweet mix of jasmine, clean skin [ivory soap] and what- baby powder maybe?

Yes, you are.

I've always believed that if you ever truly loved someone, truly, then you do forever.

And for me, my first sweetheart wore Love's Baby Soft, which I can conjure immediately though I've not smelled it in 20 years.

Also Emily Kane is delightful.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:36 PM on March 29, 2006


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