Erratic engineeress

A personal blog fuelled by caffeine and curiosity.

World Poetry Day – my favourite poems

A poem a day keeps the world at bay.

Today is the 21st of March, which is known as the annual World Poetry Day and has been so since 1999. Officially, the day commemorates the unique ability of poetry to capture the creative spirit of the human mind and supports linguistic diversity and endangered languages through poetic expression. However, what is the true value of poetry and why is it so important?

In essence, this question is almost philosophical and it’s a tough one to answer. I believe one of our Slovenian poets, Ciril Zlobec, answered it quite well, so I’ve tried to translate his words from the photo below:

Poetry is a pale echo of what everyone feels, but no one knows how to say. The inexpressible “something”, which comes pouring from one’s heart, hardens into letters and softens back into its primal core when it reaches another heart through the eyes and the brain. But there are no two same hearts in the world. Hence, a poem is often just an approximation of what the poet had meant to say, and mainly an inspiration for the flow and direction of the reader’s inner thoughts. That, in itself, is the magic, which gives life to true poetry so it can never grow old.

C. Zlobec
From Pesmi štirih (Poems of the four), the little book on the cover photo.

Normally lots of cafes allow you to pay for your tea/coffee with a poem on the 21st of March, but this year I, and many others, are stuck in quarantine due to the new coronavirus outbreak. So, I’m sitting at home in Slovenia, the rain is pattering against my living room window and the afternoon is perfect for poetry. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling very inspired today, so I decided to share my favourite poems instead of sharing one of my own.

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow —
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand — How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep — while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

E. A. Poe – A Dream Within A Dream

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

W. B. Yeats – Lake of Innisfree

I’m a pretty big fan of Edgar Allan Poe, both of his poems and short stories. He had a true way with language, much like William Butler Yeats, the author of the second poem above. If you want to listen to him read his Lake of Innisfree poem, go here.

The next one is by a Slovenian poet, Simon Gregorčič, who lived at the Slovenian-Italian border. He wrote the poem Soči (To the river Soča) years before the first World War, but it turned out to be quite prophetic, as the banks of the emerald river Soča, Isonzo in Italian, would later constitute one of the major fronts in the war. I’ve included the original Slovenian text and an English translation, but if you want to hear an interpretation of the poem, go check it out here.

Krasna si, bistra hči planin,
brdka v prirodni si lepoti,
ko ti prozornih globočin
nevihte temne srd ne moti –
krasna si, hči planin!
Tvoj tek je živ in je legak
ko hod deklet s planine;
in jasna si ko gorski zrak
in glasna si, kot spev krepak
planinske je mladine —
krasna si, hči planin!
Rad gledam ti v valove bodre, valove te zelenomodre:
temna zelen planinskih trav
in vedra višnjevost višav
lepo se v njih je zlila;
na rosah sinjega neba,
na rosah zelenih gora
lepoto to si pila —
krasna si, hči planin!
Ti meni si predraga znanka!
Ko z gorskih prišumiš dobrav, od doma se mi zdiš poslanka, nesoča mnog mi ljub pozdrav —
Bog sprimi te tu sred planjav! …
Kako glasno, ljubo šumljaš,
kako čvrsto, krepko skakljaš, ko sred gora še pot imaš!
A ko pridereš na ravnine,
zakaj te živa radost mine?
Kaj trudno lezeš in počasi,
zakaj so tožni tvoji glasi?
Težko se ločiš od hribov,
zibélke tvojega valovja?
Mar veš, da tečeš tik grobov, grobov slovenskega domovja?
Obojno bol pač tu trpiš,
V tej boli tožna in počasna,
ogromna solza se mi zdiš,
a še kot solza – krasna!
Krasna si, bistra hči planin,
brdka v prirodni si lepoti,
ko ti prozornih globočin
nevihte divje srd ne moti!
Pa oh, siroti tebi žuga
vihar grozán, vihar strašán;
prihrumel z gorkega bo juga, divjal čez plodno bo ravan, ki tvoja jo napaja struga — gorjé, da daleč ni ta dan!
Nad tabo jasen bo obok,
krog tebe pa svinčena toča
in dež krvav in solz potok
in blisk in grom — oh, bitva vroča!
Tod sekla bridka bodo jekla,
in ti mi boš krvava tekla:
kri naša te pojila bo,
sovražna te kalila bo!
Takrat se spomni, bistra Soča, kar gorko ti srce naroča: Kar bode shranjenih voda v oblakih tvojega neba,
kar vode v tvojih bo planinah, kar bode v cvetnih je ravninah,
tačas pridrvi vse na dan,
narasti, vzkipi v tok strašán!
Ne stiskaj v meje se bregov,
srdita čez branove stopi
ter tujce, zemlje lačne, vtopi
na dno razpenjenih valov!

S. Gregorčič – Soči

You are splendid, limpid daughter of the heights, you are graceful in your natural beauty, when your transparent depths are not disturbed by the wrath of darksome storms –
You are splendid, limpid daughter of the heights!
Your course is lively and gentle, like the walk of highland girls, you are serene as the mountain air,
you are loud as the vigorous
chant of the highland youth –
You are splendid, daughter of the heights.
I like to look into your lively waves, these green-blue waves; the dark green of highland grass and the cheerful azure of the heights have flown together with delight; From the dew of the blue skies, from the dew of green mountains, you have drunk your beauty – You are splendid, daughter of the heights.
You are my most dear friend!
When you rustle down from mountain woodlands, you seem a messenger from home, carrying plenty of dear greetings – May God welcome you amidst the plains! …
How dearly and loudly you murmur, how stalwartly and soundly you bound when you still flow through the mountains!
But when you clatter down to the flatlands, why do you lose your lively joy? Why do you flow tiredly and slowly,
why are your voices sad?
Is it hard to part from the mountain range, the cradle of your waves?
Do you know you are passing by the graves, the graves of Slovene homeland? A double grief you suffer here!
In this grief, mournful and sluggish, you seem like a big tear to me; But even as tear – splendid!
You are splendid, limpid daughter of the heights, you are graceful in your natural beauty, when your transparent depths are not disturbed by the wrath of raging storms!
But, alas, my poor child, a dreadful storm, a horrible storm is threatening you;
It will storm in from the warm south,it will rage through the fertile plain nourished by your waters –
Woe!, that day is not far.
A clear arch will stretch above you, around you a hail of lead, rain of blood and streams of tears, lightning and thunder – oh, stifling battle!
Bitter steel will strike upon these lands, and you will flow full of blood: Our blood will nourish you, the enemy’s will muddy you!
Remember then, limpid Soča, the commands of your fervid heart: All the waters stored in the clouds of your skies, all the waters in your highlands, all the waters of your blossoming plains, rush it all up at once, rise up, froth in a dreadful stream!
Do not confine yourself within the banks, rise wrathfully over the defences, and drown the foreigners ravenous for land to the bottom of your foaming waves!

S. Gregorčič – To the river Soča (translator unknown)
Soča in the early morning.

Naturally I couldn’t pass by one of my favourite authors, J. R. R. Tolkien, who also wrote poems. Among them is Namárië, his poem in Elvish, and you can hear him reciting it here.

Ai! laurië lantar lassi súrinen, yéni únótimë ve rámar aldaron! Yéni ve lintë yuldar avánier mi oromardi lisse-miruvóreva Andúnë pella , Vardo tellumar nu luini yassen tintilar i eleni ómaryo airetári -lírinen.

Sí man i yulma nin enquantuva?

An sí Tintallë Varda Oiolossëo ve fanyar máryat Elentári ortanë, ar ilyë tier undulávë lumbulë; ar sindanóriello caita mornië i falmalinnar imbë met, ar hísië untúpa Calaciryo míri oialë. Sí vanwa ná, Rómello vanwa, Valimar!

Namárië! Nai hiruvalyë Valimar. Nai elyë hiruva. Namárië!

J. R. R. Tolkien – Namárië in Elvish

Ah! like gold fall the leaves in the wind, long years numberless as the wings of trees! The long years have passed like swift draughts of the sweet mead in lofty halls beyond the West, beneath the blue vaults of Varda wherein the stars tremble in the voice of her song, holy and queenly.

Who now shall refill the cup for me?

For now the Kindler, Varda, the Queen of the stars, from Mount Everwhite has uplifted her hands like clouds and all paths are drowned deep in shadow; and out of a grey country darkness lies on the foaming waves between us, and mist covers the jewels of Calacirya for ever. Now lost, lost to those of the East is Valimar!

Farewell! Maybe thou shalt find Valimar! Maybe even thou shalt find it! Farewell!

J. R. R. Tolkien – Farewell

Tolkien’s made up Elvish is, in my opinion, one of the most poetic languages on the planet, and if you listened to him reading the poem you probably agree with me. In a way, poetry is becoming a lost art, since people don’t exactly read poems in the same way as novels and stories nowadays. I think it’s proper that we remember it exists at least once per year and take a few minutes to read a poem of two – trust me, it’s good for the soul.

If you want to read about another Slovenian poet, who is also the main figure of our national cultural holiday, then go check out my post here. Otherwise I hope you liked these poems and let me know what your favourite ones are in the comments below. 🙂 Also, check out my friend’s poetry blog.

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2 responses to “World Poetry Day – my favourite poems”

  1. Poe was a genius’s genius. I have read most of what he has written a couple of times. I like your choice because everyone knows The Raven and The Bells but they don’t realize that he really did quite a variety of poetry and stories and that they weren’t all horror.

    1. Exactly! He was good, not just at the Gothic stuff.

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