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Sylvia Plath--American





Sylvia Plath

(1932-1963)

Born in 1932, Sylvia Plath started writing at an early age.  She kept a journal from the age of 11 and was successful in publishing her poems in local magazines and newspapers.  She attended Smith College and was an exceptional student and graduated summa cum laude in 1955.  Following graduation she received a Fulbright Scholarship, moved to England where she met English poet, Ted Hughes.  Plath and Hughes married in 1956.  She returned to the U.S. in 1957 and studied with Robert Lowell.  Her first collection of poetry, Colossus, was published in 1960.  Throughout her life Plath suffered from depression, a condition that led to her suicide in 1963.  She is most known for her semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar.  Following her death, her most famous collection of poetry, Ariel, was released. 


Lady Lazarus

I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it—


A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot

A paperweight,
My featureless, fine
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?—

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me

And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.
The Peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot—
The big strip tease.
Gentleman, ladies

These are my hands
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.

The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut

As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Dying
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I've a call.

It's easy enough to do it in a cell.
It's easy enough to do it and stay put.
It's the theatrical

Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
Amused shout:

'A miracle!'
That knocks me out.
There is a charge

For the eyeing my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart—
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair on my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash—
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there—

A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Beware
Beware.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

 

Daddy

You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time---
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off the beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.

 

In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.


It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene

 

An engine, an engine,
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gypsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been sacred of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You----

 

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.

 

Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who

 

Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

 

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I'm finally through.
The black telephone's off at the root,
The voices just can't worm through.

If I've killed one man, I've killed two—
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.

There's a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.

Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.


János Pilinszky--Hungarian

 

    

János Pilinszky
(1921-1981)

 

János Pilinszky was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1921.  His early education was eclectic including the study of Hungarian literature, law and art history, though he never earned his degree.  His first book of poetry, Trapéz és korlát (Trapeze and Bars), was published in 1946 and was awarded the Baumgarten Prize.  It took more than ten years before Pilinszky published another volume of poetry, Harmadnapon (On the third day).  Pilinszky was imprisoned during the war and his anti-communist stand forced him into isolation for self-imposed exile   Pilinszky left Hungary in 1960 and for ten years traveled in the United States and Europe taking part in a number of significant poetry readings.  In 1971 he was awarded the Attila Prize for his collection entitled Nagyvárosi ikonok (Metropolitan Icons).  He published several additional works up until his death in 1981. 


The French Prisoner

If only I could forget that Frenchman.
I saw him, just before dawn, creeping past our quarters
into the dense growth of the back garden
so that he almost merged into the ground.
As I watched he looked back, he peered all round—
At last he had found a safe hideout.
Now his plunder can be all his!
He'll go no further, whatever happens.

Already he is eating, biting into the turnip
which he must have smuggled out under his rags.
He was gulping raw cattle-turnip!
Yet he had hardly swallowed one mouthful
before it flooded back up.
Then the sweet pulp in his mouth mingled
with delight and disgust the same
as the unhappy and happy come together
in their bodies' voracious ecstasy.

Only to forget that body, those quaking shoulder blades,
the hands shrunk to bone,
the bare palm that crammed at his mouth,

and clung there
so that it ate, too.
And the same, desperate and enraged
of the organs embittered against each other
forced to tear from each other
their last bonds of kinship.

The way his clumsy feet had been left out
of the gibbering bestial joy and splayed there,

crushed beneath the rapture and torture of his body.
And his glance—if only I could forget that!
Though he was choking, he kept on
forcing more down his gullet—no matter what—
only to eat—anything—this—that—even himself!

Why go on? Guards came for him.
He had escaped from the nearby prison camp.
And just as I did then, in that garden,
I am strolling here, among garden shadows, at home.
I look into my notes and quote:
'If only I could forget that Frenchman...'
And from my ears, my eyes, my mouth
the scalding memory shouts at me:

'I am hungry!' And suddenly I feel
the eternal hunger
which that poor creature has long ago forgotten
and which no earthly nourishment can lessen.
He lives on me. And more and more hungrily!
And I am less and less sufficient for him.
And now he, who would have eaten anything,
is clamoring for my heart.

 

Translated from the Hungarian by Ted Hughes

 

 

Yehuda Haim Perahia--Italian


Yehuda Haim Perahia was born into a notable Spanish-Jewish family who were expelled from Spain during the Spanish Inquisition.  From Spain they moved to Italy where they made their home.  During World War II, Perahia, spent two years in hiding in Athens.  During this time he wrote two novels, Bimba and El ultimo esforso, a monograph on his family, La famille Perahia a Thessaloniki, and a book of poetry, Poemas.  He also devoted himself to working on potential lectures and commentaries on the subject of Judaism in Salonika. 


0 my God!  Is it a dream or am I out of my mind?


What bitter reality do my eyes see, what confusion within me!
But is it possible?  I touch myself, I murmur half words.
How can one believe in the total disappearance of the Jews, Your eternal servants!

 

My eyes, my eyes shed abundant and never-ending tears.
The misfortunes that befell Your people cannot be counted.
My brain tears apart, my mind is troubled and refuses to reason.
Human intelligence refuses to function before this evil.


Vesna Parun--Croatian

 

        

Vesna Parun
(1922-    )

 

Born in 1922, on a small Croatian island, Vesna Parun has been called one of the most outstanding Eastern European poets of all time.  Her first book, Dawns and Winds, published in 1947 won side acclaim.  During her life she published more than thirty collections of poetry, ten children’s books, an impressive score of radio drams, prose and translations from Slovenian and Bulgarian.  Her own poems have been translated into Bulgarian, Czech, English, French, German, Russian, Slovakian and Slovenian.  Her work has often been compared to the great Russian writer, Anna Akhmatova.  Throughout her life she won many literary awards including the City of Zagreb Award, and the Vladmir Nazor Prize.


My Grandfather

My grandfather sits in front of the house and leaves fall.

            He looks at the figs that dry on the stone,

while the sun, very orange, vanishes behind the small vineyards

            I remember from childhood.

 

The voice of my grandfather is golden, like the melody of an old clock,

and his dialect is rich, filled with restlessness.

The legend of “Seven Lean Years” follows right after the “Our Father,” short and eternal.

 

One day, there was no more fishing.

Now, there is war.

The enemy surrounds the port for miles around.

The whole tiny island trembles in eclipse.

All her sons disappeared in search of war wages—

a long time ago.

Canada,

Australia…

They’ll board them next for Japan.

It’s possible they’ll stay forever with their heads among the bamboo.

This is the second winter that they’ve marched non-stop.

Even the fish sound gloomy in their chase.

One grandson is fair and good, yet, we’ll find him in the snow one day

when the mountains are tired.

 

The girls sing as they prepare the picnic soup.

The children squat on the floor, very frightened

of the boots of the elegant old man.

One mother thinks of the sons and father who became a Malayan.

 

Strange, how this family has been scattered over four continents.

These big brawny people sound like children in their letters.

 

My grandfather stares at the red sun in the vineyard,

worn to silence, because death is near—old fisherman of the sea. 

Foreign greed; strange hunger.  Freedom is a bit of breadcrust.

 

Ah, tell the earth that watermills should run faster!

A storm took away leaves; whatever’s right shall be.

So, the young boys die, and the old men warm up their sorrows,

                                                                        staring at the horizon.

 

Translated by Ivana Spalatin and Daniela Gioseffi

 

 

 

 

Dorothy Parker--American


         

Dorothy Parker
(1893-1967)

 

A memorial plaque for Dorothy Parker says a great deal about the person.  It reads: “Here lie the ashes of Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) humorist, writer, and critic—defender of human and civil rights.  For her epitaph she suggested, “Excuse my dust.”  The memorial garden is dedicated to her noble spirit which celebrated the oneness of humankind and to the bonds of everlasting friendship between Black and Jewish people.  Dedicated by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, October 28, 1988 the citation reads: “Parker wrote things as she saw them.”  She was one of the founding members of the Algonquin Writers’ Table.


War Song

 

Soldier, in a curious land

      All across a swaying sea,

Take her smile and lift her hand—

      Have no guilt of me.

 

Soldier, when were soldiers true?

      If she’s kind and sweet and gay,

Use the wish I send to you—

Lie not lone till day!

 

Only, for the nights that were,

      Soldier, and the dawns that came,

When in sleep you turn to her

      Call her by my name.

 

 

 

Dan Pagis--Romanian/Israeli


       

Dan Pagis
(1930-1986)

Born in Bukovina, Romania in 1930, Pagis spent his adolescent years in a Nazi concentration camp.  After liberation in 1946, he went to Israel were he studied to be a teacher in a kibbutz.  He eventually earned his PhD from Hebrew University, where he later taught as a professor of Medieval Hebrew Literature.  His fist book of poetry, Sheon ha-Tsel (The Shadow Clock) was published in 1959.  Another major work, Gilgul (Revolution) was released in 1970.  Pagis is regarded as one of the most important poets of modern Israel, and his considered a major international poet.  He died in 1986.


Draft of a Reparations Agreement

All right, gentlemen who cry blue murder as always,
nagging miracle-makers,
quiet!
Everything will be returned to its place,
paragraph after paragraph.
The scream back into the throat.
The gold teeth back to the gums.
The terror.
The smoke back to the tin chimney and further on and inside
back to the hollow of the bones,
and already you will be covered with skin and sinews and you will live,
look, you will have your lives back,
sit in the living room, read the evening paper.
Here you are. Nothing is too late.
As to the yellow star:
it will be torn from your chest
immediately
and will emigrate
to the sky.

 

 

George Oppen--American

 

     George Oppen

George Oppen
(1908-1984)

 

A member of the Objectivist Group of poets, Oppen was born in New Rochelle, New York in 1908.  Discrete Series, his first book of poems was published in 1932 and had a preface written by Ezra Pound.  He served in World War II and was badly injured.  He and his wife joined the American Communist party and became targets of the House Un-American Activities Committee during the McCarthy era. They eventually left the country in 1950 and moved to Mexico where Oppen became a furniture maker.  They returned to the States in 1958 and Oppen began to write again.  The Materials, his second book of poetry was published in 1962.  This was followed by This in Which (1965), and Of Being Numerous (1968) for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.  He died in 1984.


Survival: Infantry

And the world changed.

There had been trees and people,

Sidewalks and roads

There were fish in the sea.

 

Where did all the rocks come from?

And the smell of explosives

Iron standing in mud

We crawled everywhere on the ground without seeing

the earth again

We were ashamed of our half life and our misery: we

saw that everything had died.

 

And the letters came.  People who addressed us thru our

lives

They left us grasping.  And in tears

In the same mud in the terrible ground.

 

 

 

Martinus Nijhoff--Dutch

 

        

Martinus Nijhoff
(1894-1953)

 

Nijhoff was born in The Netherlands in 1894.  He studied literature and law.  His first volume of poetry, De wandelaar (The Wanderer), was published in 1916.  Nijhoff is well known for his unique style of poetry which often includes clear language, mystical content, rhymed verses and the frequent use of the sonnet.  His best known works include Het Uur U (H Hour), published in 1936 and his long poem Awater, in 1934.  Nijhoff died in 1953.


The End


Strange pizzicato of distant guitars,
We had just heard the birds singing outside—
The sun pushed its way through the cracks
of the heavy curtains in the quiet room.

But our face and all the things still hung
With the tired light of the chandeliers—
And between us, as great ghosts, moved
A craziness of words, a hopelessness of gestures.

This was the end of the last night.
The sun fell straight through the window. I leaned
My forehead against the glass—you, behind me, shivered.

What existed between us, has been killed.
Let's not think anymore about what it was.
God has done with us what he wanted.

Translated by Cliff Crego

 

Pablo Neruda--Chilean


   

Pablo Neruda
(1904-1973)

 

Born in 1904 in Chile, Pablo Neruda began writing poetry at an early age and had his first poem published at the age of thirteen.  Neruda is best known as a poet, but he served as a consul for the Chilean government and traveled on behalf of the government to Burma, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Singapore, Argentina and Spain.  Neruda’s close friend, García Lorca, was murdered during the Spanish Civil War and his death affected him greatly.  In response to Lorca’s murder, Neruda joined the Republican movement in Spain and later in France.  In 1939, he was appointed consul for the Spanish emigration in France, and soon after sent to Mexico.  There he rewrote his Canto General de Chile, an epic poem about South America.  In 1945 he was elected a senator.  He openly opposed the then repressive government of Chile and was forced to live underground in his own country for several years.  He managed to leave in 1949, but returned in 1952. Throughout his lifetime Neruda continued to write.  He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.  He died in 1973.


The Sadder Century

The century of émigrés,
the book of homelessness--
gray century, black book.
This is what I ought to leave
written in the open book,
digging it out from the century,
tinting the pages with spilled blood.

I lived the abundance
of those lost in the jungle:
I counted the cutoff hands
and the mountains of ash
and the fragmented cries
and the without-eyes glasses
and the headless hair.

Then I searched the world
for those who lost their country,
pointlessly carrying
their defeated flags,
their Stars of David,
their miserable photographs.

I too knew homelessness.

But as a seasoned wanderer,
I returned empty-handed
to this sea that knows me well.
But others remain
and are still at bay,
leaving behind their loved ones, their errors
thinking maybe
but knowing never again

and this is how I ended up sobbing
the dusty sob
intoned by the homeless.
This is the way I ended celebrating
with my brothers (those who remain)
the victorious building,
the harvest of new bread.

 

 

 

Leslie Murray--Australian

 

   
                                                                  Leslie Murray by David Naseby
Leslie Murray
(1938-    )

 

Leslie Murray was born in Nabiac, Australia, in 1938.  His first book of poetry, The Ilex Tree, published in 1965, received the Grace Leven Prize for poetry.  In 1972, Poems Against Economics won the Captain Cook Bicentenary Literary Competition Prize.  Lunch and Counter Lunch, received the National Book Council Award in 1974.  Murray is regarded as Australia’s leading poet.  His work has been published in ten languages.   He has been an editor of major anthologies, and of literary publications.  In 1999 he was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry.


At the Widening of a War

Everyone was frightened of the sky.

Each night, Mars emerged at the zenith.
A bleb of pure rage tore off the sun.

For days, the living and the dead
hung in the air like dust
whirled aloft from tired roads.

The fuselage of a lobster lay abandoned.

The Isles of the Blest were receding
to their sailing distances
and the gunfire of tourist shoes was stilled.

Sports stadiums and crowds loomed from another age.

The blow struck now
would be weaker than the blow withheld.


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