Thinking of all the families steeped in grief now, and the rest of us grieving with them. Two poems, one by the 20th century Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral, in English and Spanish (I couldn’t identify the translator), and one by 17th century English poet Ben Jonson, on the death of his son.
Soft hair, hair that is all the softness of the world:
without you lying in my lap, what silk would I enjoy?
sweet the passing day because of that silk, sweet the sustenance,
sweet the ancient sadness, at least for the few hours it slips between my hands.
Touch it to my cheek;
wind it in my lap like flowers;
let me braid it, to soften my pain,
to magnify the light with it, now that it is dying.
When I am with God someday, I do not want an angel’s wing
to cool my heart’s bruises;
I want, stretched against the sky, the hair of the children I loved,
to let it blow in the wind against my face eternally!
LOS CABELLOS DE LOS NIÑOS
Cabellos suaves, cabellos que son toda la suavidad del mundo:
Que seda gozaría yo si no os tuviera sobre el regazo?
Dulce por ella el dia que pasa, dulce el sustento,
dulce el antiguo dolor, solo por unas horas que ellos resbalan entre mis manos.
Ponedlos en mi mejilla;
Revolvedlos en mi regazo como las flores;
dejadme trenzar con ellos, par suavizarlo, mi dolor;
aumentar la luz con ellos, ahora que es moribunda.
Cuando ya sea con Dios, que no me de el ala de un ángel,
para frescar la magulladura de mi corazón;
extienda sobre el azul las cabelleras de los niños que ame,
y pasen ellas en el viento sobre mi rostro eternamente!
ON MY FIRST SON
Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
My sin was too much hope of thee, lov’d boy.
Seven years tho’ wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
O, could I lose all father now! For why
Will man lament the state he should envy?
To have so soon ‘scap’d world’s and flesh’s rage,
And if no other misery, yet age?
Rest in soft peace, and, ask’d, say, “Here doth lie
Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry.”
For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such,
As what he loves may never like too much.
Thank you for these, Sharon.
So helpless otherwise, in the face of the unspeakable.
from John Ruff, this poem by Anne Bradstreet:
ON MY DEAR GRANDCHILD SIMON BRADSTREET, BEING BUT A MONTH AND ONE DAY OLD
No sooner came, but gone, and fall’n asleep,
Acquaintance short, yet parting caused us weep;
Three flowers, two scarcely blown, the last i’ th’bud,
Cropt by th’ Almighty’s hand; yet is He good.
With dreadful awe before Him let’s be mute,
Such was His will, but why, let’s not dispute,
With humble hearts and mouths put in the dust,
Let’s say He’s merciful as well as just.
He will return and make up all our losses,
And smile again after our bitter crosses
Go pretty babe, go rest with sisters twain;
Among the blest in endless joys remain.
from Patricia Clark:
A POSTCARD FROM THE VOLCANO
Children picking up our bones
Will never know that these were once
As quick as foxes on the hill;
And that in autumn, when the grapes
Made sharp air sharper by their smell
These had a being, breathing frost;
And least will guess that with our bones
We left much more, left what still is
The look of things, left what we felt
At what we saw. The spring clouds blow
Above the shuttered mansion-house,
Beyond our gate and the windy sky
Cries out a literate despair.
We knew for long the mansion’s look
And what we said of it became
A part of what it is … Children,
Still weaving budded aureoles,
Will speak our speech and never know,
Will say of the mansion that it seems
As if he that lived there left behind
A spirit storming in blank walls,
A dirty house in a gutted world,
A tatter of shadows peaked to white,
Smeared with the gold of the opulent sun.
**What I love is the odd perspective, children long in the future picking up bones. Love the lush opulent details, very a la Wallace Stevens. Wish I could join you at 4 p.m. today but I have a medical appointment. Cheers! Patricia
I’m sorry you can’t be there–maybe next time.
Any chance the Mistral translation is by Ursula Le Guin? https://www.ursulakleguin.com/gabriela-mistral
I don’t know. I haven’t had time to look yet, and don’t know who her translators were. How interesting. And thanks for the prod. Now I will go back and see what I can find out.
Great – I have the book but I think it’s at my vacation house. Ursula was a real champion of Mistral
I certainly knew Mistral’s name, but almost nothing about her or her work. As soon as I came across this gorgeous poem I wanted to read more–and I’m going to look right now to see what work of hers is in print.
She did do a translation. You can find it at amazon.