Twelve Poems in Translation

A Pity, We Were Such a Good Invention

They amputated
Your thighs off my hips.
As far as I’m concerned
They are all surgeons. All of them.

They dismantled us
Each from the other.
As far as I’m concerned
They are all engineers. All of them.

A pity. We were such a good
And loving invention.
An aeroplane made from a man and wife.
Wings and everything.

We hovered above the earth.

We even flew a little.

Yehuda Amichai; from Now in the Uproar, translated from the Hebrew by Assia Gutmann



Two thousand cigarettes.
A hundred miles
from wall to wall.
An eternity and a half of vigils
blanker than snow.

Tons of words
old as the tracks
of a platypus in the sand.

A hundred books we didn’t write
A hundred pyramids we didn’t build.


as the beginning of the world.

Believe me when I say
it was beautiful.

Miroslav Holub; from Selected Poems, translated from the Czech by Ian Milner and George Theiner


Myself and My Person

There are moments
when I feel more clearly than ever
that I am in the company
of my own person.
This comforts and reassures me,
this heartens me,
just as my tridimensional body
is heartened by my own authentic shadow.

There are moments
when I really feel more clearly than ever
that I am in the company
of my own person.

I stop
at a street corner to turn left
and I wonder what would happen
if my own person walked to the right.

Until now that has not happened
but it does not settle the question.

Anna Swir; from Talking to My Body, translated from the Polish by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan


It Is That Dream

It’s that dream that we carry with us
that something wonderful will happen,
that it has to happen,
that time will open,
that the heart will open,
that doors will open,
that the mountains will open,
that wells will leap up,
that the dream will open,
that one morning we’ll slip in
to a harbor that we’ve never known.

Olav Håkonson Hauge; from The Winged Energy of Delight, translated from the Norwegian by Robert Bly


Letter From a Reader

Too much about death,
too many shadows.
Write about life,
an average day,
the yearning for order.

Take the school bell
as your model
of moderation,
even scholarship.

Too much death,
too much
dark radiance.

Take a look,
crowds packed
in cramped stadiums
sing hymns of hatred.

Too much music,
too little harmony, peace,

Write about those moments
when friendship’s footbridges
seem more enduring
than despair.

Write about love,
long evenings,
the dawn,
the trees,
about the endless patience
of the light.

Adam Zagajewski; from Without End, translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh and Renata Gorczynski, Benjamin Ivry, and C.K. Williams


The blue sky is blue.
That says everything
about the blue sky.

These flying rebuses however—
although the answer changes all the time,
anyone can decipher them.

They are intangible, so high above,
nebulous. And the gentleness
of their dying! So painless

few things here can match it. The clouds
have no fear, as if they knew:
they’ll come into this world again and again.

Hans Magnus Enzensberger; from A History of Clouds (#3), translated from the German by Esther Kinsky and Martin Chalmers


We Do Not Know How to Say Goodbye

We do not know how to say goodbye.
Shoulder to shoulder, we walk and walk.
Already it is dusk, and I
Am silent, while you are lost in thought.

Let’s go into this church. What will we see?
A baptism, wedding, burial-service.
Without looking at each other, we shall leave —
Why is our life not like this?

Or else, let’s go into the graveyard. There
You will pick up a stick and lightly trace
In the trodden snow we crouch on, sighing,
Houses where we shall be together always.

Anna Akhmatova; from 20th Century Russian Poetry, translated from the Russian by Daniel Weissbort


—When They Sleep

All people are children when they sleep.
There’s no war in them then.
They open their hands and breathe
in that quiet rhythm heaven has given them.

They pucker their lips like small children
and open their hands halfway,
soldiers and statesmen, servants and masters.
The stars stand guard
and a haze veils the sky,
a few hours when no one will do anybody harm.

If only we could speak to one another then
when our hearts are half-open flowers.
Words like golden bees
would drift in.
—God, teach me the language of sleep.

Rolf Jacobsen; from The Roads Have Come to an End Now, translated from the Norwegian by Robert Hedin


The Meaning of Simplicity

I hide behind simple things so you’ll find me;
If you don’t find me, you’ll find the things,
you’ll touch what my hand has touched,
our hand-prints will merge.

The August moon glitters in the kitchen
like a tin-plated pot (it gets that way
            because of what I’m saying to you),
it lights up the empty house and
            the house’s kneeling silence—
always the silence remains kneeling.

Every word is a doorway
to a meeting, one often cancelled,
and that’s when a word is true:
            when it insists on the meeting.

Yannis Ritsos; from Repetitions, Testimonies, Parentheses, translated from the Greek by Edmund Keeley


By Writing

By writing I wanted
To save my soul.
I tried to make poems
It did not work.
I tried to tell stories
It did not work.
You cannot write
To save your soul.
Given up, it drifts and does the singing. 

Marie Luise Kaschnitz; from Selected Later Poems, translated from the German by Lisel Mueller


Ancient Winter

Desire of your bright
hands in the flame’s half-light;
flavour of oak, roses
and death.

Ancient winter.

The birds seeking the grain
were suddenly snow.

So words:
a little sun; a haloed glory,
then mist; and the trees
and us, air, in the morning.

Salvatore Quasimodo; from Selected Poems, translated from the Italian by Jack Bevan


Fire Graffiti

Throughout those dismal months my life was only sparked alight
            when I made love to you.
As the firefly ignites and fades, ignites and fades, we follow the flashes
of its flight in the dark among the olive trees.

Throughout those dismal months, my soul sat slumped and lifeless
but my body walked to yours.
The night sky was lowing.
We milked the cosmos secretly, and survived.

Tomas Tranströmer; from The Deleted World, translated from the Swedish by Robin Robertson

Photo by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash

Sujit Prasad

Sujit Prasad is a poet, translator, editor, and lawyer. He likes to travel and is based out of Dehradun, Delhi, Patna, and Kolkata. All the travelling has of late compelled him into reconsidering his likes.