02 December 2013

Poem of the Week 2013/49

Two poems by twentieth-century Polish poet Anna Swir:

The Greatest Love

She is sixty. She lives
the greatest love of her life.

She walks arm-in-arm with her dear one,
her hair streams in the wind.
Her dear one says:
"You have hair like pearls."

Her children say:
"Old fool."

Anna Swir, translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan


I Am Running on the Beach

I am running on the beach.
People puzzled.
– A gray-haired hag and she runs.

I am running on the beach
with an insolent look.
People laugh.
– Grey-haired and insolent.
They like that.

Anna Swir, translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan

I should probably point out that juxtaposing these two poems is my idea, not the poet's and not the translators'. I liked that both deal with the same basic subject – an old woman finding pleasure in her current life – and end with such different reactions. The poet is clearly conscious of her audience and gives their reactions the last word in each poem. Yet you don't feel that the reaction in either case matters all that much to her; she is not abashed by her children who think she's an old fool, or encouraged to play up her insolence for the further amusement of the people on the beach. She is not only an active participant in her life, but a disinterested observer of it – was she always like this? or is this an effect of aging? (Most of her poems about flesh and eroticism were written when she was an old woman, according to Milosz's introduction to Talking to My Body, from which I took these poems.) In her short, concentrated poems, simple in language but not implication, she often writes of her body as if it were a long-time, much-loved pet: she is affectionately aware of all its moods and ways, yet there seems a gap, however slight, between her consciousness and it.


Sibyl said...

Love these, and now I have a new poet to look for, also. COOL! Thanks so much. I hope you had a lovely holiday, even if bittersweet was the best that could be hoped for: "Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion." (I hate that I feel compelled to watch Steel Magnolias any time I find it on. Try not to judge me harshly.)

Unknown said...

"...yet there seems a gap, however slight, between her consciousness and it." So true for so many people, I think.
On another, or perhaps related note, I'm puzzled by "She lives the greatest love of her life."

Patrick J. Vaz said...

I'll have to respond to these comments later, I'm afraid.

A comment sent via e-mail by TVG:

I LOVE today's poems. I love HER. I first read them and didn't think too much, then I read your explanation and then it hit me……these are GREAT. I want to be her.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

V, TVG had some interesting thoughts on that phrase, which I will try to find in her e-mail to me -- they were similar to what I would have said. I think the main implication there is that the greatest love of her life is on-going, not something in the past.

Sibyl, Thanks, I did have a good Thanksgiving, and I hope you did too. I actually am much less judgmental than people sometimes think I am, and have no problem at all with people loving Steel Magnolias. I sometimes claim I have no guilty pleasures (at least aesthetically) because if you enjoy something and it means something to you, then there's nothing to be ashamed of. No judgment here!