Four Poems on Death


I'm going to tell You something that is true

And won't take more than two words to explain -

I'll lie beneath the earth still loving You

And with Your kindness I shall rise again.


If I've been dead for twenty years or so

And you, believing the love gone long ago,

Should stir my dust and say "Whose grave is this?"

"How is my love?" will echo from below.


His absence is the knife that cuts your throat? 

Let no one glimpse the blood-stains on your coat;

Weep, but in weeping let no listener hear; 

Burn, but in burning let no smoke appear.


For men and women soon the day draws near

When dreading Judgement they'll grow pale with fear;

Bravely I'll show your beauty then and say

"I Must be judged on this, my life is here." 

- Abu Sa'id Abul Khayr, transl. by Dick Davis

Love Poem

The rain whistled.


A taxi brought me to your apartment building

And there I stood.


I had dreamed a dream

Of us in a bedroom.

The light shining upon us in white sheets.


You were singing me a song of your sailing days

And in the dream

I reached deep in you and pulled out a cardinal

Which in bright red

Flew out the window.


Sometimes when we talk

On the phone, I think to myself

That the deep perfect of your soul

Is what draws me to you.

But still what soul is perfect?

All souls are misshapen and off-colored.

Morning comes within a soul

And makes it obey another law

In which all souls are snowflakes.


Once at a funeral, a man had died

And with the prayers said, his soul flew up in a hurry

Like it had been let out of something awful.

It was strangely colored, that soul.

And it was a funny shape and a funny temperature.

As it blew away, all of us looking felt the cold.




I have reached, alas, the long shadow
and short day of whitening hills
when color is lost in the grass.
My longing, all the same, keeps green
it is so hooked in the hard stone
that speaks and hears like a woman.

In that same way this new woman
stands as cold as snow in shadow,
less touched than if she had been stone
by the sweet time that warms the hills
and brings them back from white to green,
dressing them in flowers and grass.

Who, when she wreathes her hair with grass,
thinks of any other woman?
The golden waves so mix with green
that Love himself seeks its shadow
that has me fixed between small hills
more strongly than cemented stone.

More potent than a precious stone,
her beauty wounds, and healing grass
cannot help; across plains and hills
I fled this radiant woman.
From her light I found no shadow
of mountain, wall, or living green.

I have seen her pass, dressed in green,
and thought the sight would make a stone
love, as I, even her shadow.
And I have walked with her on grass,
speaking like a lovesick woman,
enclosed within the highest hills.

But streams will flow back to their hills
before this branch, sappy and green,
catches fire (as does a woman)
from me, who would bed down on stone
and gladly for his food crop grass
just to see her gown cast shadow.

The heavy shadow cast by hills
this woman's light can change to green,
as one might hide a stone in grass.

- Dante Alighieri, transl. by James Schuyler


Because of you, in gardens of blossoming flowers I ache from the

perfumes of spring.

   I have forgotten your face, I no longer remember your hands;

how did your lips feel on mine?

   Because of you, I love the white statues drowsing in the parks,

the white statues that have neither voice nor sight.

   I have forgotten your voice, your happy voice; I have forgotten

your eyes.

   Like a flower to its perfume, I am bound to my vague memory of

you. I live with pain that is like a wound; if you touch me, you will

do me irreparable harm.

   Your caresses enfold me, like climbing vines on melancholy walls.

   I have forgotten your love, yet I seem to glimpse you in every


   Because of you, the heady perfumes of summer pain me; because

of you, I again seek out the signs that precipitate desires: shooting

stars, falling objects.


"Love" - Pablo Neruda, transl. by Margaret Sayers Peden

Before You Came

Before you came things were just what they were:
the road precisely a road, the horizon fixed,
the limit of what could be seen,
a glass of wine was no more than a glass of wine.

With you the world took on the spectrum
radiating from my heart: your eyes gold
as they open to me, slate the color
that falls each time I lost all hope.

With your advent roses burst into flame:
you were the artist of dried-up leaves, sorceress
who flicked her wrist to change dust into soot.
You lacquered the night black.

As for the sky, the road, the cup of wine:
one was my tear-drenched shirt,
the other an aching nerve,
the third a mirror that never reflected the same thing.

Now you are here again—stay with me.
This time things will fall into place;
the road can be the road,
the sky nothing but sky;
the glass of wine, as it should be, the glass of wine.

"Before You Came" - Faiz Ahmed Faiz (transl. by Naomi Lazard)