Monday, July 4, 2011

Reality demands

(by Wislawa Syzmborska. Translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak)

Reality demands
that we also mention this:
Life goes on.
It continues at Cannae and Borodino,
at Kosovo Poije and Guernica.

There's a gas station
on a little square in Jericho,
and wet paint
on park benches in Bila Hora.
Letters fly back and forth
between Pearl Harbor and Hastings,
a moving van passes
beneath the eye of the lion at Cheronea,
and the blooming orchards near Verdun
cannot escape
the approaching atmospheric front.

There is so much Everything
that Nothing is hidden quite nicely.
Music pours
from the yachts moored at Actium
and couples dance on their sunlit decks.

So much is always going on,
that it must be going on all over.
Where not a stone still stands,
you see the Ice Cream Man
besieged by children.

Where Hiroshima had been
Hiroshima is again,
producing many products
for everyday use.

This terrifying world is not devoid of charms,
of the mornings
that make waking up worthwhile.

The grass is green
on Maciejowice's fields,
and it is studded with dew,
as is normal with grass.

Perhaps all fields are battlefields,
those we remember
and those that are forgotten:
the birch forests and the cedar forests,
the snow and the sand, the iridescent swamps
and the canyons of black defeat,
where now, when the need strikes, you don't cower
under a bush but squat behind it.

What moral flows from this? Probably none.
Only the blood flows, drying quickly,
and, as always, a few rivers, a few clouds.
On tragic mountain passes
the wind rips hats from unwitting heads
and we can't help
laughing at that.

Notes for the poem:

Cannae: an ancient village in Italy, the setting of the crushing defeat suffered by the Romans at the hand of Hannibal in 216 B.C.

Borodino: a village seventy miles west of Moscow, saw major conflict between the French army under Napoleon and the Russian army under General Kutuzov on September 7, 1812. The battle is chiefly remembered for the heavy casualties suffered on both sides.

Kosovo Polje: is infamous for the battle fought there on June 5, 1389, between Serbia and the Ottoman Empire that resulted in the collapse of Serbia.

Guernica: a small city in the Basque region of Spain, was subjected to a massive aerial bombing attack by the German air force, aided by Italy and Spain's national Fascist party, on April 26, 1937, at the height of the Spanish Civil War.

Jericho, located on the bank of the West Bank of the Jordan river, was the first Canaanite city to be attacked by the Israelites according to the account given in Joshua I:I-6:27.

Bilá Hora, near Prague, was the site of the Bohemian defeat at the hands of the Habsburgs on November 8, 1620.

Pearl Harbor was a United States naval base attacked without warning by the Japanese air force on December 7, 1941.

Hastings, sixty-two miles southeast of London, is famed as the setting for the victory of Norman invaders led by William the Conqueror over English forces serving King Harold on October 14, 1066.

Chaeronea, an ancient town in central Greece, was the site of the victory of Philip II of Macedon over a confederation of Greek states in 338 B.C.

Verdon, a garrison town in northeastern France, was reduced to ruins during its historic resistance to German forces in a series of World War I battles that ended in French victory during August 1917.

Actium was the scene of the decisive naval victory of Octavian over Mark Antony and Cleopatra on September 2, 31 B.C

Hiroshima is the Japanese city on which the United States dropped the first atomic bomb ever used in warfare on August 6, 1945.

Maciejowice is a village near Garwlolin, Poland, where on October 10, 1794, Polish forces under Tadeusz Kosciuszko were defeated by the Russian army under General Fersen.

1 comment:

bpraveen said...

"With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world." - Desiderata, Max Ehrmann