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Susan Ye Laird, poetry magazine, poetry translations
     with S. Ye Laird

In this September issue, we present a few American civil war era poems by novelist Herman Merville. Our aim is to solicit interest in translating them into 'other' tongues.  There will be a prize and judges set up for this 'game of throne'... so stay tuned!  Apart from that 'prize', we again present  poems of Agi Mishol from Hebrew by Lisa Katz & Vivian Eden independently.

We are delighted to feature the first English translation of 'To the slanderers of Art' by Russian Poet Kluyev, translated by Prof. Donald Mager.

From "Selected Poems of Herman Melville"

edited by Hennig Cohen (2nd printing 1992) FORDHAM UNIV. PRESS



An idealized Portrait, by E. Vedder,

in the Spring Exhibition of the National Academy, 1865

The sufferance of her race is shown,

   And retrospect of life,

Which now too late deliverance dawns upon;

   Yet is she not at strife.

Her children's children they shall know

   The good withheld from her;

And so her reverie takes prophetic cheer --

    In spirit she sees the stir

Far down the depth of thousand years,

    And marks the revel shine;

Her dusky face is lit with sober light,

   Sibylline, yet benign.


Children of my happier prime,

When One yet lived with me, and threw

Her rainbow over life and time,

Even Hope, my bride, and mother to you;

O, nurtured in sweet pastoral air,

And fed on flowers and light, and dew

Of morning meadows -spare, Ah, spare

Reproach; spare, and upbraid me not

That, yielding scarce to reckless mood

But jealous of your future lot,

I sealed you in a fate subdued.

Have I not saved you from the drear

Theft and ignoring which need be

The triumph of the insincere

Unanimous Mediocrity?

Rest therefore, free from all despite,

Snugged in the arms of comfortable night.


( By a timid one)

In La Mancha he mopeth

   With beard thin and dusty;

He doteth and mopeth

   In library fusty --

'Mong his old folios gropeth:

   Cites obsolete saws

   Of chivalry's laws --

   Be the wronged one's knight:

   Die, but do right.

So he rusts and musts,

While each grocer green

 Thriveth apace with the fulsome face

Of a fool serene.


(November, 1861)

In time and measure perfect moves

    All Art whose aim is sure;

Evolving rhyme and stars divine

   Have rules, and they endure.

Nor less the Fleet that warred for Right,

   And, warring so, prevailed,

In geometric beauty curved,

   And in an orbit sailed.

The revel at Port Royal felt,

    The Unity overawe,

And rued and spell. A type was here,

    And victory of LAW.

An excerpt from 'A Postscript' by Hennig Cohen, Swarthmore, Pennsylvannia February 1, 1991:  

" The original edition of Selected Poems of Herman Melville was put to press a generation ago. Since then the study of Melville and his writing has continued unabated, that of his verse included. Once looked upon as a curiosity, his poems appear routinely in the anthologies, and although he is not Walt Whitman or Emily Dickinson his place among the American poets of the nineteenth century is secure. Yet, for all of its attraction, his poetic achievement is not what primarily draws us to him. In this respect he is like his contemporaries, Emerson and Poe. We read their verse, and Melville's, within the contexts of their works as a whole. But when we read Melville's poetry, we find ourselves impressed by the space it occupies in his corpus- he published four volumes before his death and left much else behind - and by the space he gave it in his creative life. And although a number of his poems are trivial and flawed, a few are, within the scope of their intention, as flawless as anything he ever wrote."   

A few of my personal favorites:  " On The Slain Collegians" , "After the Pleasure Party" and  "The Martyr 

Call Me Ishmael's Apprentice

Also now, a dose of Poetic Reflections on MOBY DICK by Eileen Valentino Flaxman of California. We plan to feature more of her poetry on our coming issues.

A well-meaning friend once offered this quote:

Publishing a volume of verse
is like tossing a feather
into the Grand Canyon
and waiting for the echo.

Though it’s hardly a flimsy thing I’m offering. Words have weight.

In the very writing lies immense satisfaction, if not sound. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the very thought of you, dear visitor, finding meaning herein, brings me joy. And that’s enough.

P.S. MOBY DICK was not received enthusiastically when first published. Critics called it a “rhapsody run mad” and “an intellectual chowder of romance, philosophy, natural history, fine writing, good feeling, bad sayings …” You get the idea.

Red Hail

Translated by Lisa Katz

What's the rush?

Why are you clutching the gearshift?

Why are you hoarding mineral water?

What's this longing

for the wings of a dove

to fly away to the wilderness?

In this muscular and mustached time

find yourself a hiding place

in the Holy Tongue

squeeze yourself into the bookshelves 

crouch in the crannies of punctuation marks

live within prepositions

enter the belly of the letter "B"

so your language won't get confused

curl up like a snail inside the letter "S"

inside a "P"

 force yourself into the periods

and from the shelter of the letter "D"

send the periscope of an "L" to check

whether the missiles are receding.

Nothing bad will happen to you

if you stick to the lines.

Absorbed in the letters

thou shall not want.

* Red Hail  the title refers to the code word which would have been used to warn Israeli citizens of missile attacks had Saddam Hussein used them during the second gulf War in 2003. In the first Gulf War, in 1991, the code word "Viper" was broadcast on Israeli radio and television when such attacks took place.

To the Muses

Translated by Lisa Katz

Forgive me, O eternal ones,

for disturbing you with our history

repeating itself

exactly the way the smart wildflowers return,

and the purple loosestrife spreads over my lawn,

but suddenly it's hard to be gratified by beauty

whose entire aim is itself.

Heavenly ones, floating among gauze scarves,

ivory combs in your golden hair,

what do you have in common with the old women  

        in the Kandahar hills

gathering crab grass to feed the swollen-bellied children.

or the women bending over the rubble in Rafah

like poisonous black mushrooms rising from the ruins.

How well I know the language of your wildflowers

I won't trouble you to sneak away with me

in the middle of the night

to pet laboratory monkeys,

or plant compassion in the heart of the farmer

burning the horns off a calf's skull.

But don't turn my eyes today

toward the pink edge of the cloud castle,

don't signal the triumph of eternity

in the birds' V.

Agi Mishol, Look There, translated by Lisa Katz

Lisa Katz is a poet, translator, and scholar. She teaches at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel.

By Nikolai Alekseevich Klyuev

Translated by Prof. Donald Mager,  original Russian text

Furious, I rebuke you in sorrow.
For ten years, you did not allow[1,2]

The horse of poetry, with its bridle
Of diamonds, its hooves of gold, saddle
Hand-stitched in harmony, one single fist of oats, Nor,
drunk with meadow dew, did you let
It go free to refresh the swan‟s gimpy wing!

Wolf bite, the rack, nor the mines could bring
More betrayal, torture and deceit
To the Russian Pegasus in its stone pit
While stabs of pain caught in its mane
Sapped its blood like drought saps grain
So that it can’t ripen and grow gold To
wed the yearned for common good.

From the harvest barn where Pushkin—Koltsov—[3]
Esenin were crowned with cornflower wreathes,
You schemed to soften your divorce
From that spirited steed with sprouts of verse
Fresh from newly plowed furrows,
As excessive as stars casting magic echoes Across
the basin of a lake like flies.


Ripples lapped strings and swarmed prophesies.

But still on ardent hooves, shod
Deliberately in gold,
He nips a nap in his stone quarries,
Sails over the Kama River, whinnies
Past Kolomna, on to the Baltic shore! . . [4]
Do verses, fed on oats, yet shine as clear
As when a nightingale’s song is heard,
Ablaze like Klyuev‟s beard[5],

Where almost defeated he guards
The cave of the Sirens‟ hoards,
Like beryls—like sapphires? . .


And from the plowed furrows of Tver[6]

With mice in its antique forests,
Has Klychkov[7]
unraveled remnants
Of verses—freshly budded firs,
And paid out the dawn in his eyes
With bones that death had picked over,
The ravens’ grit—their black laughter!?

Akhmatova—a jasmine bush,
Scorched by asphalt and gray pitch—
Is she lost on the path through the dark pits Where
Dante passed and the air was parched,
Or is she a nymph spinning flax into crystals?
Among Russian women, remote and subtle Anna
is a cloud at sunset who shimmers
Streaks of gray light on the crack-willow trees!
Sheaves of wormwood bowing on the steppes,
Half-Cossack, half-centaur,
In whose songs abusive kettle drums roar,
Silks of Baghdad, pearls in heaps,
Joyfully—he washed in the Irtysh.[8]

And orders pikes with a vodka-beer mix For
friends and self, —and in the truth of song
Causes them to flourish where poetry belongs.
Not for you, great-grandson of Ermak! [9]
For the pine forest centaur pounding back
Across the steppes and fields of rye,
I opened wide the sturgeon’s gills, A guest
from my underwater cell, And drank my
fill of a schismatic’s potion.
The narwhale’s legendary home, And
through broad wormwood gullies, His
hooves, his mane, glows!


As the pearl-frothing whale and sturgeon foretold!
I am angry at you, you nasal ravens
Who are neither reed-pipes nor echoing pines
Nor a youth in rivulets of curled hair[10]

Incapable of singing lullabies in crimson October
When the maple leaves like scraps afire
Rush from the wooded cliffs in a cimbalom choir,
And the wind-horse soars with saddle-cloth of rain

To the high crag, rearing up without burden,
His lightening hooves stamping out fires,
Striking downwards until the eagle cries,
Whinnying over precipices, mane flowing free.
But I detain you, in truth you are no beauty!
That proud banner in the splashing of the dawn,
Stands like spreading wings lit by song,
Contractions of nettles, interjections of tall weeds,
But I am not at the feast of the century
And my melodic beard falls thunderous, — Basaltic
avalanche—an artist’s tears
Like the lilies of the fields of Jericho! . .


For you I shudder—pathetic ravens, you
With your sulfurous lack-lyric verses
On lifeless paper copies in churchyards
For the hedgehogs, locusts and snails! . .
Beyond your humdrum life a lion snarls,

And beyond unwelcome gray hairs of mine [11]
push away the charging swans.


All is to the East, through saffron,[12]
Honey-gold and mussel-flecked rose-coral,
Spreading across the Russian willows,
With Corinthian harps ringing,
And from the Pechenegs to Bishkek[13]
Everywhere songs are flowering,
The marvelous horse is grazing,
Feeding on ripening berries,
He smiles a grassy smile before the gate,
Himself plunged in a swamp of daydreams, And
from the depth of his heart a new day rings
Resoundingly like bees in spring.


In grass Anatol the magician
Stands, —but my poems, flowers of fate,
Are patterned like a Hindu carpet
Woven from twine and coarse jute,
Repetitious with arabesques—ad nauseam!
But hark! The furious steed whinnies
Like glorious breakers surging towards dunes,
A trumpet of triumph, a vast organ, A Titan
calling the young to celebration!




1 When Klyuev wrote this poem in 1932, Akhmatova’s last published book was Anno Domini MCMXXI in 1922. In 1925 she was banned from publishing. By 1932 she was widely rumored (slandered) to have stopped writing, either in acknowledgement of Soviet criticism of her alleged decadence, in fear, or due to an inability to write. She was even rumored to be dead. The truth, however, was that she continued to write poems, make translations and pursue her series of essays on Pushkin, which she began in (?)

2. Kleyuev‟s poem addresses the slanderers of poetry, the ravens who represent Bolshevik ideologues, and her silence is cited as one example of how destructive their impact was to the great Russian poetic tradition—  the Pegasus-horse of poetry.

3. Aleksandr Pushkin (1799-1837) is Russia’s most revered poet, killed in a duel. Aleksey Vasilyevich Koltsov (1809-1842) was a 19th century peasant poet who emulated Pushkin‟s style. Sergei Aleksandrovicrh Esenin (1895-1925), one of Russia’s most popular 20th century poets, was Klyuev‟s friend and who later married the American dancer Isadora Duncan in 1922 and initially was lionized by the Bolsheviks; he hung himself in a Leningrad hotel in 1925. He was then denounced as a hooligan and banned from further publication. One of Klyuev’s major poemas is Lament For Sergei Esenin.


4 The Kama is largest tributary of the Volga into which it flows below city of Kazan. Kolomna is a city southeast of Moscow. Pushkin spent his exile at Kolomna.


5 Photographs of Klyuev show a long peasant-style beard.


6 Tver is north of Moscow and lies at the confluence of the Volga and Tvertsa Rivers.

7 Sergei Klychkov (1889-1940) was a poet associated with the peasant poets’ movement along with Esenin and Klyuev. He and Esenin joined a group of proletarian writers, shared an apartment and briefly collaborated on joint poems at the time of the Revolution. He was arrested and disappeared in 1940.


8 The Irtysh starts in the Altey Mountains of central Asia and runs north through Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia, then into the Ob River in Siberia

9 Ermak is a town on the Irthysh River. It’s not clear whether the horse or Klyuev the speaker is thus descended from the Asiatic region of Russia—the East.

10 Until denounced as a hooligan, Esenin was lionized by the Soviet as media; idolized for his blond curls and boyish look. “Crimson October,” “maple leaves afire” and “Cimbalom choir” recall his lyric imagery.

11 Клюев, Николай Алексеевич. Сердце Единорога: Стихотвореиого и Поэмы. СанктПетербург: Издательство Русского Христианского Гуманитарного Института, 1999. [Klyuev, Nikolai Alekseevich. The Narwhale’s Heart: Verses and Poemy. St. Petersburg: The Publishing House of the Russian Christian Humanitarian Institute, 1999.] 

12 In poems going back to Pushkin and including Akhmatova, swans are frequently associated with Tsarskoe Selo, the Tsar’s palace city outside Petersburg. A long struggle in Russian intellectual and cultural debates persisted between those who looked to the West (Europe) and saw Russia as integral to European civilization, and those who looked to the East (the Slavophils) who saw Russia’s essence in Slavic, Asiatic and Tartar traditions. Klyuev’s celebration of Siberian peasant culture saw the entire peasant movement as a look to the East. 


13 Unable to identify the Russian name Бийска, I have chosen the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek, in Central Asia because the name is close in sound and is appropriate to the context. The Pechenegs emerged in historical records only in the 8th and 9th centuries, inhabiting the region between the lower Volga and Don Rivers and the Ural Mountains. By the 9th and 10th centuries, they controlled much of the steppes of southwestern Eurasia and the Crimean Peninsula. Although an important force in the region at the time, like many nomadic tribes they failed to create a centralized state and were eventually absorbed into the various Mongol, Crimean and Turkic khanates. Pecheneg burial sites were excavated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

14 See footnote 7. Where Sergei Klychkov, her husband, was at this time is not clear. 

More  commentary by Dr. Don Mager see  Better Than Fiction  


Translated by Vivian Eden


It was only the rat’s tail
A long dead tail
That the cats left on the WELCOME
At the entrance.
Now they are basking in the sun
Licking the paw
They pass
Across their face
Very proud of the offering
They laid at my door.
I pick up the tail
That will never wag again
Wrap it in paper
And thank them profusely.
Only inside the house
So as not to offend
I bury it slowly
In the pail.

My Dog Libby

Translated by Vivian Eden


The old dog has already forgotten who she is.
Can’t hear, can’t see, only her nose
twitches after the tail of a scent.
She stands in the middle of space
like a stone, a tree
a fence − can’t hear, can’t see
her legs already buckling but
she forgets to sit.
“Circling,” says the vet − aimlessly, round and round,
demented like humans
he explains.
The switch of her life is under my finger
but I’m not sure whether she’s suffering
or I am.
So I just caress her head
and go visit the woman whose life switch is under someone else’s finger.

Agi Mishol, was born in 1947 in Hungary to Holocaust survivors and grew up in Israel. She is the author of twelve books of poetry, and the winner of numerous national awards including Yehuda Amichai Poetry Prize, in 2002.

Vivian Eden holds a doctorate in comparative literature with a specialty in translation from the University of Iowa, is on the staff of the Haaretz English Edition, a joint venture of the International Herald Tribune and Haaretz, a daily newspaper in Hebrew. Her poetry, translations, stories, reviews, columns and articles have been published in the United States, Israel, Britain, Germany and elsewhere. Among her full-length prose translations are "Arabesques" by Anton Shammas (Harper & Row, 1988) and "Bethlehem Road Murder" by Batya Gur (HarperCollins, 2004). An interview of our Poet Agi Mishol appeared at this link

"Offering" & "My Dog Libby" were published on Haaretz English Edition 

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