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Poetry that Touched Me

June 9, 2019

Hey loves!

 

I have a few poems saved in a folder in the cloud so I can revisit them whenever I feel like it. Poems that make it to that folder are poems that have moved me in some way or another. I first started reading poetry in my German classes in high school and I did not really like it. Poets were telling the truth in riddles and hid behind metaphors and I had a hard time understanding them. But my teacher made it feel like a treasure hunt that could only be solved by going through every line with utmost care and figuring out what each clue means. And then I started to love it. I still find it fascinating to sit down with a great poem and read it over and over again and scribbling notes on the side until I have decided what I believe the poem to mean. Reading poetry can be an incredible experience if you truly engage with it and I wanted to share a few poems from my folder and how I feel about them with you all here:

 

Please note that the first poem was originally written in German, but you can find a translation under the original text.

 

Vergänglichkeit der Schönheit von Christian Hoffman von Hoffmannswaldau 

 

Es wird der bleiche Tod mit seiner kalten Hand

Dir endlich mit der Zeit um deine Brüste streichen

Der liebliche Corall der Lippen wird verbleichen;

Der Schultern warmer Schnee wird werden kalter Sand

 

Der Augen süsser Blitz, die Kräffte deiner Hand

Für welchen solches fällt, die werden zeitlich weichen

Das haar, das itzund kan des Goldes Glantz erreichen

Tilget endlich tag und jahr als ein gemeines band.

 

Der wohlgesetzte Fuss, die lieblichen Gebärden

Die werden theils zu Staub, theils nichts und nichtig werden

Denn opfert keiner mehr der Gottheit deiner pracht.

 

Diß und noch mehr als diß muß endlich untergehen

Dein Hertze kan allein zu aller Zeit bestehen

Dieweil es die Natur aus Diamant gemacht.

 

The Transience of Beauty by Christian Hoffman von Hoffmannswaldau (*translated by DK Fennell)

 

Some day anemic Death with clammy, frigid hand

At last, when time is ripe, against your breast will brush, 

And pale will be your lips that now with coral blush;

Your shoulders’ balmy snow will turn to freezing sand.

 

Sweet glimmer of your eyes, the vigor of your hand,

Before such mortal things that bow to him, decline.

Your hair at present rivals even gold in shine

But final time will render it a worthless band.

 

That well-turned little foot, your elegance of style

These will become in part just dust, the rest but void;

No more will any man revere you as sublime.

 

Yet this and even more than this at last will end.

Your heart alone is able to outlive this fate,

For Nature cut a diamond made to last all time.

 

I still remember how my entire German class read the poem for the first time and concluded after the first read that this was a love poem. Like my classmates, I thought that the storyteller was complimenting the woman addressed in the poem and reassuring her that she will be fine even when her beauty fades (and even after death) due to her wonderful heart. After analysing the poem for 45 minutes with our teacher, we arrived at a very different conclusion. 

 

Although the idea of having a diamond heart may sound like a compliment since diamonds are worth a lot and they are generally considered to be beautiful, it can also be an insult. Diamond is the hardest natural material, making the final line sound more like the storyteller is telling the woman that she has a heart of stone and that is all she will be left with once her currently gorgeous looks fade. Yeah, poetry can be rather dark sometimes. I learned about this poem in eighth grade, but I still remember it because of this huge change in interpretation. It was the first time that I saw how much of a difference engaging with a poem for a while can make for your understanding of the poem.

 

Well Wishes by Lang Leav

 

My love, are you well,

past the sea and the swell,

out in the world, where danger is fraught.

 

Amidst the doom and the gloom,

and the hospital rooms,

where hearts can be bartered and bought.

 

There are words to betray

and things that we say,

can sometimes be snappy and short.

 

Where the strangers we meet,

take us down one way streets,

and forgetting is something we’re taught.

 

Where earthquakes will reign,

between terror and planes—

and colds are so easily caught.

 

I keep hard copies of Lang Leav’s poetry collections Love & Misadventure and Lullabies in a box next to my bed. Whenever I want to read a little bit before going to bed, I read in those books. I have probably read through them over a hundred times at this point, but her poetry still paints pictures in my mind whenever I read it. I also realised that my interpretations of the poems have changed over the years and I love seeing this evolvement by looking at my old scribbled notes and adding new ones to them. I do not have a particular favourite poem from her, but I would highly recommend her books since they contain some of the most beautiful poetry I have ever read!

 

"No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land" - A Poem about Seeking Asylum by Michael Wilson (originally published *here

 

no one leaves home unless

home is the mouth of a shark

you only run for the border

when you see the whole city running as well

 

your neighbours running faster than you 

breath bloody in their throats

the boy you went to school with

who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory

is holding a gun bigger than his body

you only leave home

when home won't let you stay.

 

no one leaves home unless home chases you 

fire under feet

hot blood in your belly

it's not something you ever thought of doing 

until the blade burnt threats into

your neck

and even then you carried the anthem under 

your breath

only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets 

sobbing as each mouthful of paper

made it clear that you wouldn't be going back.

 

you have to understand,

that no one puts their children in a boat 

unless the water is safer than the land

no one burns their palms

under trains

beneath carriages

no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck 

feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled

means something more than journey. 

no one crawls under fences

no one wants to be beaten

pitied

 

no one chooses refugee camps 

or strip searches where your 

body is left aching

or prison,

because prison is safer 

than a city of fire

and one prison guard 

in the night

is better than a truckload

of men who look like your father

no one could take it

no one could stomach it

no one skin would be tough enough

 

the

go home blacks

refugees

dirty immigrants

asylum seekers

sucking our country dry

niggers with their hands out

they smell strange

savage

messed up their country and now they want 

to mess ours up

how do the words

the dirty looks

roll off your backs

maybe because the blow is softer

than a limb torn off

 

or the words are more tender 

than fourteen men between 

your legs

or the insults are easier

to swallow

than rubble

than bone

than your child body 

in pieces.

i want to go home,

but home is the mouth of a shark 

home is the barrel of the gun

and no one would leave home

unless home chased you to the shore 

unless home told you

to quicken your legs

leave your clothes behind

crawl through the desert

wade through the oceans

drown

save

be hunger

beg

forget pride

your survival is more important

 

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear 

saying-

leave,

run away from me now

i dont know what i've become 

but i know that anywhere

is safer than here.

 

This poem still gives me chills and paints some horrific images in my mind. I read this poem at a time when the refugee crisis was front-page news for almost any German newspaper and the poem really helped me to emphasise more with people seeking asylum in my country. I of course knew that they must have been through terrible experiences, but most newspapers spare you with details and that makes it much harder to understand their situation just a little bit better. This poem has managed to give me a little bit of an insight into their lives and I still find it one of the most powerful poems I have ever read. 

 

The next poem is an excerpt from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Book of Pilgrimage of his Book of Hours. The German version is longer than the English translation because I could only find a partial translation of the German poem. I decided to nonetheless share the longer version here for my German readers because the poem is incredibly beautiful in its entire length!

 

Auszug aus dem Buch der Pilgerschaft aus dem Stunden-Buch von Rainer Maria Rilke

 

Gerüchte gehn, die dich vermuten,

und Zweifel gehn, die dich verwischen.

Die Trägen und die Träumerischen

mißtrauen ihren eignen Gluten

und wollen, daß die Berge bluten,

denn eher glauben sie dich nicht.

Du aber senkst dein Angesicht. 

 

Du könntest den Bergen die Adern aufschneiden

als Zeichen eines großen Gerichts;

aber dir liegt nichts

an den Heiden.

 

Du willst nicht streiten mit allen Listen

und nicht suchen die Liebe des Lichts;

denn dir liegt nichts 

an den Christen.

 

Dir liegt an den Fragenden nichts.

Sanften Gesichts 

siehst du den Tragenden zu.

 

Alle, welche dich suchen, versuchen dich. 

Und die, so dich finden, binden dich

an Bild und Gebärde.

 

Ich aber will dich begreifen 

wie dich die Erde begreift;

mit meinem Reifen 

reift

dein Reich.

 

Ich will von dir keine Eitelkeit,

die dich beweist. 

 

Ich weiß, daß die Zeit

anders heißt

als du.

 

Excerpt from the Book of Pilgrimage from the Book of Hours by Rainer Maria Rilke (translation taken from *this book)

 

All who seek you

test you.

And those who find you

bind you to image and gesture.

 

I would rather sense you

as the earth senses you.

In my ripening 

ripens

what you are.

 

I need from you no tricks

to prove you exist. 

 

Time, I know,

is other than you.

 

Rilke’s book of hours is described as love poems to God and reading it as an atheist was an interesting experience. I went to religion classes in high school and I engaged quite a bit with the christian faith, but I ultimately decided that I agreed more with atheism than christianity. But I nonetheless love Rilke’s poems and how he engages with religion. To me, religion is unconditional faith in something and I find it impressive when people are able to give such unconditional faith to the ideas of their religion, even if they can never expect to see any proof for their beliefs. Rilke’s poems allow me to explore religion through poetry and understand a little bit better what people who are religious see in religion. If you are an atheist and you have an interest in religion, I would highly recommend Rilke’s Book of Hours to you. 

 

Variation On The Word Sleep by Margaret Atwood

 

I would like to watch you sleeping,

which may not happen.

I would like to watch you,

sleeping. I would like to sleep 

with you, to enter

your sleep as its smooth dark wave

slides over my head

 

and walk with you through that Lucent

wavering forest of bluegreen leaves

with its watery sun & three moons

towards the cave where you must descend,

towards your worst fear

 

I would like to give you the silver

branch, the small white flower, the one

word that will protect you

from the grief at the centre

of your dream, from the grief

at the centre I would like to follow

you up the long stairway

again & become

the boat that would row you back

carefully, a flame

in two cupped hands

to where your body lies

beside me, and as you enter

it as easily as breathing in

 

I would like to be the air

that inhabits you for a moments

only. I would like to be that unnoticed

& that necessary. 

 

This intimate and somewhat intrusive poem made me write down small notes about different lines of the poem for over an hour. I was fascinated by the storyteller’s desire to enter their partner’s dreamworld and how the storyteller wants to understand what is going on in their partner’s mind. I also feel like reading the poem out loud gives it a soothing and peaceful rhythm, re-enforcing the idea of dreams. I was so fascinated by the couple that I ended up printing the poem with some blue watercolour flowers and framing it to put it up next to my bed. I love going over the descriptions of the dreamworld and hearing about the storyteller’s wish to really understand her partner. 

 

All the poems I shared in this article are poems that have touched me in some way and I hope that you guys enjoyed them as much as I do! If you know a great poem, you can share it with me here. 

 

Lots of Love,

 

Elena

 

P.S.: You can find my favourite books here

 

*Links marked with * are affiliate links. If you use these links to buy a product, I get a small commission. The product’s price does not increase for you. It is of course your choice where you buy your products, but it would mean a lot if you would support my blog by using my affiliate links.

 

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