About the Author

From the book Kliazma and Yauza
From the book The Wild Rose
From the book Tristan and Isolde
From the book Old Songs
From the book Gates. Windows. Arches
From the book Stanzas in the Manner of Alexander Pope
From the book Stellae and Inscriptions
From the book The Iambic Verses  
The Chinese Travelogue
From An Unfinished Book
From the book The Evening Song
From the book Elegies
From the book The Beginning of a Book
From the book The Iambic Verses
Fifth Stanzas
De arte poetica

A great thing is a refuge for herself,
a broad deep pond or Trappist’s far-off cell,
a mythic fish that swims the hidden depths,
a righteous man, reading his Book of Hours
concerning the day that has no evening;
a vessel holding her own beauty in.


And as the ocean swims inside a shell –
a valve in the heart of time, a trap as well,
walking on velvet paws, a marvel in a bag,
a treasure hidden in a sleeping draught,
so in my mind, inside this creaking house,
she goes, and holds her magic lantern up...


But tell me, don’t you think the verse above
is crammed too full? All right, it’s well enough
for one who feels the pull, outside his dreams,
of images aslant with silvery gleams,
carrying us on pointed fins to where
we and all we have known are dust, no more.


The light (for let me note in brackets this)
is something we could call a mystery,
speaking at will of God knows what,
whilst speech, like a sunbeam’s dancing motes,
spins slowly as the eddied fragments spin,
but means – the transparency of things.


A great thing is a refuge for herself,
a place where beasts can leap and the birds peck
music for food. But panting on the heels
of day comes night. And he who sees it fall
puts down his work, so soon as the stars appear
with their magnetic pull, and ready tears.


It’s odd how old one’s eyes have got!
for they see only what they can’t,
and nothing else. Even so from one’s hands,
sometimes, a cup may fall. My friends!
what we have kept, like life, will slide away,
and a star we cannot know rise in the sky.


Poems, it seems to me, are grown for all,
as Serbian nut-trees grow along the walls
of monasteries, that keep a scoop of honey,
a well, with stars floating like ice in springtime,
so for a moment someone in the world
sees fragile life, like the spring stars that whirl:


– O, that is all: I knew that I was doomed,
and that my reason cried for lack of food;
trapped like a mouse in chilly vaults, it pined;
I knew no one felt pity for a friend –
all is in flight, and all is drunk on joy,
for “things must pass”, as Horace used to say...


Why hurry, life, why chivvy on the hour?
You’ll soon have time to sew my mouth right up,
stitching with iron threads. So humour me,
deign, then, to give my sententia a try:
“A great thing is a refuge for herself”:
she sings when singing us to rest,


– they say, most beautifully. Now
at noontide, beauty’s night-time door
is open wide, and high up in the hills
the constellatory fire, both monk and angel,
reads by the light of its own candle-ends
the exemplary lives of guilty men.


A great thing is a loss to end all loss:
a Mediolanian glimpse of paradise1;
its hearing is attuned; on the tuned string
fear strums away; dust is an animate thing,
and like a flame-tugged butterfly, it cries,
“I will not be the thing that I will be!”


The future rolls into the spacious house,
the secret cistern, forcing its way at last...
Catriona Kelly

1 Mediolanum is the ancient name of Milan.
 Fifth Stanzas. De arte poetica
The Elegy That Becomes a Requiem
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