By Len Krisak


. . . but let it be. The buzz of a cornet                  
Converses with the bees that swarm the oaks.
Inside a shell, the sun begins to set;
A colorful volcano blithely smokes.

And on the desk as well, a coin encased                                               
In lava—shining, weighing down a leaf
Or two. Life, which had seemed so vast
Before, is briefer than your handkerchief.

Italian text:

. . . ma cosi sia. Un suono di corneta

. . . ma cosi sia. Un suono di corneta
dialoga con gli sciami del querceto.
Nella valva che il vespero riflette
Un volcano dispinto fuma lieto.

La moneta incassata nella lava
brilla anch’essa sul tavolo e trattiene
poch fogli. La vita che sembrava
vasta e piu breve del tuo fazzoletto.


Gold for the mouth, and in the hands: poppy; honey.
Last gifts of all that kept you in its hold.                                     

Don’t burn me like some Roman when I’m gone;                   
I want to taste my sleep inside an earthen womb.                                          

I want to rise again as grass the spring has grown, 
And circle in the track the stars have known.                                             

Rotting in the dark grave: poppy; honey.                                 
The dead man’s mouth will swallow up his coin of gold . . .                        

But when my bones have lain for countless years in gloom,            
Some man will come and dig them from my tomb,                            

And then the heavy golden coin will clang,                             
Struck by the spade on the smashed skull, long blackening—                     

And gold will flash amidst my bones inside that hole:
A small sun-trace of what was once my soul.

Russian Text:

В рот — золото, а в руки — мак и мед;                             
Последние дары твоих земных забот.                  

            Но пусть не буду я, как римлянин, сожжен:  
‎Хочу в земле вкусить утробный сон,                                 

‎Хочу весенним злаком прорасти,                                                 
Кружась по древнему по звездному пути.           

            В могильном сумраке истлеют мак и мед,           
‎Провалится монета в мертвый рот…                               

‎Но через много, много темных лет                                    
Пришлец неведомый отроет мой скелет,            

            И в черном черепе, что заступом разбит,            
‎Тяжелая монета загремит —                                               

‎И золото сверкнет среди костей,                                        
Как солнце малое, как след души моей.               



The blinding, scattered stars arose when he had ended,
As out of chaos, all their dazzlement ascended,
And everywhere, into profoundest space, they whirled.
He knew that he must name himself before the world;
His being welled up from the dark, and like some nova
Made formidable yet serene, cried out, “JEHOVAH!”
Into immensity, the seven letters went
So that our eyes might show them to the firmament.
Black skies send seven rays to light each trembling brow:
The giant stars—bright oxen of The Northern Plow.

French text:

Quand il eut terminé, quand les soleils épars,
Éblouis, du chaos montant de toutes parts,
Se furent tous rangés à leur place profonde,
Il sentit le besoin de se nommer au monde ;
Et l’être formidable et serein se leva ;
Il se dressa sur l’ombre et cria : Jéhovah !
Et dans l’immensité ces sept lettres tombèrent ;
Et ce sont, dans les cieux que nos yeux réverbèrent,
Au-dessus de nos fronts tremblants sous leur rayon,
Les sept astres géants du noir septentrion.


She leads Aeneas on through all her city’s ways;
Shows off Sidonian readiness, its massed displays                      75
Of wealth. Each time she tries to speak, she stops, mid-word.
Day ends; she craves again that banquet tale she’s heard.
On fire, she demands once more to hear the pangs
Of Ilium, once more the words on which she hangs.
When all have left, the fading moon, in turn, sinks deep             80
Its light, as setting stars invite the world to sleep.
Alone, she grieves in vacant halls and falls on his
Now empty couch. She sees him, absent as he is,
And hears him. Spellbound by Ascanius (image of
His father), hugging him, she tries to fool a love                          85
Beyond all words. No towers rise; the young don’t drill,
Or build the bulwarked port. Revetment work stands still,
As walled defenses, hugely interrupted, cease.
All war-like salients wait; the sky-cranes stand at peace.

Lines 74-89

Nunc media Aenean secum per moenia ducit,
Sidoniasque ostentat opes urbemque paratam;                         75
incipit effari, mediaque in voce resistit;
nunc eadem labente die convivia quaerit,
Iliacosque iterum demens audire labores
exposcit, pendetque iterum narrantis ab ore.
Post, ubi digressi, lumenque obscura vicissim                            80
luna premit suadentque cadentia sidera somnos,
sola domo maeret vacua, stratisque relictis
incubat, illum absens absentem auditque videtque;
aut gremio Ascanium, genitoris imagine capta,
detinet, infandum si fallere possit amorem.                                85
Non coeptae adsurgunt turres, non arma iuventus
exercet, portusve aut propugnacula bello
tuta parant; pendent opera interrupta, minaeque
murorum ingentes aequataque machina caelo.

#16—sonnet from the Canzoniere

An agèd man with gray beard and white hair forsakes
The place where he’s kept life alive—that sweet place where
His little family looks on in its despair
At their dear father for the grief his leaving makes.

And then from there, he drags his body and its aches
Through life’s last days, with all that will can bring to bear
In lending strength to help him. Broken by the wear
And tear of years, he’s worn down by the road he takes . . .                                                                  
Until he reaches Rome, his sole desire, to gaze
In wonder at the image of that God-Made-Man
He hopes to see in Heaven once again some day.

In just that way, sometimes I spend my given days,
My Lady, seeking, in so far as one man can,
The one true form of you some other may display.

Italian Text:

Movesi il vecchierel canuto et biancho
del dolce loco ov’à sua età fornita
et da la famigliuola sbigottita
che vede il caro padre venir manco;

indi trahendo poi l’antiquo fianco
per l’extreme giornate di sua vita,
quanto piú pò, col buon voler s’aita,
rotto dagli anni, et dal cammino stanco;

et viene a Roma, seguendo ‘l desio,
per mirar la sembianza di colui
ch’ancor lassú nel ciel vedere spera:

cosí, lasso, talor vo cerchand’io,
donna, quanto è possibile, in altrui
la disïata vostra forma vera.

FROM THE ILIAD,  15.465-480

When Hector saw how Teucer’s arrows would not fly,
He roused the Lycians and the Trojans with this cry:
“Trojans, Lycians, Dardan fighters: follow me!
Be men now, men I love; remember bravery
Here at these hollow ships; I’ve seen with my own eyes
How Zeus has ruined Teucer’s bow. See where it lies?
It’s easy to see how Zeus makes men strong in war.
He either hands one all-surpassing glory or
Diminishes another, who goes down at length,
As now he makes the Argives weak, but lends us strength.
So fight as one beside these ships. And if you buy
Your fated spear-death—stabbed, run through—well then, you die!
For no man falls in shame who dies as he defends
His home. His wife and children shall not meet vile ends.
They will survive—just like his house Achaeans covet,     
If they will sail for home, assuming that they love it.

[HOMER: THE ILIAD. 15.465-480]

Hektôr d’ hôs eiden Teukrou blaphthenta belemna,      
Trôsi te kai Lukioisin ekekleto makron aüsas:      
neres este philoi, mnêsasthe de thouridos alkês            
nêas ana glaphuras: dê gar idon ophthalmoisin             
andros aristêos Diothen blaphthenta belemna.    
rheia d’ arignôtos Dios andrasi ginetai alkê,          
êmen hoteoisin kudos huperteron engualixêi,    
êd’ hotinas minuthêi te kai ouk ethelêisin amunein       
hôs nun Argeiôn minuthei menos, ammi d’ arêgei.         
blêmenos êe tupeis thanaton kai potmon epispêi                      
tethnatô: ou hoi aeikes amunomenôi peri patrês           
tethnamen: all’ alochos te soê kai paides opissô,  
kai oikos kai klêros akêratos, ei ken Achaioi                  
oichôntai  sun nêusi philên es patrida gaian.       

II.26  ( Part A? )

I saw you in a dream, Dear Life. You were shipwrecked,
Swimming Ionian seas. Your dead arms ached.
And you confessed: they were all lies I’d had from you.
You could not lift your head. Your hair soaked through,
You were like Helle, drowning in the wine-dark wrack.
(A gold ram saved her on his fleecy back.)
I feared the hazard of that sea—that it might take
Your name, and sailors shed tears in your wake.
To Neptune, Castor, and his twin, I made a vow—
And to Leucothoë, a goddess now.
Your hands, though, barely break the waves. About to die,
You cry my name; it is my name you cry.
Had Glaucus happened to have seen your eyes, you’d be,
By now, a Nymph in the Ionian Sea,
The butt of envious Nereids’ antipathy—
Blonde Nesaeë and blue Cymothoë.
Instead, a dolphin raced to save you from the drink—
The one Arion and his lyre rode, I think.
To leap from some high rock?  I’d braced for that attempt,
But then my fear dispelled all that I’d dreamt.

Latin text:


 Vidi te in somnis fracta, mea vita, carina
Ionio lassas ducere rore manus,
et quaecumque in me fueras mentita fateri,
nec iam umore gravis tollere posse comas,
qualem purpureis agitatam fluctibus Hellen,
aurea quam molli tergore vexit ovis.
quam timui, ne forte tuum mare nomen haberet,
atque tua labens navita fleret aqua!
quae tum ego Neptuno, quae tum cum Castore fratri,
quaeque tibi excepi, iam dea, Leucothoe!
at tu vix primas extollens gurgite palmas
saepe meum nomen iam peritura vocas.
quod si forte tuos vidisset Glaucus ocellos,
esses Ionii facta puella maris,
et tibi ob invidiam Nereides increpitarent,
candida Nesaee, caerula Cymothoe.
sed tibi subsidio delphinum currere vidi,
qui, puto, Arioniam vexerat ante lyram.
iamque ego conabar summo me mittere saxo,
cum mihi discussit talia visa metus.

About the translator:

Len Krisak’s most recent books are Afterimage (original
poems) and complete translations of Ovid’s Amores and Ars
and Rilke’s New Poems, 1907-1908. With work in the
Hudson, Sewanee, Antioch, Southwest, and PN Reviews, he is the
recipient of the Robert Penn Warren, Richard Wilbur, and
Robert Frost Prizes, and a four-time champion on Jeopardy!