Michael Hofmann, “On the Beach at Thorpeness”


I looked idly right for corpses in the underbrush,
then left, to check that Sizewell was still there.
The wind was from that quarter, northeasterly, a seawind,
B-wind, from that triune reliable fissile block.

—It blackened the drainage ditches
on the low coastal plain, blew up a dry tushing rustle
from the liberal-democratic Aesopian bullrushes,
and an ill-tempered creaking from Christian oaks…

A set of three-point lion prints padded up the beach.
The tideline was a ravel of seaweed and detritus,
a red ragged square of John Bull plastic,
a gull’s feather lying down by a fish-spine.

The North Sea was a yeasty, sudsy brown slop.
My feet jingled on the sloping gravel,
a crisp musical shingle. My tracks were oval holes
like whole notes or snowshoes or Dover soles.

Roaring waves of fighters headed back to Bentwaters.
The tide advanced in blunt cod’s-head curves,
ebbed through the chattering teeth of the pebbles.
Jaw jaw. War war.

Selected Poems was assembled from four Michael Hofmann collections published between 1983 and 1999, along with seven new poems. In the last decade, he has focused primarily on translating German literature, including works by Franz Kafka, Thomas Bernhard, Peter Stamm, and Joseph Roth (as well as his father, Gert Hofmann). Last year, he explained his poetic silence to The Independent: “I did feel from the mid-90s on that poems had a harder time getting out of me. I think my self-censoring has got much stronger, and poems that might have appeared are often strangled.”

17 April 2009 | poetry |

Du Fu, “Remembering Li Bai on a Spring Day”


I know no poetry to equal his
his mind must be unique

freshness of Yu Xin
Bao Zhao’s delicacy

as I watch the trees leaf out
here, north of the Wei

he’s probably gazing at sunset
there, east of the Yangzi

when can we share
a pot of wine again

talk on and on about poetry
until it’s nearly daybreak?

Du Fu: A Life in Poetry was translated by David Young and published in late 2008. Last week, Knopf posted Young’s translation of “A Summer Outing,” while Poetry Daily posted two more poems: “An Autumn Storm and Our Thatched Roof” and “Rain on a Spring Night.”

(Here are several Du Fu poems, but I’m afraid I don’t know who translated them. It certainly wasn’t Young; where Young’s “Autumn Thoughts” begins “Dew turns to jade-white ice / that scars and wilts the maple trees,” for example, the first line of this rendition of “Autumn Meditations” is “Jade dew withers and wounds the groves of maple trees.” I prefer the Young, myself.)

Li Bai was a contemporary of Du Fu, and the two are pretty much to Chinese poetry what Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio were to mid-20th-century American baseball, if Williams and DiMaggio had only ever met twice in their lifetimes. Du Fu wrote at least a dozen poems we know of about how great Li Bai was; only one of Li Bai’s poems about Du Fu survives.

16 April 2009 | poetry |

« Previous PageNext Page »