Tag Archives: Joseph Brodsky

Lifting your eyes, you realize.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 JANUARY 1965

The Wise Men will unlearn your name.
Above your head no star will flame.
One weary sound will be the same—
the hoarse roar of the gale.
The shadows fall from your tired eyes
as your lone bedside candle dies,
for here the calendar breeds nights
till stores of candles fail.

What prompts this melancholy key?
A long familiar melody.
It sounds again. So let it be.
Let it sound from this night.
Let it sound in my hour of  death—
as gratefulness of eyes and lips
for that which sometimes makes us lift
our gaze to the far sky.

You glare in silence at the wall.
Your stocking gapes: no gifts at all.
It’s clear that you are now too old
to trust in good Saint Nick;
that it’s too late for miracles.
—But suddenly, lifting your eyes
to heaven’s light, you realize:
your life is a sheer gift.

From Nativity Poems by Joseph Brodsky, translated by George L. Kline

Bob

Today is the birthday of Bob Dylan. In high school I owned one 45 of Bob; it had “Like a Rolling Stone” on one side and “Gates of Eden” on the other, and I listened to it quite a bit.

Far away from me, but still in California, my husband-to-be was an ardent Bob Dylan fan, so after we married I became the co-owner of a good collection of his music that we continued to acquire. It’s hard not to develop a fondness for songs that you hear again and again over the years, so I did come to appreciate “Bob,” as he was known around here.

My favorite of his songs was always “Everything is Broken,” because it’s such a simple expression of the reality of humankind fallen and needy, and all creation groaning. We are often dismayed about our material possessions wearing out or being destroyed, but they are insignificant when laid beside the hearts and lives that are daily shattered and traumatized. The lyrics of the song seem a little flat to me without the music, and Bob’s burnt-out voice conveying an appropriate tone to the words.

I also have watched several times on YouTube Bob singing with Johnny Cash “A Girl of the North Country” on Cash’s show. It’s sweet! (But I’m afraid it may have been taken down.)

I didn’t hear about this birthday until I read The Writer’s Almanac for the day, and it’s interesting that the poem Garrison Keillor posts for the day is by Billy Collins, titled “Despair” and lamenting that there is “So much gloom and doubt in our poetry—”

Keillor tells us that today is also the birthday of the Russian poet Joseph Brodsky who was born just a year before Dylan. He suffered a lot for his poetry under the Soviets and would have had good reason to write gloomy material. I haven’t read many of his poems other than those in the book Mr. Glad gave me, his Nativity Poems, from which I posted one here at Christmastime once, and it was filled with hope.

Here is the Dylan poetry. Happy Birthday, Bob!

EVERYTHING IS BROKEN

Broken lines broken strings
Broken threads broken springs
Broken idols broken heads
People sleeping in broken beds
Ain’t no use jiving
Ain’t no use joking
Everything is broken.

Broken bottles broken plates
Broken switches broken gates
Broken dishes broken parts
Streets are filled with broken hearts
Broken words never meant to be spoken
Everything is broken.

Seems like every time you stop and turn around
Something else just hit the ground
Broken cutters broken saws
Broken buckles broken laws
Broken bodies broken bones
Broken voices on broken phones
Take a deep breath feel like you’re chokin’
Everything is broken.

Every time you leave and go off some place
Things fall to pieces in my face
Broken hands on broken ploughs
Broken treaties broken vows
Broken pipes broken tools
People bending broken rules
Hound dog howling bullfrog croaking
Everything is broken.

music-Dylan face cropped

Switch on a star.

This poem from Joseph Brodsky’s Nativity Poems makes me feel the personhood of God as He has shown Himself in history and nature. I love the part about miracles gravitating toward the people who are waiting.

25. XII. 1993

For a miracle, take one shepherd’s sheepskin, throw
in a pinch of now, a grain of long ago,
and a handful of tomorrow. Add by eye
a little chunk of space, a piece of sky,

and it will happen. For miracles, gravitating
to earth, know just where people will be waiting,
and eagerly will find the right address
and tenant, even in a wilderness.

Or if you’re leaving home, switch on a new
four-pointed star, then, as you say adieu,
to light a vacant world with steady blaze
and follow you forever with its gaze.

-Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996), Russian-born poet,
winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1987