Tag Archives: night

We laugh unknowing.

EVENING SONG

The moon is risen, beaming,
The golden stars are gleaming
So brightly in the skies;
The hushed, black woods are dreaming,
The mists, like phantoms seeming,
From meadows magically rise.

How still the world reposes,
While twilight round it closes,
So peaceful and so fair!
A quiet room for sleeping,
Into oblivion steeping
The day’s distress and sober care.

Look at the moon so lonely!
One half is shining only,
Yet she is round and bright;
Thus oft we laugh unknowing
At things that are not showing,
That still are hidden from our sight.

We, with our proud endeavour,
Are poor vain sinners ever,
There’s little that we know.
Frail cobwebs we are spinning,
Our goal we are not winning,
But straying farther as we go.

God, make us see Thy glory,
Distrust things transitory,
Delight in nothing vain!
Lord, here on earth stand by us,
To make us glad and pious,
And artless children once again!

Grant that, without much grieving,
This world we may be leaving
In gentle death at last.
And then do not forsake us,
But into heaven take us,
Lord God, oh, hold us fast!

Lie down, my friends, reposing,
Your eyes in God’s name closing.
How cold the night-wind blew!
Oh God, Thine anger keeping,
Now grant us peaceful sleeping,
And our sick neighbour too.

-Matthias Claudius (1740 – 1815)

Meeting the black night’s face.

This week so far I have seen patches of the starry sky through the window from my bed, and through narrow gaps in the tree canopy as I walked along the gravel road coming back from a campfire.

Those glimpses are lovely, but not as powerful as what I experienced a few years ago when I was alone here in the High Sierra, standing on the deck at night, looking up: I was aware of the stars as somehow sentient beings that were intently and personably crowding and pressing down on me. The poem below expresses the thrill of such a meeting as I had, with added feelings that I didn’t experience.

The composer Tchaikovsky, in a letter to the Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich, wrote: “I place some of his poems up there with the very highest that there is in art. In this respect there is one which I am determined to illustrate musically some day.” This is the poem he copied in:

UPON A HAYSTACK ON A SOUTHERN NIGHT

Upon a haystack in lands of South,
I lay, while facing skies of night,
The choir of stars, alive and couth,
Was trembling, spread at every side.

The earth, mute as a dream half-hidden,
Was fast receding into space,
And I, as if the first in Eden,
Alone met the black night’s face.

Did I race to the depth profound,
Or did the stars race straight to me?
In mighty hands, it seemed me how,
I hanged above abysmal sea.

With heart, so sinking and bewildered,
I measured with my look a depth,
Into which, every moment sighted,
I sink, and nobody helps.

-Afanasy Afanasevich Fet, (1820-1892)

One odd thing is, the way Luis Sundkvist translated the letter from Russian, the second line of the poem reads, “I lay with my face towards the ground…”  How this happened I can’t imagine, because of course the poem makes no sense like that.

Golgol and Tolstoy also thought Fet’s poetry was stellar. The writer and publisher Nikolay Nekrasov wrote: “Not a single poet since Pushkin has managed to give such delight to those who understand poetry and readily open their soul to it, as Fet does.” 

The surname of Fet was assigned by authorities to Afanasy because of some question in Russia about the legitimacy of his birth; his parents’ marriage had been registered in Germany. In his later years he wrote to his wife, “You cannot even imagine how I hate the name Fet. I implore you never to mention it… If someone would ask me to give one single name to all the trials and tribulations of my life, I’d say without hesitation, this name is ‘Fet'”. Later still he was able to get back the name of his father, Shenshin, but as his poems were all published under the name Fet, so he is known. Evidently not much of his work has been translated into English, which makes this one even more special.

Another poem by Fet.

Heart and body becoming clear.

SONG OF THE PINES

I like sitting alone when the moon is shining,
And there are two pines standing before the verandah;
A breeze comes from the southwest,
Creeping into the branches and leaves.
Under the brilliant moon at midnight
It whistles a cool, distant music,
Like rustling rains in empty mountains
And the serene harp-strings in the fall.
On first hearing them, the heat of summer is washed away:
And this suffocating boredom comes to an end.
So I keep awake the whole night,
Both the heart and body becoming clear.
Along the south street coaches and horses are stirring,
In the west city sounds of playing and singing.
Who knows that under the roof-trees of this place
The ears are full, but not with noise.

-Po Chü-i (772 – 846) China

Ma Yuan (馬遠, c.1160-1225)

When others slept…

BY NIGHT WHEN OTHERS SOUNDLY SLEPT

By night when others soundly slept
And hath at once both ease and Rest,
My waking eyes were open kept
And so to lie I found it best.

I sought him whom my Soul did Love,
With tears I sought him earnestly.
He bow’d his ear down from Above.
In vain I did not seek or cry.

My hungry Soul he fill’d with Good;
He in his Bottle put my tears,
My smarting wounds washt in his blood,
And banisht thence my Doubts and fears.

What to my Saviour shall I give
Who freely hath done this for me?
I’ll serve him here whilst I shall live
And Love him to Eternity.

-Anne Bradstreet