Archive for January, 2018

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

War and Wine by Jean Le Houx

I am as brave as Caesar in this war
Armed to the very teeth with jug and glass;
Better a charge of wine that leaves no scar
Than bullets spilling life that soon must pass.

Give me the bottles for the battle’s clash,
Barrels and casks of rich vermilion wine
For my artillery with which to smash
This thirst that I invest and undermine.

As far as I can see the man’s a clown
Who would not rather get his broken head
By drinking than by fighting for renown;
What use will his renown be when he’s dead?

The head brought down by drinking can recover;
When the wind buffets if you feel some pain,
Then after a short sleep the trouble’s over;
On battlefields all remedy is vain.

Better to hide your nose in a tall glass
Than in a casque-of-war, more safe, I think,
Than following horn and ensign, just to pass
Beneath the yew and ivy to a drink.

Better beside the fire drinking muscatel,
Here inside the tavern and never in default,
Than outside on the ramparts playing sentinel
Or following a captain to the breach, to the assault!

But I dislike and do not seek excess.
Good drinker, not born drunkard, is my due.
Good wine, that makes for laughter and friendliness,
I’ve promised more than I can keep to you.

From: Currey, R.N., Collected Poems, 2001, David Philip & James Currey: Oxford & Cape Town, pp. 222-223.

Date: 1610 (original in French); 1938 (translation in English)

By: Jean Le Houx (1551-1616)

Translated by: Ralph Nixon Currey (1907-2001)

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

The Fyres, the Cordes, the Girnes, the Snaws and Dart by William Fowler

The fyres, the cordes, the girnes1, the snaws, and dart,
Wherewith blind Love has me enflam’d and wound,
The maist fair face and the maist cruell hart
I werying wryte, and sighing dois resound:
And therewith all the beauties that rebound
From her, wha is of dames maist chaste and fair;
Wha is the object, subject, and the ground
Of my loth’d love, and undeserv’d despaire.
The sweit sour jarres, the joys, the toils, and caire,
My perjur’d othes, and my denied vowes;
Her eyes, her hands, her hyde, her hewe, and haire,
Her lippes, her cheikes, her hals2, and her brent browes,
And things yet hidd, and to the world unseene,
To write with teares, and paint with plaintes I mean.

1. Girnes – snares or traps.
2. Hals – neck.


Date: 1597

By: William Fowler (1560-1612)

Monday, 29 January 2018

I See and Hear by Oswald von Wolkenstein

I see and hear
that many a person laments about the disappearance of his property;
I, on the other hand, only lament about the disappearance of my youth,
the disappearance of my carefree attitude
and of that what I used to do at that time
without any consciousness about it because the earth provided me with support.
Now, being hampered by bodily failure,
my head, back, legs, hands, and feet alert me to the approaching old age.
Whatever sins I might have committed without any need,
you, sir body, make me pay for this recklessness
with paleness, red eyes,
wrinkles, grey hair: I can no longer do big jumps.
My heart, my brain, my tongue, and my strides have become hard to move,
I am walking bent over,
my trembling weakens all my limbs.
When I sing I only intonate “O dear!”
I sing nothing else day in and day out;
my tenor has become rather rough.

My wavy blond hair
that once covered my head with curls,
now displays its beauty in grey and black,
bald spots form a round shield,
my red lips are turning blue,
which makes me look disgusting to the beloved.
My teeth have become
loose and ugly and do no longer serve for chewing.
Even if all material in this world belonged to me,
I would not be able to get the teeth renewed,
nor to purchase a carefree attitude.
This would be possible only in a dream.
My abilities to fight, to jump, and to run rapidly
have turned into limping.
Instead of singing,
I do nothing but utter coughing sounds.
My breathing has become heavy.
The cold earth would be the best for me
because I have lost my strength and am not worth much.

Oh, young man,
recognize this: do not rely on your physical beauty,
or on your upright growth or your strength. Turn upwards
[to heaven] with spiritual songs.
As you are now, I have been before.
Once you will be like me, you will not regret to have acted properly.
There is nothing better for me now
but to strive toward living according to God’s will
with fasting, praying, and attending church service,
to kneel down to pray.
But I am not strong enough to do any of this
because my body is no longer strong enough to sustain itself because of old age.
Constantly I see everything fourfold instead of in its real shape
and hear everything muted by a thick rock.
The children are mocking at me,
and so the young ladies.
My lack of reason brought this upon me.
Young men and women, do not forget God’s grace.

From: von Wolkenstein, Oswald and Classen, Albrecht (ed. and transl.), The Poems of Oswald von Wolkenstein: An English Translation of the Complete Works (1376/77-1445), 2008, Palgrave MacMillan: New York, pp. 51-52.

Date: c1430 (original in Middle High German); 2008 (translation in English)

By: Oswald von Wolkenstein (1376/77-1445)

Translated by: Albrecht Classen (1956- )

Sunday, 28 January 2018

To a Little Man with a Very Large Beard by Isaac ben Khalif

How can thy chin that burden bear?
Is it all gravity to shock?
Is it to make the people stare?
And be thyself a laughing stock?

When I behold thy little feet
After thy beard obsequious run,
I always fancy that I meet
Some father followed by his son.

A man like thee scarce e’er appear’d –
A beard like thine – where shall we find it?
Surely thou cherishest thy beard
In hopes to hide thyself behind it.

From: Carlyle, J.D., Specimens of Arabian Poetry, From the Earliest Times to the Extinction of the Khaliphat, with Some Accounts of the Authors, 1796, John Burges: Cambridge, p. 148.

Date: ?11th century (original in Persian); 1796 (translation in English)

By: Isaac ben Khalif (?11th century)

Translated by: Joseph Dacre Carlyle (1758-1804)

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Blood Poetry by Omar Musa

I dip my finger in its redness –
a little wild honey for you
& a little for me,

Each letter bears
the unmistakable scent,
the iron perfume,
the dreams of lung,
vein & the battlefield.

At the window,
befriending trees & cats with my eyes,
whispering at the fences & the fennel.

I trace my finger on the page
& it leaves red marks:
cursive, shaped like infant breath;
bold letters, a jumble of bones,
a shotgun shell & a slap of ink.

Blood poetry,
the poetry of unease.


Date: 2016

By: Omar Musa (1984- )

Friday, 26 January 2018

Journey of Migration…the First Step by Ferit Berk

‘A Teacher Died in Australia’ headline news
spreads quickly to reach Ankara and beyond.
Saddened, my friends believe that I am dead
when the corpse of a teacher is sent home.

The end of 1979 and the beginning of 1980,
in Alitalia a different New Year and its celebration,
beloved ones with me only in my memory
as I celebrate the New Year among strangers.

A stormy day starts the journey to Australia
A cold weather, the temperature below zero
a thirty-eight hour flight with some breaks from Ankara
and I, unable to sleep from excitement and anxiety

While standing on the threshold of this New Year.
I am talking to myself… and asking questions:
What if Australia is never reached? Or
if reached, fails to take a hold on my emotions?
What if this new land does not meet expectations?


Date: 2005

By: Ferit Berk (1937- )

Thursday, 25 January 2018

The Colour of Massacre by Jeanine Leane

As a new century dawned white Australians were urged
to feel comfortable and relaxed about their history.
‘Shake off that irksome black arm band – legacy of radical
lefties who can’t leave well enough alone – and their
tiresome chant that white Australia has a Black history and
we all have blood on our hands.
We’ve got a new song to sing now!’

Right wing historians hummed the new tune
and set about to write Aboriginal massacres out
of the record, out of the history books, out of the classroom.

There weren’t really fifteen thousand Palawa people
in Van Diemen’s Land before the arrival of
white Christians. They said.
There weren’t even five thousand!
Only a few hundred naked savages roamed here
and a meagre hundred or so killed –
in self defence – of course.
Or perhaps they were stealing?
On the darker side – they were cannibals –
weren’t they ? Think about it!
What happened to the rest? Who knows?
Nobody wrote it down – no history of
massacres here.
Perhaps they were saved by Christian charity
and blended in with the rest of us – or
maybe they died of natural causes
or just perished because they couldn’t adapt.
The rest is mere hearsay – oral history –
words in the air!
Nothing on paper – so who remembers?
The Aborigines didn’t count in numbers –
so why bother now?

Nobody recorded those other syllables in time –
full of sound and fury, punctuated by
blows, blood and screams.

But wasn’t their blood red?
And didn’t their loved ones cry?

Late in the twentieth century, with a population
of eighteen million the shootings of
thirty-five settlers went down in Australian history
as the Port Arthur Massacre prompting a
Prime Minister who denied Black massacres
to buy back the nation’s firearms to minimise
the chance of another white one.

But wasn’t their blood red too?
And didn’t their loved ones still cry?
What is the colour of massacre?


Date: 2016

By: Jeanine Leane (196?- )

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Recollections by Fidelia Savage Thornton Munkhouse Hill

Yes, South Australia! three years have elapsed
Of dreary banishment, since I became
In thee a sojourner; nor can I choose
But sometimes think on thee; and tho’ thou art
A fertile source of unavailing woe,
Thou dost awaken deepest interest still. —
Our voyage past, we anchor’d in that port
Of our New Colony, styled Holdfast Bay:
In part surrounded by the range sublime
Of mountains, with Mount Lofty in their centre: —
Beautiful mountains, which at even-tide
I oft have gazed upon with raptur’d sense,
Watching their rose-light hues, as fleeting fast
Like fairy shadows o’er their verdant sides
They mock’d the painter’s art, and to pourtray
Defied the utmost reach of poet’s skill! —
The new year open’d on a novel scene, —
New cares, new expectations, a new land! —

Then toil was cheer’d, and labour render’d light,
Privations welcom’d, every hardship brav’d,
In the blest anticipation of reward: —
(Which some indeed deserv’d, but ne’er obtain’d)
Some who unceasingly, had lent their aid,
And time, and information, to promote
The interests of the rising Colony —
Still flattering hope on the dark future smil’d,
Gilding each object with fallacious dyes,
And picturing pleasure, that was not to be!
They bore me to the future Capitol,
Ere yet ’twas more than desart — a few tents,
Scatter’d at intervals, ‘mid forest trees,
Marked the abode of men. ‘Twas a wide waste,
But beauteous in its wildness. — Park-like scenery
Burst on the astonish’d sight; for it did seem
As tho’ the hand of art, had nature aided,
Where the broad level walks — and verdant lawns,
And vistas grae’d that splendid wilderness!
‘Twas then they hail’d me as the first white lady
That ever yet had enter’d Adelaide. —
Cap time e’er teach me to forget the sound,
Or gratulations that assail’d me then,
And cheer’d me at the moment, or efface
The welcome bland of the distinguish’d one —
Who fix’d the site, and form’d the extensive plan
Of that young City? — He hath pass’d away
To the dark cheerless chambers of the tomb!
But Adelaide if crown’d with fortune, shall
To after age perpetuate his name! —

* * * * *

One tent was pitch’d upon the sloping bank
Of the stream Torrens, in whose lucid wave
Dipp’d flow’ring shrubs — the sweet mimosa there
Wav’d its rich blossoms to the perfum’d breeze,
High o’er our heads — amid the stately boughs.
Of the tall gum tree — birds of brightest hues
Or built their nests, or tun’d ‘their wood-notes wild,
Reposing on the rushes, fresh and cool,
Which a lov’d hand had for my comfort strew’d: —
This, this methought shall be my happy home!
Here may I dwell, and by experience prove,
That tents with love, yield more substantial bliss
Than Palaces without it, can bestow.

From: Hill, Fidelia S.T., Poems and Recollections of the Past, 2003, University of Sydney Library: Sydney, pp. 53-54.

Date: 1840

By: Fidelia Savage Thornton Munkhouse Hill (1794-1854)

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Sailing to Australia by Peter Skrzynecki


Tired, embittered,
wary of each other—
like men whose death sentences
have been commuted,
they turned their faces
from a shore
none of them could forget.

Leaving from
a Displaced Persons’ Camp
in Germany,
we travelled south
by train into Italy.

Coming through Austria
I remember
walking between carriages,
seeing aeroplanes
lying broken in a forest—
their yellow and black
like a butterfly’s
torn wings.

Through grey mornings
and long afternoons of drizzle
we lay and talked
of graves that nobody
was prepared
to enter—
about war, disguised nationalities
and the absence of sea birds
from who we always watched.
And all the time
someone, sooner or later,
‘Nearly, nearly there.’

Though officially
tagged and photographed
to the satisfaction of braided uniforms
we had no names—
a tattooed number
or the gold fillings in a heart
to be disclosed only
to St Peter at The Gates.

For all it
mattered, where kinship
or affiliations
were concerned, each of us
could have been
an empty bullet shell
or prints left by a scavenger bird
around a piece of bone.
Each face became
a set of facts—
a situation
to be associated with
only while the voyage lasted.

Even the worst weather
became an ally
to whom confidences and sorrows
were readily confided—
disinherited, self-exiled,
as a river without banks,
people turned their backs and minds
upon the fallen godhead
of a country’s majesty,
quietly embracing comfort
in every drop of salt
that crystallised into manna
on their tongues and in their eyes;
often, waiting until
the moon appeared
like a promised sign—
and the ship might leave the water
to a Castle of Dreams
in the clouds—
before they went to sleep.

On arrival,
a great uneasiness
filled the ship—
unspoken, misunderstood,
as a Union Jack
was hung
across the landing dock.

While the solemnity
of a basking sea lion
a government interpreter
held a loudspeaker at arm’s length—
telling us, in
his own broken accents,
why we should feel proud
to have arrived,
without mishap, in Australia,
on Armistice Day.


Date: 1978

By: Peter Skrzynecki (1945- )

Monday, 22 January 2018

Terra Australis Incognita* by Nicola Easthope

The bay opens with inland promise. We haul our wind
and stand in for it. Smoke ascends from the shore –
I think this a favourable opportunity.

Two canoes coming in from the sea: one under sail
and the other worked with paddles. The ocean
is like a millpond – trust me, you will come to no hurt.

Beneath these cliffs of such looming –
first to be touched by light –
work your paddles alongside us.

I order a musket to be fired over your head.
You do not deserve a bullet through the heart.
You do not deserve to be unhappily

killed but you trust your paddles rather
than our promises. The cliffs are crumbling, the Indian lies
dead upon the ground. Terra australis incognita –

the subject of much eager conversation.
At Young Nick’s Head
there is no access without permission.

The Marines march carrying
a Jack before them.
I want you in my possession.

*Poet’s Note: This “found” poem was inspired by an exhibition, Possession, by Jean Loomis, a New Zealand printmaker (Pataka Gallery, Porirua, 15 December 2011 – 26 January 2012). Possession visually comments on events that have taken place since Captain James Cook’s visit in 1769 to Turanganui a Kiwa – renamed “Poverty Bay” by Cook.

Most of the excerpts for the poem come from two of the prints, entitled “The Marines marched carrying a Jack before them” and “Is this Terra australis incognita?”, which in turn originated in Cook’s diaries of 1769. Two of the phrases come from the artist herself. I have changed the tense from past to present.


Date: 2012

By: Nicola Easthope (19??- )