April 8, 2014

Sometimes

Sometimes, when a bird calls,
Or a wind moves through the brush,
Or a dog barks in a distant farmyard,
I must listen a long time, and hush.

My soul flies back to where,
Before a thousand forgotten years 
     begin,
The bird and the waving wind
Were like me, and were my kin.

My soul becomes a tree, an animal,
A cloud woven across the sky.
Changed and unfamiliar it turns back
And questions me.  How shall I reply?

        Hermann Hesse (Germany, 1877-1962) is probably best known in English for his novels that became popular during the 60’s for their themes of the quest for enlightenment.  I wanted to share this poem because, while perhaps not strictly fantasy, it still evokes the speculative themes of mystery, of communication with animals and nature, of transformation, of experiencing the world of the Other…  Although I’d seen it before, it was brought to my attention again recently when (somewhat to my surprise) my son P selected it to write about in a paragraph for his poetry unit at school.
        This is my own translation.  The original rhymes, but the standard English translation I found does not, so I thought I’d try my hand at a rhyming version.  I admit I'm not entirely happy with the middle verse, but you can see the original German here, or the translation by Robert Bly here.

[Picture: Moonlight on Backside, wood block print by Tom Killion, 1973/74 (Image from earthisland.)]

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