Ballad About False Beacons
We’ve been bewitched by countless lies,
by azure images of ice,
by false promises of open sky and sea,
and rescued by a God we don’t believe.
Like coppers rattling from a beggar’s plate
guiding lights have fallen on our days
and burned and died.
We’ve pressed our ship
a pilgrimage of nights toward such lights
as, always elusive, lured and tricked
the keel upon the rocks and ripped
the helmhold from the hand and lashed
the beggared palm to scraps.
Ice tightens at the bow and breath.
To dock, to drop the anchor to its rest,
to drift (a dream!) on waters quieted
and calmed. We can’t. We’re after a mirage.
(The whiskered walrus brays; the sea salt thaws.
Again, we’re off!)
Raised on powdered milk, we’ll have no faith
in beacons any longer, nor mistake
real for fake, or waking for a dream.
Beacons can’t be trusted. Trust instead
the will of your own hand and head.
Again the captain waves his glass,
sights a beacon, turns and cries
"Helmsman! There’s a beacon. Are you blind?"
But Helmsman, with the truer eye
thinks mutiny and grumbles,
Conversation with an American Writer
"You have courage,"
they tell me.
It's not true.
I was never courageous.
I simply felt it unbecoming
to stoop to the cowardice of my colleagues.
I've shaken no foundations.
I simply mocked at pretense
Scribbled no denunciations.
And tried to speak all
on my mind.
I defended men of talent,
branding the hacks,
the would-be writers.
But this, in general, we should always do;
and yet they keep stressing my courage.
Oh, our descendants will burn with bitter shame
to remember, when punishing vile acts,
that most peculiar
was labeled "courage"...
Translated by George Reavey
Lying to the young is wrong.
Proving to them that lies are true is wrong.
that God’s in his heaven
and all’s well with the world
They know what you mean.
They are people too.
Tell them the difficulties
can’t be counted,
and let them see
what will be
these present times.
Say obstacles exist they must encounter,
The hell with it.
Who never knew
the price of happiness
will not be happy.
Forgive no error
it will repeat itself,
will not forgive in us
what we forgave.
Translated by Robin Milner-Gulland and Peter Levi (revised)