Sunday, June 22, 2014

William Stafford and Hafiz

    Ultimate Problems

    In the Aztec design God crowds
    into the little pea that is rolling
    out of the picture.
    All the rest extends bleaker
    because God has gone away.

    In the White Man design, though,
    no pea is there.
    God is everywhere
    but hard to see.

    The Aztecs frown at this.

    How do you know He is everywhere?
    And how did He get out of the pea?

            ~ William Stafford


As I've noted in passing, over the last couple of months I've been reading Eastern mystic poets: Rumi, Kabir, Hafiz, and Ghalib, to mention just a few. My current morning practice involves a stack of some 7 or so books, from which I read 1 to 4 poems each. In this rotation of wonder are the translations of Robert Bly (as well as others) of the above mystics, the poetry of William Stafford, and the new translation of the collected haiku of Buson, by W. S. Merwin and Takako Lento.

As one might imagine, sparks have been flying.

One early morning, I was struck by a poem of William Stafford's, thinking: "That sounds like Ghalib." I also thought, I'm probably not awake enough to be discerning and this is my mind just goofing around or, worse, nodding off. After all, the poem was entitled "A Song in the Manner of Flannery O'Connor."

I had to be way off base.

Ghalib, along with Kabir, have been the two mystics who have struck me deeply, the latter in a Krishnamurti finger-wagging kind-of-way, and the former in a down-to-earth, challenged in my faith, all-too-human manner. 

As a result, I've been searching out various translations to get more and more of a feel for these two poets. One day, I ran across a little pamphlet of translations of Ghalib by Ahmad Aijaz, which I later found out was excerpted from a larger book, entitled Ghazals of Ghalib. The translator had help from a number of distinguished English language poets, including Adrienne Rich, W. S. Merwin, Mark Strand, David Ray ... and William Stafford. 

Ah, my instinct, and my ignorance, revealed.  

The question remains, for me, why exactly I thought of Ghalib when I read this Stafford poem:

Song in the Manner of Flannery O'Connor
Snow on the mountain--water in
the valley: you beat a mule and
it works hard, Honey.
    Have a cigarette?

Where is the guidepost? Written on
your hand.  You point place with it
and everyone understands.
    Like to dance, Honey?

Country folks used to talk to us
like this. Now they're wiser
than the rest of us.
     So long, Sucker. 

I'm guessing that it is a combination of direct address - "Like to dance, Honey?" - and an unabiding realism about what's what on this little spinning pea of ours. Ultimately, it may be tone - in the following case, perhaps the flip side of the same coin:

        Pulling Out the Chair

        Pulling out the chair
         Beneath your mind
And watching you fall upon God--

         What else is there
           For Hafiz to do
  That is any fun in this World!
translated by Daniel Ladinsky

Though a bit of a free associative ramble, I hope some of this makes sense. If not, perhaps the poems themselves will pay my fine for indulging a bit too long and a bit too discursively. 



Woodblock by Sügakudö

the nightingale sings
with a country twang...

translated by David G. Lanoue


PS  Click to learn how to contribute to Wednesday Haiku.


Patrick Sweeney said...

Thanks Don-san, my kind of poetry. When the mystical can be shown we reach new, "old" realms. Issa gets there so naturally...Thanks
for all you do.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Patrick ... thanks - I've been walking through the halls of these realms for a number of months and doing lots of gawking.

Glad you enjoyed this.