Du Fu: My soul does not come when called


How did I come to spend my life in this miserable valley?
In the middle of the night I get up. Ten thousand worries and griefs...
My soul does not come when called. It's gone back to its old home.

Du Fu (712–770). Although he was one of China's greatest poets, he lived in tumultuous times, lost two children to starvation, wandered as an exile with his family far from home, dependent on wealthier friends, and spent the last part of his life in great sickness and poverty. From "Seven poems written while living at Tonggu during the Qianyuan Era" (758–760)




Von Eichendorff: In a foreign country


In a Foreign Place

From my homeland beyond the red lightning
the clouds are coming here,
but my father and mother are long dead,
no one there knows me now.

How soon, how soon the silent time will come
when I too will be at rest, and the silent
forest loneliness will rustle over me
and no one will know me here either.

      –Joseph von Eichendorff (1788-1857)

In der Fremde

Aus der Heimat hinter der Blitzen rot
da kommen die Wolken her,
aber Vater und Mutter sind lange tot, es kennt mich dort keiner mehr.

Wie bald, wie bald kommt die stille Zeit,
da ruhe ich auch, und über mir
rauschet de stille Waldeinsamkeit
und keiner mehr kennt mich auch hier.

The Michauds say goodbye to their home

BombardementTours1940The city of Tours, France, summer 1940. Paris was not to suffer much physically from the war, but the civilians who fled could not know that. Many refugees from Paris unluckily found themselves in Tours when the Germans bombed it

[June 1940. The Michauds are a middle-aged couple who like tens of thousands of other Parisians are about to flee Paris on foot as the city is attacked by the Nazis.]

The Michauds had gotten up at five o'clock in the morning to have time to clean the apartment thoroughly before they left. Of course it was strange to take so much care over worthless things that would almost certainly vanish as soon as the first bombs fell on Paris. But, thought Mme Michaud, we do dress the dead who are going to rot in the ground, and make them look good. It's a last homage, an ultimate proof of love for what was dear to us. And this apartment was very dear to them. They had been living there for sixteen years. They could not take all their memories and keepsakes with them. Try as they might, the best would stay here within these poor walls.

Irène Némirovsky (1903-1942), Suite française. This is my own translation but there is an excellent English translation by Sandra Smith 

Les Michaud s'étaient levés à cinq heures du matin pour avoir le temps de faire l'appartement à fond avant de le quitter. Il était évidemment étrange de prendre tant de soin de choses sans valeur et condamnées, selon toutes probabilités, à disparaître dès que les premières bombes tomberaient sur Paris. Mais, pensait Mme Michaud, on habille et on pare bien les morts qui sont destinés à pourrir dans la terre. C'est un dernier hommage, une preuve suprême d'amour à ce qui fut cher. Or ce petit appartement leur était bien cher. Ils y vivaient depuis seize ans. Ils ne pourraient pas emmener avec eux tous leurs souvenirs. Ils auraient beau faire, les meilleurs resteraient ici, entre ces pauvres mur.

Li Yu: How much sorrow can there be?


To the Tune of The Beauty from Yu

Spring flowers, autumn moon, when do they come to an end?
Looking at past times, I know just how much
In the little tower last night, an east wind again
I cannot bear to turn my head toward the old country under the bright moon
The carven railings, the jade-white steps must still be there
Only the fair faces have changed.
I ask you, how much sorrow can there be?
As much as the great river flowing east in spring floods.

    --Li Yu 李煜 (937-978), last king of the southern Tang dynasty, lost his kingdom and finished his life a prisoner of the new Song dynasty. Li Yu is considered one of China's major poets. 

You can hear famous Chinese singer Deng Lijun 鄧麗君 (Teresa Deng) singing this poem here



I am far frae my hame, an' I'm weary aftenwhiles


I am far frae my hame, an’ I’m weary aftenwhiles,
For the langed for hame bringin’, an’ my Father’s welcome smiles;
An’ I’ll ne’er be fu’ content, until mine een do see
The gowden gates o’ Heav’n an’ my ain countrie.

The earth is fleck’d wi’ flowers, mony tinted, fresh an’ gay
The birdies warble blithely, for my Faither made them sae:
But these sights an’ these soun’s will as naething be to me,
When I hear the angels singin’ in my ain countrie.

I’ve His gude word o’ promise that some gladsome day, the King
To His ain royal palace his banished hame will bring;
Wi’een an’ wi’ hert rinnin’ owre, we shall see
The King in His beauty, in oor ain countrie.


Sae little noo I ken, o’ yon blessèd, bonnie place
I only ken it’s Hame, whaur we shall see His face,
It wad surely be eneuch for ever mair to be
In the glory o’ His presence, in oor ain countrie.

He is faithfu’ that hath promised, an He’ll surely come again,
He’ll keep His tryst wi’ me, at what oor I dinna ken;
But He bids me still to wait, an’ ready aye to be,
To gang at ony moment to my ain countrie.

       --Mary Demarest wrote this poem in 1861 when she was 23, after hearing the story of John MacDuff and his wife. The music was written by Ione Hanna.

Thanks to Cyberhymnal.

Two years after Hurricane Katrina

Nola1_3 How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!

She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks; among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her: ...

...all her gates are desolate: ...she is in bitterness.

...all her beauty is departed...

Is it nothing to you , all ye that pass by? ...

For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water... my children are desolate...

...I am in distress; ... mine heart is turned within me...abroad the sword bereaveth, at home there is as death.

    --Book of Lamentations, Jeremiah, King James Bible

Victor Hugo: Great grief is a divine and terrible radiance

Great grief is a divine and terrible radiance which transfigures the wretched.

Victor Hugo (1802-1885), Les Misérables (1862), Book V, ch 13; translated by Charles Wilbour

La grande douleur est un rayon divin et terrible qui transfigure les misérables.

Martin Greif: Stranger at home


I went home again,
and went to see everything,
like a stranger here and there
I had to walk through the streets.

Only in the graveyard far off and alone
I recognized many friends,
and by a gravestone
I felt a soft hand.

   --Martin Greif (1839-1911) (pseudonym of Friedrich Hermann Frey)

In der Heimat war ich wieder,
Alles hab' ich mir beseheh,
als ein Fremder auf und nieder
musst' ich in den Strassen gehn.

Nur im Friedhof fern alleine
hab' ich manchen Freund erkannt,
und bei einem Leichensteine
fühlt' ich ein leise Hand.