ERNEST DOWSON: Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

No, they are not long, but I am far from sure they have no portion in us after we pass the gate …


JOSÉ LUIS HIDALGO: Death – and My Response To His Poem


(from the Spanish of José Luis Hidalgo)

Sir: you have everything; one world of darkness
and another of light, bright, sky-blue.
But tell me: those who have died,
is it the night or the day that they inherit?

We are your children, those you bore,
those who, naked in their human flesh,
offer ourselves like barren fields
to the hatred or love of your two claws.

We live with the clamour of war
sounding darkly deep down inside us; for it is there
that you fight without ever defeating yourself,
and leave us the blood-soaked terrain.

So tell me, tell me, Sir: Why us?
Why choose us for your battle-field?
And after it all, in death, what reward can we expect?
Eternal peace or eternal strife?

I do not agree at all with Luis Hidalgo. This my response:

The God you, like Hopkins, cringe and cry to
suffers from multiple personality disorder,
one hand doing good, the other evil,
and letting not his left hand know what his right hand doeth.

Do you not see that the problem with your ONE God
is that in the unending battle between good and evil
you have God fighting on both sides. And as Jesus observed,
If Satan cast out Satan, how shall his kingdom stand?

God is good. God is of the light, not the dark.
Those who follow him are Children of Light.
Those who follow the enemy are Children of Darkness.
God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

It breaks my heart to hear good, pious, men
blame God for the evil that befalls man.
Blame God for the death camps and Hitler becomes
God incarnate, not Jesus. God is love.

Starving children are not starved by God.
Trembling animals in vivisection centres
are not – The Devil is god of this world and good
men by definition dissidents and rebels.

LUIS CERNUDA: City Cemetery

(from the Spanish of Luis Cernuda)

[composed, apparently, in Glasgow, Scotland]

Behind the open railings and the walls
Black earth with neither trees nor grass;
Some wooden benches. There, in the afternoon,
Old folk sit in silence.
Houses stand all about and shops nearby,
Streets where children play. Trains
Run past the graves. A poor neighbourhood.

Like patches in the grey façades
Rags damp from the rain hang in the windows.
Inscriptions are eroded
From the stones of the dead of two centuries;
They have no friends to forget them, the faceless dead.
But when the sun comes out for a day or two in June
Those old bones down there must feel something.

Not a leaf, not a bird. Nothing but stone. Earth.
Is Hell like this? Pain without forgetting,
Noise and destitution and hopeless endless cold.
Here the silent sleep of the dead
Is unknown, for always
Life stirs among the tombstones, like a prostitute
Pursuing her business beneath the unchanging night.

When dusk falls from the cloudy sky
And the smoke from the factories settles
In grey dust, voices come from the pub,
Then a passing train
Stirs longering echoes like a trumpet of wrath.

It is not the Day of Judgement yet, O nameless dead.
Stay quiet, and sleep; sleep if you can.
Maybe God, too, has forgotten you.

I have always been fascinated by cemeteries, have wanted to enter and walk around and admire the statues and read the inscriptions on the tombstones in any I or we came upon (though often I was not allowed to if it was “we”). I have been to Glasgow several times, but invariably it was a “we” situation and sadly I never did visit this particular cemetery.