I woke up today with the terrible news of the death of the mother of one of my best friends in town. I have had trouble to get ready for work and to be focused. Tears and memories of her and the time spent together have accompanied me, and my thoughts have been somewhere else far beyond this time and place.
At lunch time I came to Washington Square Park on a sunny, chilly afternoon. I sat there for some instants and reflected on the fleeting nature of our “material” world.
We should all make life more beautiful, easy, fun, loving and generous to each other. We should all walk freely, without baggage, seizing the day, the minutes… that will never again come back to us, except for our dreams or nostalgic visions.
To Leuconoe, by Horace,
Odes (book 1, number 11) in 23 BC
Inquire not, Leuconoe (it is not fitting you should know), how long a term of life the gods have granted to you or to me: neither consult the Chaldean calculations. How much better is it to bear with patience whatever shall happen! Whether Jupiter have granted us more winters, or [this as] the last, which now breaks the Etrurian waves against the opposing rocks. Be wise; rack off your wines, and abridge your hopes [in proportion] to the shortness of your life. While we are conversing, envious age has been flying; seize the present day, not giving the least credit to the succeeding one.
translated literally into English prose
by Christopher Smart, A.M. of Pembroke College, Cambridge (1756)
Today is an Angel
Osip Mandelstam: 394 (translated with Anne Frydman)
Toward the empty earth
falling, one step faltering–
some sweetness, in this
she walks, keeping
just ahead of her friends,
the quick-footed woman,
the younger man, one year younger.
A shy freedom draws her, her hobbled step
frees her, fires her, and it seems
the shining riddle in her walk
wants to hold her back:
the riddle, that this spring weather
is for us the first mother:
the mother of the grave.
And this will keep on beginning forever.
There are women,
the damp earth’s flesh and blood:
every step they take, a cry,
a deep steel drum.
It is their calling
to accompany those who have died;
and to be there, the first
to greet the resurrected.
To ask for their tenderness
would be a trespass against them;
but to go off, away from them–
no one has the strength.
Today is an angel; tomorrow
worms, and the grave;
and the day after
only lines in chalk.
The step you took
no longer there to take.
Flowers are deathless. Heaven is round.
And everything to be is only a promise.
–Voronezh. 4 May 1937
— Jean Valentine
Door in the Mountain: New & Collected Poems