Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
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Posts tagged "Poems"

Look, the world tempts our eye,
And we would know it all!
We map the starry sky,
We mine this earthen ball,
We measure the seasides, we number the seasands;

We scrutinise the dates
Of long-past human things,
The bounds of effaced states,
The lines of deceased kings;
We search out dead men’s words, and works of dead men’s hands;

We shut our eyes, and muse
How our own minds are made,
What springs of thought they use,
How righten’d, how betray’d
And spend our writ to name what most employ unnamed

But still, as we proceed
The mass swells more and more
Of volumes yet to read,
Of secrets yet to explore
Our hair grows grey, our eyes are dimm’d, our heart is tamed

— Matthew Arnold, “Empedocles On Etna”, 1852

"We do not what we ought;
What we ought not, we do;
And lean upon the thought
That chance will bring us through.”

— Matthew Arnold, Empedocles on Etna

"I dreamed I already…
By Yevgeny Yevtushenko, 1967

I dreamed I already loved you.
I dreamed I already killed you.

But you rose again; another form, but you,
a girl on the little ball of the earth,
naive simplicity, curve-necked
on that early canvas of Picasso,
and prayed to me with your ribs:
“Love me,” as though you said, “Don’t push me off.”

I’m that played-out, grown-up acrobat
hunchbacked with senseless muscles
who knows that advice is a lie,
that sooner or later there’s falling.

I’m too scared to say: “I love you,”
because I’d be saying: “I’ll kill you.”

For in the depths of a face I can see through
I see the faces — can’t count them —
that, right on the spot, or maybe
not right away, I tortured to death.

You’re pale from the mortal balance. You say:
“I know everything; I was all of them.
I know you’ve already loved me.
I know you’ve already killed me.
But I won’t spin the globe backwards:
Love again, and then kill again.”

Lord, you’re young. Stop your globe.
I’m tired of killing. I’m not a damn thing but old.

You move the earth beneath your little feet,
you fall, “Love me.”
It’s only in those eyes, so similar, you say:
“This time don’t kill me!”

No people are uninteresting.
Their destinies are like histories of planets.
Nothing in them is not particular,
and no planet is like another.

And if someone lives in obscurity,
befriending that obscurity,
he is interesting to people
by his very obscurity.

Everyone has his own secret, private world.
In that world is a finest moment.
In that world is a tragic hour,
but it all is unknown to us.

And if someone dies
there dies with him his first snow,
and first kiss, and first fight.
He takes it all with him.

Yes, books and bridges remain,
and painted canvas and machinery,
yes, much is sentenced to remain,
but something really departs all the same!

Such is the law of the pitiless game.
It’s not people who die, but worlds.
We remember people, sinful and earthly.
But what did we know, in essence, about them?

What do we know of brothers, of friends?
What do we know of our one and only?
And about our own fathers,
knowing everything, we know nothing.

They perish.  They cannot be brought back.
Their secret worlds are not regenerated.
And every time I want again
to cry out against the unretrievableness.

— Yevgeny Yevtushenko, "No people are…", 1961 
(Translated by Albert C. Todd)
Yevtushenko: The Collected Poems, 1952-1990 

The Lip and the Heart.

One day between the Lip and the Heart
A wordless strife arose,
Which was expertest in the art
His purpose to disclose.

The Lip called forth the vassal Tongue,
And made him vouch—a lie!
The slave his servile anthem sung,
And brav’d the listening sky.

The Heart to speak in vain essay’d,
Nor could his purpose reach—
His will nor voice nor tongue obeyed,
His silence was his speech.

Mark thou their difference, child of earth!
While each performs his part,
Not all the lip can speak is worth
The silence of the heart.

John Quincy Adams, poet and 6th President of the United States