Above image: Farhad Ostovani, Iris Noir (2008)

Ut musica pictura

The flower stem leans sideways as it fades.
The curling leaves are brownish, burnt by time,
But here and there a color, olive-grey or lime,
Shines out: a pane, a memory of green.

Across the antique paper, lately saved
From fire or dustbin when the engraver closed
His now outmoded studio: two creases
Scored by a century, then year and number.

So paper has a memory, like flowers.
So too the artist, who still keeps his iris
Dark by the sunlit window that he painted
Over and over many months ago. And see,

Not just the picture but his sketches, trace
Of two ghost-flowers he didn't draw, and left
Beside the one he did: magenta, orange, mauve.
Trace of the artist's hand. And then the date.

First published in American Arts Quarterly.

Above image: "Portrait of Hendrickje Stoffels," National Gallery, London

What Rembrandt Saw

The light tug of a pearl drop on her earlobe,
tick of its pendulum against her throat
measuring time's passage, or its sheer
arrest. Here. Again, here.

The weight of two gold necklaces her breast
warms slightly, drape incurved along a swell,
a lapse, a swell. So might he ride,
sails furled, one summer evening on the river.

How fur on flesh is smooth and irritant.
How folds conceal by ivory impasto,
display by contour's tributary shadow,
rill of the dark surround.

One hand expressive, one hand self-enclosed.
Lips he has never kissed.
And that enquiring gaze: unasked, unanswered
questions so apparent in the eye.

So shadowy. A pearl
hangs spinning in the balance, like a world.

First published in Poetry Review (England), and included in The Abacus of Years (David R. Godine, 2002)

Elm Trees in the Early Close of Winter set to music by Bruce Trinkley, in Mountain Laurels: A Choral Symphony (1996). Song for voice and piano, performed by Richard Kennedy, tenor; and Steven Smith, piano.

Elm Trees in the Early Close of Winter

Elm trees in the early close
of winter take me by surprise
as dusk descends,
take on, without my leave
or wish, the color mauve.

A trick of atmosphere,
earth breathing an upward cloud,
or my imposed desire,
or rising sap that swells
to leaf in winter buds?

Elm tree, shape of my desire,
what is color's origin?
Perhaps the sun's
light reflex as it moves
under the world again.

Midweek I live alone.
Desires rise and fade
with nowhere else to go.
Lengthening day, the empty vases
fill and overflow.

This poem is a section of the longer poem "Commuter Marriage," which was first published in The Southern Review, and included in Eden.

"On a Mountain Path in Spring," by the Southern Song Painter Ma Yuan (1190-1124)

On an Album Leaf

Two sparrows in their plume
composed like folds of silk
ride on the quiet brim
of a long leafless waterfall,
branches of the willow tree.

A sage wrapped in his winter cloak
approaches through the snow,
thinking perhaps of other snows
in threescore years and ten,
of cherry blossoms, the long passage down.

His feet upon the frozen bloom
make not sufficient sound
to rouse the sparrow or its mate;
but once he comes to stand
beneath the willow, gazing at the sky,
he meets the sparrow's eye.

The silken eyebeam twists,
draws thin, and breaks. The pair
desert their dry cascade
for the securer sky,
achieving easily the tiered
pavilions of the air.

First published in Poetry, and included The River Painter (University of Illinois, 1984)

Rodin to Rilke

That sensualist Rodin, who used his mouth
And nose to sculpt, as well as hand and eye,
(his models too, traced lovingly as his clay),
Said to the mystified young poet Rilke,
Work! Keep working, industry's everything.
More in works than words, Rodin declared
That once he'd loved the easy, lyric line,
Nymphs flowing in a wave, or wings in air;
But now he took the harder, subterranean
Labor of making his way into the earth
Like a totem mole, a caveman, a digger of graves.

Trying to learn the paradigms of clay
He went for the gates of hell, not paradise:
Worked up a crone, dry sticks and withered breasts,
Balzac fat as a steer, the Baptist, blind
And blackened by desert sun, mad to the world.
It's the body, the clay that matters, and secret death
Like sex is the body's trophy. You have to get
Down in the cave to work out the springs of man.
Black, damp clay is my master now, he said;
You see how it stiffens, fires to a beautiful red.

First published in the Black Warrior Review and included in The River Painter (University of Illinois Press, 1984)

"Navire d'un été" is set to music by Mirco De Stefani. To hear the music that goes with this poem, visit Christina Nadal's Audio Samples and scroll down to find "Navire d'un été".

From, Canzoni de L'été de nuit (Rivo Alto, 2010)

Mirco De Stefani, composer
Cristina Nadal, soprano
Maria De Stefani, piano

Settings of poems by Yves Bonnefoy
English translations by Emily Grosholz

II. "Navire d'un été"

Navire d'un été,
Et toi comme à la proue, comme le temps s'achève,
Dépliant des étoffes peintes, parlant bas.

Dans ce rève de mai
L'éternité montait parmi les fruits de l'arbre
Et je t'offrais le fruit qui illimite l'arbre
Sans anguoisse ni mort, d'un monde partagé.

Vaguent au loin les morts au désert de l'écume,
Il n'est plus de désert puisque tout est en nous
Et il n'est plus de mort puisque mes lèvres touchent
L'eau d'une ressemblance éparse sur la mer.

Ô suffisance de l'été, je t'avais pure
Comme l'eau qu'a changée l'etoile, comme un bruit
D'écume sous nos pas d'où la blancheur du sable
Remonte pour bénir nos corps inéclairés.

Ship of a summer,
And you, as if on the prow, as if time were coming to an end,
Unfolding the painted cloths, speaking low.

In that dream of May,
Eternity rose up among the fruits of the tree,
And I gave you the fruit that left unbounded the tree
Without anxiety or death, of a shared world.

Let the dead waver in the distance on the desert of seafoam,
There is no more desert since everything is in us,
And there is no more death, since my lips touch
The water of a scattered likeness on the sea.

O plenitude of summer, I possessed you pure
As water the star transformed, as a sound
Of seafoam under our feet where the sand's whiteness
Rose to bless our lightless bodies.

The Angel of Rheims

For François Fédier

Are you ready?
This angel smiles"
I ask, although I know
That you are doubtless ready:
For I am not speaking to just anyone,
But to you,
One whose heart will not survive the betrayal
Of your earthly king,
Who was crowned here before all the people,
Or of your other Lord,
The King of Heaven, our Lamb,
Who dies in the hope
That you will hear me again;
Again and again,
As every evening
My name is rung out by the bells
Here, in the country of excellent wheat
And bright grapes,
And tassel and cluster
Trembling respond"

But all the same,
Set in this pink crumbling stone,
I raise my hand,
Broken off in the World War.
All the same, let me remind you:
Are you ready?
For plague, famine, earthquake, fire,
Foreign invasions, wrath visited upon us?
All this is doubtless important.
But it is not what I mean.
It is not what I was sent for.
I say:
Are you
For unbelievable joy?

Poems by Olga Sedakova. Translated by Larissa Volokhonsky and Emily Grosholz

Above are two of the poems of Olga Sedakova I translated with Larissa Volokhonsky, along with a picture of the Angel of Rheims, that goes with the first poem. Six poems (translated by myself and Larissa Volokhonsky) were published in the Hudson Review, Volume LXIV / 2, Winter 2009, The Translation Issue, along with a short autobiographical essay, "A Few Lines about my Life." In addition, I wrote the preface to Olga Sedakova: Poems and Elegies, a collection of writings by Olga Sedakova, edited by Slava Yastremski (Bucknell University Press, 2003).


Above image: by Farhad Ostovani

The following poems were set to music

Rose / La Rosa (Borges)

O rose,
Imperishable rose I do not sing,
Density and fragrance,
Rose of the black garden in the dead of night,
Of any garden on any evening,
Rose that rises from the delicate
Ashes by the art of alchemy,
Rose of the Persians, Ariosto's rose,
Rose that is always alone,
That is always the rose of roses,
The youthful Platonic flower,
Ardent and blind, rose I do not sing,
Unattainable rose.

La Rosa

La rosa,
la inmarcesible rosa que no canto,
la que es peso y fragancia,
la del negro jardín en la alta noche,
la de cualquier jardín y cualquier tarde,
la rosa que resurge de la tenue
ceniza por el arte de la alquimia,
la rosa de los persas y de Ariosto,
la que siempre está sola,
la que siempre es la rosa de las rosas,
la joven flor platónica,
la ardiente y ciega rosa que no canto,
la rosa inalcanzable.


And the city today is like a map
Of my humiliations and failures;
In front of this door I watched the sunsets
And in front of this statue I waited in vain.

Here the uncertain past and the distinct present
Offer me the ordinary circumstances
Of all kinds of people, here my footsteps
Traced out its incalculable labyrinth.

Here the ashen evening will hope for
The outcome that tomorrow owes;
Here my shadow in the no less hopeless

Shadow of the end, will lose itself, lightly.
If love binds us, it is only by fear;
And that is why we desire it so much.


Y la ciudad ahora es como un plano
De mis humillaciones y fracasos;
Desde esta puerta he visto los ocasos
Y ante este mármol he aguardado en vano.

Aquí el incierto ayer y el hoy distinto
Me han deparado los comunes casos
De toda suerte humana, aquí mis pasos
Urden su incalculable laberinto.

Aquí la tarde cenicienta espera
El fruto que le debe la mañana;
Aquí mi sombra en la no menos vana

Sombra final se perderá, ligera.
No nos une el amor sino el espanto;
Será por eso que la quiero tanto.

First published in the Hudson Review, Vol. LXIV / 2, Summer 2011, and are reprinted in Poets Translate Poets: A Hudson Review Anthology, ed. Paula Deitz (Syracuse University Press, 2013).

Just a Star

An olive tree can live a thousand years,
Drawing its silver leaves and oval fruit
From stony terraces, fretting the wind
In registers of sun-inflected shadow.

But we, my love, who count the terraces
Rising to meet the stories of the sky,
Who cultivate the olive groves, who hear
The interruption in the trees as music

And weep responsive to those minor chords,
Can live only a century, no more.
Although I love you, you are just a man,
And the great silver sun is just a star.

Four for the Berggarten, Hannover


How far north Hannover lies, not many miles withdrawn
From the cold Baltic sea, its train of shadowy islands,
Open to the north wind that sweeps unanswered, unopposed
Down from the Luneberg Heath like a clan of brigands.

Yet in the Duke of Hannover's Mountain Garden,
Outside the close-built greenhouse, pane upon pane
Of sun-inducing glass, outside the walls that shine,
One Aracaria tree remains, despite its exile. Constant

Winter after winter, it holds its ground, flourishing
Sabre branches, parrying the wind's invisible swords,
Blown snow, icy rain, lightning, as if it still stood
Rooted, at home, on Patagonia's mild pacific shore.

Weeping Cedar

Stopping beside an oddly fashioned tree,
I check the label: it's a Trauerzeder.
Ah, I know that word:
A Trauerspiel's a tragedy, where tears
Play wisdom's distillate.

If I were chased by immigrant Apollo,
I wouldn't change into a laurel tree,
But coax my calyx-branches
Back down towards earth that raised me
Cedar or willow.

And if I wept a cup of tears, of leaves,
I wouldn't offer them
To thirstless deity,
Only to one who knows the taste of wisdom,
So salt and bitter.

Fagus Sylvatica Tortuosa

What makes that tree turn underground,
Burying its own branches like transversal roots,
Then forcing them back up, erupting
Twenty feet away as if a thick trajectory
Of dolphin, then back downwards under-wave,
Back under moss and leaf-mold. O but where
It meets the light it twists: the lithe grey bole
Spirals upon itself and curves in air.

Witch trees, farmers in the hills baptized them,
Then driven by Pietism cut them down.
Beech tree, ironwood, weaving a snare of branches.
But step inside and feel your heart beat faster,
As if from fear or passion, as if you'd become
The heart itself trapped in its cage of bone.


Almost October, and the sky still burnished
With summer, and the beds still overblown
With coneflowers, white daisies, black-eyed Susan,
And swales of goldenrod like heavy sunshine.

Paths that wind among the dark magnolias,
Rhododendrons, Japanese azaleas,
Define the boundaries of "Paradise,"
According to a pleated garden plan,

And lead to the Victorian Mausoleum
Where Hannover (duke, elector, king or queen)
Is laid in state behind cast iron doors
And heavier three story marble pillars.

So there we sat, with paradise before us,
And shadowy royal sepulchers behind,
Suspended in the eternity of bees,
The sweet inertial motion of our lives

Still undistinguished from the rest of love,
Until the stroke of midday with its chimed
Accelerations broke our reverie
And chased us from the garden into time.

This poem was first published in PN Review.

The poems below go with the song Dink's Blues sung by Raun Mackinnon.

Two Variations on a Theme

Fare thee well oh honey fare thee well. — Dink's Blues


Indian summer winds the trees
Without recovering their ancient green
Or leaving them in silence.
The enormous transience shimmers and burns,
Beating its empty vans on the dry hills,
An old song caught in its throat.

One of these days, it won't be long...
Believe the song, my love, and not the singer.
Wild grape-vines string the lyre
Of branches, bittersweet half-opens, ivy
Glitters like the goddess's revenge
Snaking through the forest, killing the boles.

So weather sings, and flowers
Assume the claws of some fantastic creature.
Strange choirs out of season shake the air,
Rapt in transmutation. Call my name.
Apples ripen inward, quinces
Bruise like mottled hearts, black walnuts
Tumble and litter the uncertain grass
That startles up, called by October's fictions.

Veronica follows the grass in all its errors
Repeating the saviour's face,
Each bloom with its bloody forehead, lonely gaze.
One of these days, it won't be long,
You call my name and I'll be gone.
The body of earth continues to decline
Under the great, transparent shrouds of light.
Even gods are mortal. Trust the song.


Light through the southern window throws
Shadows of cedar boughs
And the ghost of a jay, who haunts their frail
Shelter throughout the winter, on the wall.
Beyond the northern window, dusk
Stains the hills to damask, then to plum,
Sidelong to indigo. The leaves have fallen.
Sunset magnifies the neighbor's oak
To a system of borrowed light,
Thousands of theorems drawn
From the bole's exhaustive axiom: I am.

If I had wings like Noah's dove,
I'd fly down the river to the man I love.
But I stay here. Across the empty wall
Autumn displays its passages in shadow,
Re-creating the ancient masque
Of emigrant light leading out all its flocks
Along the Susquehanna, south
To Chesapeake and the ocean. Daylight drains
Our darkened continent, and leaves a tree
Of silver rivers read by satellite
Whose eye revolves a thousand miles away.

Beyond the globe's meridian
Spring is beginning on the underside:
Tall grass fledges the pampas, passionflower
Stares from balconies towards Ipanema,
Ornament for the rich and shower
Of inaccurate gaiety over the favelas.
The principles of light reverse themselves.
I am, I see, but only insofar
As I have been deceived.
Ambiguous delight withdraws behind
The window-screen, inflamed with visible night.

First published in Michigan Quarterly Review, and included in Shores and Headlands (Princeton University Press, 1984).

Brancusi's Fish as a Figure of Thought

He spent so many hours just polishing
its surfaces: two flanks
of mirror vastly dimmed
by Parian refusal: the clenched fist,
averted glance of marble.

But smoothing made it more percipient:
the studio walls, each form
(all twelve of them) that neighbored
fleetingly gathered round into a space
unlimited but finite.

Heavy, two-sided, hydroleptic, oval:
so clearly what it is
(so clarified in shape)
and yet in situ vague:
arched and penetrated by reflection.

Just so a trout in sunlit
riverrun replays
the place it swims through on its rainbow scales:
continuous the way it furls and wears
the covenant of world.

"Eden" is set to music by Bruce Trinkley, in Mountain Laurels: A Choral Symphony (1996). In the cycle Summer Evenings for voices and chamber ensembles: Eden, performed by Suzanne Roy, soprano; and the Alard String Quartet: Joanne Feldman, violin; Donald Hopkins, violin; Raymond Page, viola; Leonard Feldman, violoncello; and the Castalia Trio: James Lyon, violin; Kim Cook, violoncello; and Marylène Dosse, piano.

V. Eden

In lurid cartoon colors, the big baby
Dinosaur steps backwards under the shadow
Of an approaching tyrannosaurus rex.
"His mommy going to fix it," you remark,
Serenely anxious, hoping for the best.

After the big explosion, after the lights
Go down inside the house and up the street,
We rush outdoors to find a squirrel stopped
In straws of half-gnawed cable. I explain,
Trying to fit the facts, "The squirrel is dead."

No, you explain it otherwise to me.
"He's sleeping. And his mommy going to come."
Later, when the squirrel has been removed,
"His mommy fix him," you assert, insisting
On the right to know what you believe.

The world is truly full of fabulous
Great and curious small inhabitants,
And you're the freshly minted, unashamed
Adam in this garden. You preside,
Appreciate, and judge our proper names.

Like God, I brought you here.
Like God, I seem to be omnipotent,
Mostly helpful, sometimes angry as hell.
I fix whatever minor faults arise
With band-aids, batteries, masking tape, and pills.

But I am powerless, as you must know,
To chase the serpent sliding in the grass,
Or the tall angel with the flaming sword
Who scares you when he rises suddenly
Behind the gates of sunset.

This poem was included both in Eden and in The Abacus of Years.

"Gathering of Friends, After the Fall of the Sung Dynasty" is set to music by Bruce Trinkley, in Mountain Laurels: A Choral Symphony (1996). In the cycle Mountain Airs II for chamber choir: from Gathering of Friends, After the Fall of the Sung Dynasty, performed by the Pennsylvania Chamber Chorale, D. Douglas Miller, conductor.

III. From, Gathering of Friends, After the Fall of the Sung Dynasty

...I say that any man is equally brave
who can confess he loves his friends,
gives himself up to love of wine,
draws out the secrets of his heart
and hangs them up in black and white...

Especially when outside the wing of night
engulfs the moon; bad fortune everywhere
plays with the bones of men; unearthly war
casts his red eye and brandishes his sword.

This poem is the ending of a longer poem that was first published in Poetry, and included in The River Painter.

The above image is a picture of a landscape by Farhad Ostovani.

"Le Peu d’Eau" is set to music by Mirco De Stefani. To hear the music that goes with this poem, visit Christina Nadal's Audio Samples and scroll down to find "Le Peu d’Eau".

Spot of Water

To the snowflake
Poised on my hand, I would
Grant eternity,
Understanding my life, my warmth,
My past, these current days,
As simply a moment, this one, limitless.

And yet it melts: already
Only a spot of water, strayed
Into the mist of bodies moving through the snow.
Le Peu d’Eau

À ce flocon
Qui sur ma main se pose, j’ai désir
D’assurer l’éternel
En faisant de ma vie, de ma chaleur,
De mon passé, de ces jours d’à présent,
Un instant simplement: cet instant-ci, sans bornes.

Mais déjà il n’est plus
Qu’un peu d’eau, qui se perd
Dans la brume des corps qui vont dans la neige.

From Beginning and End of the Snow by Yves Bonnefoy (Début et fin de la neige, Mercure de France, 1991), translated by Emily Grosholz (Bucknell University Press, 2012).


Below is a poem from a set of eleven poems by Thibaut de Champagne which I translated for the French Issue of The Hudson Review (Vol. LXV/3, Autumn 2012).

To celebrate the French issue, there was a concert of Thibaut's songs by Alla Francesca at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with my translations given in the program, in December 2012. The poem below was performed (in Old French) by Alla Francesca, directed by Brigitte Lesne, the house musicians of the Musée Cluny in Paris.

In the most honored name of the Virgin Mary,
Maria, five letters stand, as I'll explain.
The first is 'M,' which signifies quite clearly
The many souls delivered from their pain
Because, through her, God first walked among men,
Freeing us all from hell, that darkest prison,
God, who for us first suffered a great passion.
Thus 'M' is for his mother and his queen.

Then comes 'A,' and fitting it is, I say,
That first within the alphabet it stands;
Thus should we first show homage to the Lady
Who carried the King, whose mercy comprehends
Us all, in her most beautiful and gentle
Body; here I rest my case on reason.
Thus 'A' comes first, as first arose the man
Who framed our laws, and gave them a fair basis.

Then 'R' occurs, and no one can deny
The reason why the blessed host is praised,
As we observe it, daily without fail,
When the priest lifts it up within his chapel:
It is God's body, who will judge us all,
Whom once the Lady carried in her body.
Then when death comes upon us, let us pray
We merit divine pity more than justice.

The 'I' is upright, noble, and well-formed,
Just like the body, as I have explained,
Of that Lady who for us suffered labor,
Lovely, upright, noble, without sin or stain.
Thanks to her kind heart, to break hell's prison,
God arrived through her, when she gave birth.
Lovely she was, and noble, lovely her son,
And thus God showed his love for everyone.

'A' may also be a plaint, you doubtless see
That when one utters "Ah!" it stems from pain.
And we must also plead in our distress
Before the Lady, who seeks that each person,
Sinning, be brought by kindness to repent.
For she has such a kind and noble heart, so pure,
That one who makes a true appeal to her
Will never fail to merit her forgiveness.

Now let us pray for her good will, for mercy,
With the sweet greeting that begins with Ave
Maria. May God save us all from mischance.

Le Chansonnier du Roi on Amazon by Thibaut de Champagne, which includes my English translations in the booklet.


Below is a poem from a set of eleven poems by Thibaut de Champagne which I translated for the French Issue of The Hudson Review (Vol. LXV/3, Autumn 2012).

To celebrate the French issue, there was a concert of Thibaut's songs by Alla Francesca at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with my translations given in the program, in December 2012. The poem below was performed (in Old French) by Alla Francesca, directed by Brigitte Lesne, the house musicians of the Musée Cluny in Paris.

To ease my sorrows,
I'll make a song.
Let my circumstances
Improve, since even Jason,
Who won the golden fleece,
Never paid such penance.
Ay, ay, ay!

I quarrel with myself,
Since my own reason
Tells me I'm acting childish,
Staying in prison
With no hope of ransom;
I need some solace.
Ay, ay, ay!

My lady's well known,
Of such renown,
I've written my devotion
To her in song.
Dearer than another woman's
Love is her mere glance.
Ay, ay, ay!

I love her company, and even
Her sweet name,
More than the domain of France.
May he find doom,
Who disapproves of love, from
Doubt or sheer alarm.
Ay, ay, ay!

A memory of her remains,
As my companion,
And every day her face returns,
And her dear fashion.
Love, grant me recompense!
Don't suffer my misfortune!
Ay, ay, ay!

Lady, I only long
To tell you everything.
Ay, ay, ay!

Le Chansonnier du Roi on Amazon by Thibaut de Champagne, which includes my English translations in the booklet.