Survival of the fittest

Survival of the fittest

Left to its own devices
           nature will always
reassert itself
           Every species
struggles in the face
           of adversity
longs to survive
           and that’s a fact

The foxes have grown fat
           living off the fat of the land
the urban foxes once
           skinny and mangy
now have bright coats
           and they strut
from back garden
           to back garden
as though they were
           the kings of the pile

John Lyons


Überleben der Stärksten

Auf sich allein gestellt
setzt sich die Natur
immer wieder durch
Jede Spezies kämpft
angesichts von Widrigkeiten
ums Überleben
und das ist eine Tatsache

Die Füchse sind fett geworden
und leben vom Fett des Landes
die Stadtfüchse einst dünn und räudig
haben jetzt helle Mäntel
und sie stolzieren
von Garten zu Garten
als wären sie
die Könige des Haufens


Wild flowers

Wild flowers

Oceans of them
           line the roads
through the woods
           border the edges
of the water-runlets
           grow all along the old fences
and are scattered in profusion
           over the fields

An eight-petalled blossom
           of gold-yellow clear and bright
with a brown tuft in the middle
           nearly as large as a silver half-dollar
is very common : yesterday
           on a long drive I noticed it
thickly lining the borders
           of the brooks everywhere

Then there is a beautiful weed
           covered with blue flowers
however white is the prevailing colour
           but there are all hues and beauties
especially on the frequent tracts
           of half-opened scrub-oak
and dwarf cedar hereabout
           —wild asters of all colours
Despite the frost-touch
           the hardy little chaps
maintain themselves
           in all their bloom

Walt Whitman

(Adapted by John Lyons from Specimen Days, first published in 1882.)


Draw up the balance

Draw up the balance

Make a list
of all the things
we all do
we must do
or die
make a list
of all the things
we can do
we can all do

it’s a big world
for so many
small minds

make a list
of all the positives
of all the negatives
draw up
the balance sheet
be grateful for
some things
militate for others

make a list of all
that makes you
make a list of all
that makes you
choose a partner
and compare notes

John Lyons

Piano practice – Übung am Klavier

Rainer Maria Rilke

Piano practice

The summer drones. The afternoon drags;
confused she sensed the freshness of her dress
and put into the compelling étude
her impatience for something real

that might appear: tomorrow, that evening—,
that perhaps was already there, albeit hidden;
and through the high panoramic windows
suddenly she glimpsed the rain-soaked grounds.

Then she stopped playing; looked out, folded
her hands; longed for a thick book—
and abruptly dismissed the jasmine scent.
She found that it made her sick.

Rainer Maria Rilke (4 December 1875 – 29 December 1926)
(translation by John Lyons)

Übung am Klavier

Der Sommer summt. Der Nachmittag macht müde; 
sie atmete verwirrt ihr frisches Kleid 
und legte in die triftige Etüde 
die Ungeduld nach einer Wirklichkeit, 

die kommen konnte: morgen, heute abend—, 
die vielleicht da war, die man nur verbarg; 
und vor den Fenstern, hoch und alles habend, 
empfand sie plötzlich den verwöhnten Park. 

Da brach sie ab; schaute hinaus, verschränkte 
die Hände; wünschte sich ein langes Buch—
und schob auf einmal den Jasmingeruch 
erzürnt zurück. Sie fand, daß er sie kränkte. 

Rainer Maria Rilke
(translation by John Lyons)

All night it rained

All night it rained

All night it rained
all night the wind howled

all night he expected a call
rain beat against the windows

the wind shook the eaves
there was complete darkness

an absolute human silence
amid the storm : but no call came

though he waited all night
and longed to hear her voice

John Lyons

Die ganze Nacht hat es geregnet

Die ganze Nacht hat es geregnet
die ganze Nacht heulte der Wind

die ganze Nacht erwartete er einen Anruf
Regen schlug gegen die Fenster

Der Wind schüttelte die Traufe
es herrschte völlige Dunkelheit

eine absolute menschliche Stille
inmitten des Sturms: aber es kam kein Ruf

obwohl er die ganze Nacht gewartet hat
und sehnte sich danach, ihre Stimme zu hören

Übersetzt von John Lyons

Palpable spring indeed

Palpable spring indeed

Palpable spring indeed
           or the indications of it
I’m sitting in bright sunshine
           at the edge of the creek
the surface just rippled by the wind
           all is solitude
morning freshness

For companions my two kingfishers
           sailing winding darting dipping
sometimes capriciously separate
           then flying together
I hear their guttural twittering
           again and again

As noon approaches
           other birds warm up
the reedy notes of the robin
           and now and then through the trees
the sibilant murmur
           of a stiff breeze

Then a poor dead leaf
           long frost-bound
whirls from somewhere up aloft
           in one wild escaped freedom-spree
in space and sunlight
           and then dashes down
to the waters
           which soon drown it out of sight

The bushes and trees
           are yet bare
but the beeches have
           their wrinkled yellow leaves
of last season’s foliage largely left
           frequent cedars and pines still green
and the grass not without proofs
           of coming fullness

And over all a wonderfully fine dome
           of clear blue
the play of light
           coming and going
and great fleeces of white clouds
           swimming by so silently

Walt Whitman

Adapted by John Lyons from Specimen Days (1882)

The ecology of justice

The ecology of justice

These magpies
           with their plump
white bellies
           rule the air

scattered on high branches
           they gather in groups
and sit in judgment
           upon us

I remember the white walls
           the cold damp bedrooms
the peeling eggshell distemper
           a pale sky that stretched
beyond the horizon
           and magpies sitting
on the tall trees
           at the rear of the garden
or swooping down
           onto the lawn

they sat in judgment then
           and sit in judgment now
they find us guilty
           guilty as charged

John Lyons