Brief bio sketch

Lloyd Haft (1946- ) was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin USA and lived as a boy in Wisconsin, Louisiana and Kansas. In 1968 he graduated from Harvard College and went to Leiden, The Netherlands for graduate study in Chinese (M. A. 1973, Ph. D. 1981). From 1973 to 2004 he taught Chinese language and literature, mostly poetry, at Leiden. His sinological publications include Pien Chih-lin: A Study in Modern Chinese Poetry (1983/2011; published in Chinese translation as 发现卞之琳: 一位西方学者的探索之旅 in 2010) and Zhou Mengdie’s Poetry of Consciousness (2006). His most recent sinological book, a liberal modern Dutch reading of Laozi's Daode jing, was published as Lau-tze's vele wegen by Synthese in September 2017. His newest book of poems in Dutch, Intocht (Introit) has been available as a POD from the American Book Center since June 2018.

He has translated extensively into English from the Dutch of Herman Gorter and Willem Hussem, and from the Chinese of various poets including Lo Fu, Yang Lingye, Bian Zhilin and Zhou Mengdie.

Since the 1980s he has also been active as a poet writing in Dutch and English. He was awarded the Jan Campert Prize for his 1993 bilingual volume Atlantis and the Ida Gerhardt Prize for his 2003 Dutch free-verse readings of the Psalms (republished by Uitgeverij Vesuvius in 2011). His newer poems are published (some republished) on this blog. His newest book of poetry in Dutch is Intocht (Introit), issued by the American Book Center in June 2018.

After early retirement in 2004, for a number of years Lloyd Haft spent much of his time in Taiwan with his wife Katie Su. In June 2019 he was named a Distinguished Alumnus of National Taiwan Normal University. In addition to writing and translating, his interests include Song-dynasty philosophy and taiji quan. For many years he sang in the choir of a Roman Catholic church of the Eastern Rite in The Hague.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

If You’re Lucky, For a While You’ll Be Almost As Immortal As The Illustrious Deceased (or, Who Do We Translate For?) – Part One[1]

(Scraps from a Sinological Scrapbook 漢齋閒情異誌, fragment 5)

When the world-famous writer and translator Lin Yutang 林語堂 published his Chinese-English dictionary in 1972, he was 77 years old. He said he regarded this 1720-page work as the most important thing he had ever published. At the time – I was a young graduate student in Chinese – I was surprised that Lin, a bilingual novelist, essayist and translator whose works had been published in many languages, should say a dictionary was his most important work. True, in those days we were all anxiously awaiting the coming of a new dictionary of modern Chinese that might prove at least reasonably useful. But wasn’t a dictionary a mere reference book, a useful homely implement rather than the crowning glory of more than half a century of creative effort?
        In a certain sense, making a Chinese dictionary is always a ‘creative effort’: it is in itself a high kind of translation, since (in the words of the preface to the English Amoy Dictionary published by the Maryknoll Fathers in Taichung, Taiwan in 1995) ‘the whole style and character of Chinese thought and expression often is so different from its nearest English equivalent.’ It is not just the language, but the mentality behind the language, that needs to be ‘brought across.’ It is exactly in this respect that I have always found Lin Yutang’s dictionary uniquely useful. My own translations from Chinese would have been unthinkable without his dictionary. Lin’s detailed and – I’ll just say – loving treatment of the vocabulary yields simultaneous insights into language, culture and history. For example, on page 982 we read that janshiar (Lin’s spelling for 沾洽, on spelling see below) means literally ‘soaked,’ figuratively ‘soaked with learning,’ and in older literary language ‘immersed extensively with royal favors.’
        Aside from all the unusual words, or unusual meanings of ordinary words, Lin’s dictionary is often very helpful as to the ordinary meanings of ordinary words. His dictionary indicates in an uncomplicated and straightforward fashion that one of the meanings of the verb hui is ‘will.’ It is remarkable how many other Chinese dictionaries do not mention this meaning; lexicographers seem to have been hypnotized by the other meaning ‘may, might’, so that they seem perversely inclined to hear something tentative or subjunctive in this verb. But the sentence wo xiawu jiu hui qu 我下午就會去simply means ‘I’m going this afternoon,’ and certainly not ‘I might actually go this afternoon, at least if I’m not struck by a meteorite first.’
        But if I had to say what Lin Yutang’s ‘real’ masterpiece as a translator was...what would it be? A number of texts could be considered, each of which would have been the life work of a lesser translator. Lin’s translation of the Dao De Jing has perhaps been neglected because there are already so many other translations, rewritings, or imitations of this text, or because Lin did not publish it as a separate volume but as one section of a book in which he also translated extensive selections from Zhuangzi.
        My own favorite would be the text Lin calls Six Chapters of a Floating Life: in other words, Fusheng liuji 浮生六記 by the 18th- and 19th-century prose writer Shen Fu 沈復. The intrinsic charm of this autobiographical story (which, by Chinese standards, goes into much personal detail on the personal relationship between husband and wife), in combination with Lin’s memorably intimate-sounding choice of words, makes this a text that I love to re-read. Was Lin Yutang too much the traditional Chinese scholar to want to regard a private and personal document, a text which amused but did not deliberately edify, as his paramount translation? (As far as that goes, be advised: his preface to the Six Chapters definitely does give it a philosophical cast.) Maybe it was a question of proportions: the Six Chapters comprise no more than 80 pages.
       I think Lin Yutang valued his dictionary more than a ‘creative’ translation because of his age when he finished it. At 77, he was in a position to have a mercilessly realistic insight into the relativity of all our vaunted literary publications. Whether the physical collapse that he soon thereafter suffered was due, as his biographers claim, to hard work on the dictionary, or was just a sign of his approaching demise (he had less than four more years to live) – is unclear. But he must have reached an age or a perspective from which the important thing was not the exact fate of this or that thing that he had published in the past, but just that it should all keep going on - that he should be a contributor to the Great Ongoing. With his dictionary, he had helped enable a younger generation to carry on, to take further, a line of work into which he had poured his spirit and his love.
        He could not have known that his dictionary would soon be overshadowed by others which were felt to be more user-friendly, nor that within a few years the coming of computers and word-processors would make it impossible for even the most brilliant scholar to do again what he had done – to compile a whole dictionary using nothing but his own erudition and a room full of index cards. In that sense, Lin Yutang’s dictionary remains a unique creative achievement, whether or not its value for users is ‘permanent’ (I think it is).
        The ironical thing is that it was exactly what Lin perceived as the most individually creative aspects of his dictionary – that prevented it from being universally welcomed. Both for the sequential arrangement of the characters and for the alphabetic transcription in which he spelled their pronunciation, he used complicated systems which he himself had invented and which, to my knowledge, were never before or afterward used in any other book! We will never know how many potential buyers, browsing in the bookstore, were hopelessly discouraged by the sight of the table in the front of Lin’s dictionary, indicating what they would have to master in order to look up characters in it: a ‘Chinese alphabet’ comprising ten overall geometric forms with variants, thirty-three ‘letters’ in all – in addition to an all-new array of ‘fifty radicals’ in place of the 214 radicals used in traditional dictionaries.
        It was not the first time that a translator had proudly presented his Spiritual Progeny to the world only to find that the times were hopelessly against it. During the Second World War, John C. H. Wu 吳經熊, one of the most famous Chinese converts to Catholicism and translator, among other things, of what I think is a superb version of the Dao De Jing, made a full translation of the Book of Psalms into Classical Chinese (also known as ‘literary Chinese’ or wenyan 文言). He later stated that this thin volume was the most beautiful thing he had ever produced in Chinese. Within a couple of years, he had also gone on to do the whole New Testament in the same Classical Chinese idiom. For a while the Psalms version was a best-seller, but nowadays you will be hard put to find a second-hand (or tenth-hand) copy of either the Psalms or the New Testament in Wu’s version. The classical language into which he translated had still been a ‘prestige language,’ a sign of good education, when Wu was young, but during his lifetime it was studied less and less by the upcoming generation. By the end of the twentieth century, the accepted view was that ‘young readers nowadays’ could not be expected to understand the style and idiom of Wu’s versions dating from the 1940s. (Is this just another case of the patronizing underestimation of young people’s intelligence which is, I am afraid, almost epidemic among editors and publishers?) I wonder to what extent Wu was secretly disappointed by the eventual limbo into which his translations fell. I have heard native speakers say, very recently, that his New Testament is written in the most ‘Chinese-sounding Chinese’ of any Bible version they have seen – not surprisingly, if we compare it with the so-called Union Version, undoubtedly the most widely read, which is a perfect example of a text obviously written in ‘translationese,’ which managed to become well-established because of the overall prestige and cultural influence of the original. In any case, in the autobiography Wu published in 1951 (while his Psalms were still popular), he modestly stated that his only aim had been to get Chinese readers interested in the Holy Scriptures.[2]

(to be continued)

[1] A Dutch version of this article appeared as 'Als het lukt, ben je voorlopig bijna zo onsterfelijk als een dode, of: voor wie vertalen wij?' Het trage vuur nr. 24 (dec. 2003), pp. 68-73.
[2] For more on Wu’s Bible translations, see Lloyd Haft, 'Perspectives on John C. H. Wu's Translation of the New Testament,' in Chloe Starr (ed.), Reading Christian Scriptures in China, London/New York: T. and T. Clark, 2008, pp. 189-206; or
'De Dao als Logos in een Chinese vertaling van het Nieuwe Testament,' in Gerd van Riel en Bart Raymaekers (eds.), Taoisme, Een weg van oost naar west? Leuven: Universitaire Pers Leuven, 2008, pp. 73-91.

uit Brandende lisdodden 1 (gedichten)


(1)     De schaatsers

--Peking 1979

Al wat schaatsen draagt
noemt zich ik, kiest zich één baan
onder de banen,

met de kringen mee
langs zoveel grijze jassen
geen twee dezelfde.

(2)     Diapositief

Vanuit een gevoel
dat eens in je buik leefde
vind je paarden mooi.

Achter een wit hek
in het zonlicht lijken ze
wit, onvoorbedacht.

Het veld waarop ze
lopen ziet helemaal wit
van madeliefjes –

paarden die lopen
zoals kinderen domweg
bloemen weggaven.

(3)     Gemeentewerken

Wie hier de Beuk geveld heeft
laat tanden in de aarde na –
de mijne. En klauwen. En ’t Zware

dat zaaide, dat botte tot de tafel
kraakte van zoet –
woelt, woedt,

wortelt van verweer. Háár kaakbeen
klinkt in het mijne. Geen aardse spade
houdt haar hout van m’n ader.

Noem het tevergeefs: ik noem,
ik geef te kennen liefde
in verlies gekend –

en langs eenzelfde snelweg
één U minder.

--Lloyd Haft (uit Brandende lisdodden, Querido 1984)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Psalm Poems (139)

After Psalm 139

You’ve taken me on.
I wake, and my rising
stands in your knowing.
You follow my going
onto my streets and over,
out into your distances.
Where will my walk,
my circle end
except in your opening eye?
Wide enough’s your Eye
for all my ways.
Be ever so strange
the word that tries my lips:
you’ll be the sayer.
You wait me all around,
ahead, behind –
where do my fingers reach
but into deeper knowing
that is yours of me?
Where could I go
that wouldn’t bring together?
Ever our face is wider, meets
opener. If I could climb your heavens,
so would you.
If I preferred your hell
you’d wait in hell.
If I took the wings of morning,
flew the ocean – when I landed
it would be into your hand.
If I called down all your darkness
all my darkness
would be light to you:
my dark you never feared.
My innards hang within me
and within your knowing;
down in my mother’s belly
you began with me.
Was fear, was wonder yours
before it settled in my soul?
You’re implicated in my very under.
Deep within your earth the faults
become with me.
Gleaming in my bones
they are my lines and characters,
your mind’s to lighten them,
to see how you shall read them.
How can I tell you what they mean
to me – your thoughts by me?
I feel them all around me, more
than sands around the sea.
And when we both awaken
they’ll be there for us.

--Lloyd Haft

On the ‘Revelations’ of Art

(Scraps from a Sinological Scrapbook 漢齋閒情異誌, fragment 4)

Upon entering the famous Gemeentemuseum (Municipal Art Museum) in The Hague 海牙 (famous, among other things, for its collection of paintings by Mondriaan), one of the first things a visitor sees is an impressive motto on the wall: ‘Honor the Divine Light in the Revelations of Art.’ I have often thought that phrase is almost a nutshell summary of the main differences between traditional Chinese and modern Western esthetics.
        To begin with, the concept of a specifically ‘divine’ light is Western, and to traditionally brought-up Westerners definitely suggests a kind of ‘light’ that is ‘not of this world,’ somehow different from, more than ‘merely’ natural light. In a traditional Western context, it goes without saying that that ‘higher’ or ‘divine’ light is better than, preferable to, any light that nature has to offer.
        Next, the idea that what art produces are ‘revelations.’ The very word ‘revelation’ would have reminded our Western ancestors of the last book of the Bible, the Revelation of St. John in which ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ are proclaimed. A ‘revelation’ shows you something you have never seen before. And it is something important, not just a trivial discovery. There is the suggestion that your whole view of things will never again be quite the same.
        For some time now in the West – since the 19th century at least – we have assumed that the task or function of art is to do this: to bring in something new, a way of seeing things, a light or perspective or opening that had not quite been there before. For us, artistic expression does not provide answers; it reveals the relativity and inadequacy of the former answers. This is what the American conductor Leonard Bernstein meant when he said the role of the artist is to ‘shout the great questions.’
        In traditional Chinese culture, the role of the artist is to repeat the great answers. The answers, as the standard social discourse has laid them down, are already long since known. The artist (or writer, poet) does not grope toward an unknown; he or she affirms what is (said to be) known.
        In the West, the ever-questioning and perhaps unsettling quality of art, its refusal to become just another adjunct to society’s existing discourse, is felt as something positive. Kenneth Rexroth, one of the great translators of Du Fu’s 杜甫 poetry in English, said the best art was ‘permanently caustic (酸性的and unassimilable (不可同化的 ).’ Julia Kristeva has written that artistic expression is a ‘privileged area’ of ‘transgression (違反) and enjoyment’ – a very different thing from adjustment to, harmonious co-management of, a tradition which claims already to have laid down the possible meanings within all ‘areas’ of society.
        If ‘transgression and enjoyment’ are not the goals or defining features of the traditional Chinese conception of the arts...what are? An often-quoted passage from Confucius, though it refers specifically to the ancient Book of Odes (詩經), represents a pretty general attitude. I will quote it here in the translation of James Legge:

The Master said, ‘My children, why do you not study the Book of Poetry [i.e. of Odes – L. H.]? The Odes serve to stimulate the mind. They may be used for purposes of self-contemplation. They teach the art of sociability. They show how to regulate feelings of resentment. From them you learn the more immediate duty of serving one’s father, and the remoter one of serving one’s prince. From them we become largely acquainted with the names of birds, beasts, and plants.’ [Analects 論語 Book 17, chapter 9]

In the footnotes to his translation, Legge explains that according to tradition, the Odes ‘stimulate the mind’ through ‘the descriptions in them of good and evil’; they are useful for ‘self-contemplation’ because one can compare one’s own character with those whom the Odes ‘praise and blame’; they teach ‘sociability’ because they exhibit ‘gravity in the midst of pleasure’; and by their blend of ‘pity and reproofs’ they ‘teach how to regulate our resentments.’
        As an Occidental who has been involved with traditional Chinese and modern Western poetry for a couple of generations, I must admit that in re-reading this summation by Confucius, I cannot easily find a single point in it that is comparable with what we expect from ‘modern’ Western poetry. Even the first point – that poetry can ‘serve to stimulate the mind’ – is problematical. Our first reaction would probably be that poetry does not ‘serve to’ do anything it all; it is an autonomous factor that has no concrete goal, maybe even that liberates us from the oppressive notion that we should always have ‘goals’ in mind. In any case, the kind of person whose ‘mind’ is not yet ‘stimulated’ is not likely to start reading poetry in the first place!
        Next: our notion of ‘self-contemplation’ would not, I think, be based on the ‘praise and blame’ of others. Maybe it would not be based on any definite ethical standard, not concerned with social behavior at all. For many of us, ‘self’ begins where ‘society’ and its obligations leave off. This takes us on to ‘sociability’: quite a few people in the West think of a ‘poet’ as by definition a hopelessly ‘unsociable’ type of person: a rather dubious eccentric whose contribution to  any social setting is not likely to be outstanding. When I was a young graduate student, for a while in the U.S. George McGovern was a candidate for President. The fact that he wrote poetry was sometimes cited with derision by his opponents as an indication that his character was not suitable for such high office. Such a person, they were implying, lacked the necessary qualities of realism and practicality. He could not be trusted with the management of society and its traditions.
        Again, we certainly would not turn to poetry for help in ‘regulating feelings’ or ‘learning duties’ – rather to lighten the burdens that lifelong ‘regulation’ and ‘learning’ have laid upon our hearts. And even Confucius’ last point: that poetry helps us to learn ‘the names of birds, beasts, and plants’ – would lead us to ask: ‘what do you mean by “birds, beasts, and plants”?’ In modern poetry, they are liable not to be the ordinary factual ‘birds, beasts, and plants’ of the objective world, but to be imaginary versions which may or may not look like, behave like etc., their ‘real’ counterparts. In other words, poetry is didactically useless.
        In the Chinese world, didactically contributing to the generation-unto-generation management of social tradition is, I would say, the main task of poetry, of the arts and of mental life in general. The arts are not perceived as outside the continuum of what ordinary well-educated citizens would recognize to be their concerns. This explains what seems to us (to me, at least) the one-sided Chinese preference for clarity, recognizability, and absence of unresolved sectors in art works. It also underlies some fundamental differences in what people expect from, or can accept from, poems or paintings. In the traditional Chinese view:

1. Lack of originality is not a problem. If anything, similarity to existing works adds to the clarity and recognizability, hence the acceptability, of a new work.

2. It is considered perfectly reasonable for non-experts (as long as they are reasonably educated and, above all, well-behaved members of society) to sit in judgment upon the productions of art. The esthetic and (especially) moral standards which apply in other areas of life also apply in the arts. A person who is sensible and prudent in judging other things can be expected to be equally reliable as a judge of literature and the arts.

In other words – and this is the crux – the arts are an integral part of the standard overall discourse of society, not an alternative to it. (I would even say that in the Chinese view of life there is not, nor should there be, any such thing as an alternative discourse – what Kristeva would call a ‘privileged area.’) Now, even in the West, social discourse, as any reader of Lacan could tell us, very heavily determines us as individuals. Even before we were born, there was an assigned place for us in the discourse...we were pre-destined to be the son or daughter of NN., we were ‘bound to’ inherit such-and-such features, ‘likely to’ behave in such-and-such ways, and so on. In this primal pre-determination by society and its net of pre-established meanings, we Westerners see something fatefully threatening: an unfreedom, an imposed limitation on which we have not been consulted. In the Chinese world, the pre-existing discourse is seen as benevolent, a welcome enveloping framework in which the individual, by abandoning him or herself to it, can feel at home.
        You can feel at home in it, of course, only as long as there are no sudden fundamental changes of perspective. No perceived need for revelations. And no revelations.

--March 15, 2011

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Helga: Gedichten (uit Atlantis)

bij schilderijen en tekeningen uit de Helga-Suite van Andrew Wyeth

(1)   Hertjes

Voor de schaarse mussen,
voor het ordelijk wegvallen
van de laatste bladeren

voor de knaap met z’n mutsje
die grind tot hopen harkt,
voor hertjes die één keer eerder
ons pad kruisten

was het niet
of niet meer

Alles ging,
alles verging ook

Maar het geviel
toen de wind opkwam
en je haar en je schouders even
eenzelfde wending namen

dat ik de klank,
de wiekslag van de gans,
de uit de vlucht geslagene niet langer
kon onderscheiden van het spinnewiel –

kraken, kermen
dat heel een streng ontwond en mij
je haren liet, leidraad
door heel dat bos.

Zo werd ik wijzeloos,
mijn naam een wending
in een onvertaalbaar verhaal –

wat de gans misschien
ook bijna bedoelde
toen het roepen onbegonnen,

eigen bleek en wegvallend
aanbleef, eindeloos vallend over
spoel en schouder.

(2)   Orde

Windstreken, werelddelen
vallen in het niet naast je nagels,
de hand: klei en gedachte

samen. Waar zoveel glans is
schept elk verroeren
aarde: heup verleggen is

berg doen bloeien. Afstand,
licht tussen duim
en wijsvinger maakt,

breekt. Het tastbare laken
kreunt, kreukt bij de vuistslag
van je vreugde.

(3)   Naamloos

Doe er gordijn,
deken op dicht

want het licht van deze wereld
wil lippen voor zich, monden
tot tondel.

Herfstwind, graag vonkende
voerder, aast al
op de vuurslag van je zo ver
reikende hals.

(4)   Bron

Je mond is een uitkomst in licht,
vast punt vlietend uitgerekt
langs ongerijmde lijnen.

In bijzijn en schaduw

neigen de donkere
tedere hellingen
rustig nader
thuis tegen het openen in

van mijn, dit uur wellicht van al je ogen.

(5)   Badplaats

Met één voet die buiten de droom uit
steekt, blijf je nog verbonden
aan zand, aan deze woestijn

van warmte en weten
waarin ik je bezingend,
smachtend bezag.

Met naast je de schaduw van je lijf
drijf je al op zeeën van
wat hier geen kleuren kende,

wat in de herinnering pas
roze moet blijken of blauw,
in die branding.

(6)   Schuil

Nu wil ik terug zijn,
‘een mens in een jas’,
in vleesvormige verknoesting,

als al het andere
zo stil, zo zeker geklemd
tussen vuur en steen.

Ik steek de kop op midden
in gapend graniet.

Zelfs weinig licht
is tussen zulke rotsen

waar mijn schaduw
op ondenkbare barsten
vat krijgt

en de hagedis niet eens meer
schrikt van mijn schreden –

kenner van wat min,
minnaar van wat moe mag zijn.

(7)   Vizier

Naarmate je van me weg
raakt, weet ik je
te staan, zo’n schouder

van achteren, jas
om schouder, sneeuw
om jas, ga door.

vallen de vlokken,

vosogige. Gefaseerd,
gedoseerd krijg ik je
weg en op de korrel.

--Lloyd Haft (uit Atlantis, Querido 1993)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Psalm Poems (97-100)

(1) After Psalm 97

Joy will be the earth’s when,
if you come.
And if you come with clouds about you,
still you come. Beyond our hearing
almost is your name, with all the fire,
all the swords that came before you here.
And yet we’ve heard of you.
A flash has broken through the earth to us:
of you. It had to do with longing:
that you were not contented
with your height: you longed for us:
for even me you longed,
your joy was stronger even than my fear.
A flash, a joy
has been enkindled here:
my little lamp of thankfulness
to light your way through darkness
if you come.

(2) After Psalm 98

What could I say that would be new for you?
if ever I really knew of you, I’d be.
What’s an earth, an ocean?
What are the rivers, serpent-like
arising from their beds and falling back?
What is a mountain rising into snow,
melting again in wind?
Not water, not stone –
I would be the new thing
if I knew of you.

(3) After Psalm 99

Where you rest on high’s
too high for me to see.
It’s here in print I see your name
and read aloud: say he.
Higher than I can read they say
you seemed to your seekers –
your Moseses, your Aarons.
They wrote us,
wrought us what you seemed to say
on high, high on a mountain
in a cloud of do’s and don’ts.
That they said was you.

(4) After Psalm 100

Look for Whose face where joy is:
wherever, whenever you can sing –
there are the eyes
that open as the heart,
as gates,
as portals almost opening
from here.

--Lloyd Haft

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Psalm Poems (119)

After Psalm 119

(1) aleph

Blessed would be the one
whose walk was a way,
treading into light
what the whole heart sought:
who knew the dooms that self has brought
are wrought for you:
a helping you be witnessed
in the need that’s yours and mine.
Am I made to find your track?
Will all my groping come to you?
My praise is honest:
honest as my longing is
to find your truth, and find it in myself.

(2) beth

The search for you is all the heart I have –
and is my heart for nothing?
Your truth hidden in it –
and you think I won’t hear?
I follow what I hope’s your trace,
my heart’s most hidden, rumored
in my lips’ probing.
Your traces are my treasures.
All my thoughts are searchings,
soundings of the need that is
your only way with me.
What’s truth in you be joy in me.

(3) daleth

I seek my soul
and what I see is dung.
Hold me up
as you were said to do.
Feel in my reach for your reasons
your work, your will.
My soul can’t stand alone:
hold me up
as you were said to do.
Between the fragments of my heart
is room enough: my opening
for you.

(3) vau

May what I meet
the wideness be
where all your silence waits:
silence that my answer be
to all the loud and much and here
that tries my trust.
Ask me not too soon:
I still hope for you.
There in your wideness of silence
may my answer be.
All my going wrong is going on:
down your track, your time.
Where all the high and wise are loud
your silence is my joy.
All that I throw my hands up in
is nothing but your truth,
nothing but my love:
nothing but of you and me.

(4) zain

You are the one who makes me hope
for you, for the word.
Wherever there’s still word of you
I live.
Whatever the heckler says –
with you I hold
and in that thought am held.
Whatever the blaze I’m lost in
I’ll see it through
and trace you back
and home into your dark.
Yours is the name
that whispers where I breathe.

(5) jod

Are you where my hands started?
Are you where they point?
Let me feel in my fear
your pointing,
your nearing edge of truth.
Let me know that my troubles are truths,
lamps along your ways.
Let me shelter in your wideness;
your silence be my rest.
Let all my path from throe to throe
be pointing: trace to truth.

(6) lamed

Does truth abide
in other than our time?
Will we hear of you
while earth still is?
Your word, your world.
And here I am: bound,
held to both.
If part of your truth weren’t joy
I’d long be gone.
But I remember:
I’m alive.
That also is your truth.
I may not hear your answers
but I need them.
So much is set to wreck me
but I reckon with you.
Though all the earth should tell I’m trapped,
your truth is wider.

(7) pe

Is there a trace of you so small
my soul won’t cling to it?
The strangeness of your traces
is the sense of my soul.
If your word were small
I’d hear it, and sing with you in light.
I open my lips
and my breath catches:
is that your answer?
Am I a sense of what you see?
the sound of my steps your voice?
My face your light,
your truth, your dawn in me?
Your answer is the living water
streaming from my seeking eyes.

(8) koph

My heart is full when I call:
that’s where I hold you.
My calling is my sign of you,
my proof that I was here before the dawn
to seek your word
and in my hope to find.
Longer than the
is the light my eyes are seeking:
seeking with the me I’ll find you in.
Find in your vastness also
my voice: and in your sight my life.
All that surrounds, besets me here
are signs – senses through to you,
true to you.
All that I know will witness you in me.

--Lloyd Haft

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Psalm Poems (17-18)

(1) After Psalm 17

Include my truth. Be wide enough
to hear my cry and know it is
yourself behind that sound.
These lips are not no One’s;
the light in my eyes is yours.
My face begins where yours is not in sight,
same crying for same.
And where you hear me
is where you could be.
Try my night; sound it:
all my dark is nothing but your own.
All that my lips repeat is in your name:
hear in me your eye’s own heart,
hub of your wings,
hollow of what you hold:
what we embrace together.
Wake, and help me hold!
Loose me from the lightlessness
your sword has left around us.
Help me survive the workings of your hand.
And when I wake to find I’m in an image –
I want it to be yours.

(2) After Psalm 18

I shall love you,
shall call you good
even if your net of death
is eyeing on me here.
Even your net of death is strung
on threads of life.
I shall; o let me follow them;
let me follow all your threads
in endlessness of hope.

--Lloyd Haft

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Psalm Poems (130-133)

(1) After Psalm 130

Where I call you, we’re deep.
There you might be,
nearest the voice of my sorrow:
like you she has no end.
Sharing the one silence:
you in your ever,
I in my fear.
Where saying you fails
I wait you. Here your word might be.
I hope you. Make
of my hope your dawn,
of what I most endure your day.

(2) After Psalm 131

The name that was before thoughts were
you are, in me.
Before I had a mouth
I had a mother.
My soul that was to meet you here
will wait. My lips can wait no more
to thank you: that they still can say your name.

(3) After Psalm 132

Any home I’ve lived in
was a tent in the wind.
Any night, my bed has been
a thing to cling and hide against:
a cold mountain.
And if I have to pray my eyes
to shut in darkness for an hour –
it’s all because I never find
your place on this earth.
Not in the tent:
not in the wind.

(4) After Psalm 133

Rarely on the earth
we are together.
Where we are, the balsam is
that once upon us brings the limbs
to give their light forever.
Dew that once upon the morning
brings the mountain glowing through the day.
Once be seen
is always be, together.

--Lloyd Haft