Keeping Quiet by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth
let's not speak in any language,
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victory with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I'll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), "Keeping Quiet"
Extravagaria (translated by Alastair Reid)

The End and the Beginning by Wislawa Szymborska

After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won’t
straighten themselves up, after all.

Someone has to push the rubble
to the side of the road,
so the corpse-filled wagons
can pass.

Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.

Someone has to drag in a girder
to prop up a wall.
Someone has to glaze a window,
rehang a door.

Photogenic it’s not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.

We’ll need the bridges back,
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.

Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls the way it was.
Someone else listens
and nods with unsevered head.
But already there are those nearby
starting to mill about
who will find it dull.

From out of the bushes
sometimes someone still unearths
rusted-out arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.

Those who knew
what was going on here
must make way for
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.

In the grass that has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.

Wislawa Szymborska, "The End and the Beginning " from Miracle Fair, translated by Joanna Trzeciak. Copyright © 2001 by Joanna Trzeciak.

A State of Siege (extract) by Mahmoud Darwish

In a land preparing for its dawn,
in a while
the planets will sleep in the language of poetry.

In a while
we will bid this hard road farewell,
and ask: Where shall we begin?

In a while
we will warn the young mountain daffodils
their beauty will be eclipsed when our young women pass by.


I raise a glass
to those who share my vision
of a butterfly’s joyful iridescence
in this interminable tunnel of night.


I raise a glass
to the one who shares a glass with me
in the pitch black of this night,
a night so thick we’re both in the dark.
I raise a glass to my ghost.


Peace for the traveler on the other side
is to hear a traveler talking to himself.

Peace is the sound of a dove in flight
heard by two strangers standing together.


Peace is the longing of two enemies
to be left to themselves till they die of boredom.

Peace is two lovers
swimming in moonlight.


Peace is the apology of the strong
to the weak,
agreeing strength lies in vision.

Peace is the disarming of arms
before beauty —
iron turns to rust when left out in the dew.


Peace means a full and honest confession
of what was done to the ghost of the murdered.

Peace means returning to dig up the garden
to plan all the crops we will plant.


Peace is the anguish
in the music of Andalusia
weeping from the heart of a guitar.


Peace is an elegy said over a young man
whose heart’s been torn open
by neither bullet nor bomb,
but the beauty-spot of his beloved.


Peace sings of life —here, in the midst of life,
wind running free through fields ripe with wheat.

Ramallah, 2002.