TCS: Through All My Tears I Still Shall Laugh

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Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
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“Survival is a form of resistance.”
― Meridel Le Sueur

“The people are a story that never ends,
A river that winds and falls and gleams
erect in many dawns …
The people always know that some of the
grain will be good, Some of the crop will
be saved, some will return and Bear the
strength of the kernel, that from the
bloodiest year Some survive to outfox
the frost.”
― Meridel Le Sueur,
    North Star Country


Ten Poets with birthdays this week.


February 19

1869  Hovhannes Toumanian (also spelled Tumanyan) born in Desegh, a village in what was then the Russian Empire but today is part of Armenia; poet, writer, translator, and pacifist; Armenia’s national poet. He was arrested twice for criticizing the government for its role in the oppression and massacres of Armenians. He died at age 54 in Moscow, Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, in 1923.

The Armenian Grief

by Hovannes Toumanian

The Armenian grief is a shoreless sea,
An enormous abyss of water;
My soul swims mournfully
On this huge and black expanse.
It prances at times – enraged,
And looks for the shore – blue and serene,
Where sometimes, it wearily dives deeply
Looking for fathomless rest;
But it will never reach the bottom of this sea.
It will never reach the shore.

In the Armenian grief – on the black expanse
My soul lives and mourns…

 – translator not credited


1941Stephen Dobyns born in Orange, New Jersey; prolific American poet and novelist, who has also taught at several colleges and universities, including Sarah Lawrence College and Boston University. He is the author of 24 novels and 14 poetry collections, including The Balthus Poems; Black Dog, Red Dog; Cemetery Nights; Velocities: New and Selected Poems;  and Winter’s Journey.


by Stephen Dobyns

The day I learned my wife was dying
I told myself if anyone said, Well, she had
a good life, I’d punch him in the nose.
How much life represents a good life?

Maybe a hundred years, which would
give us nearly forty more to visit Oslo
and take the train to Vladivostok,
learn German to read Thomas Mann

in the original. Even more baseball games,
more days at the beach and the baking
of more walnut cakes for family birthdays.
How much time is enough time? How much

is needed for all these unspent kisses,
those slow walks along cobbled streets?

“Prague” from The Day’s Last Light Reddens the Leaves of the Copper Beech, © 2016 by Stephen Dobyns – BOA Editions, Ltd.


February 20

1870 Pieter Cornelis Boutens born in Zeeland, the least populated and westernmost province of the Netherlands; Dutch poet, classicist, and mystic. He taught classical languages at a boarding school for boys from 1894 to 1904, when he suffered a physical collapse. After he recovered, he settled in The Hague, and earned his living as a private tutor.  Boutens was a member of the Association of Writers (founded in 1905), and became its president in 1918. He died at age 73 in 1943, after he had become a member of the Nederlandsche Kultuurkamer, part of the German occupier’s Nazification of Dutch society to keep the press and the art world under their control. This taint did not hinder his posthumous fame as a poet and translator: his voluminous collected works were successively published in seven volumes from 1943-1954.

starry sky

by Pieter Cornelis Boutens 

Now you can go to sleep safely,
Now all the heavens are open:
Soul, whose longing oak dark walls
In star to star burns transparently,
And in the beauty of this temporary land
Your eternal fate must already be loved,
As your delight looks to
The throne of God.

 – translator not credited


February 21

1907W. H. Auden born in York, England; British-American poet, playwright, and prose author who grew up near Birmingham and studied English at Christ Church, Oxford. After graduation, he spent a few months in Berlin, then taught in British preparatory schools (1930-1935). His first book Poems was published in 1930, and was very influential with his contemporaries, in spite of being poorly reviewed by most critics. He took journeys to Iceland and China (1936-1937), and wrote books about his travels. In 1939, he moved to the U.S., then became a dual American-British citizen in 1946. He taught at American universities, and occasionally at Oxford as a visiting professor. His many poetry collections include Another Time; The Double Man; The Age of Anxiety,  which won the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; The Shield of Achilles, which won the 1956 National Book Award for Poetry; and Thank You, Fog: Last Poems.

Base Words Are Uttered

by W.H. Auden

Base words are uttered only by the base
And can for such at once be understood,
But noble platitudes:—ah, there’s a case
Where the most careful scrutiny is needed
To tell a voice that’s genuinely good
From one that’s base but merely has succeeded.

“Base Words Are Uttered” from The Complete Works of W.H. Auden: Poems, Volume II, © 2022 by the Estate of W.H. Auden – Princeton University Press


February 22

1892Edna St. Vincent Millay born in Maine; American poet and playwright. She graduated from Vassar College in 1917, and published her first book of poetry that same year. She became a well-known and highly respected poet and playwright, with a strong feminist sensibility. She was the third woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, in 1923, for The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver. In 1936, she was in a road accident which severely damaged nerves in her spine, requiring frequent surgeries and hospitalizations, and at least daily doses of morphine. Millay lived the rest of her life in pain. Though she had been a dedicated and active pacifist during WWI, in the 1930s, she became very alarmed by the rise of fascism, and was an ardent supporter of U.S. involvement in WWII. She worked with the Writers’ War Board to create propaganda, including poetry. Millay’s reputation in poetry circles was damaged by her war work. Book critic Merle Rubin noted, “She seems to have caught more flak from the literary critics for supporting democracy than Ezra Pound did for championing fascism.” In 1943, St. Vincent Millay became the second woman to be awarded the Robert Frost Medal for body of work.


by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I’ll keep a little tavern
Below the high hill’s crest,
Wherein all grey-eyed people
May set them down and rest.
There shall be plates a-plenty,
And mugs to melt the chill
Of all the grey-eyed people
Who happen up the hill.
There sound will sleep the traveller,
And dream his journey’s end,
But I will rouse at midnight
The falling fire to tend.
Aye, ’tis a curious fancy—
But all the good I know
Was taught me out of two grey eyes
A long time ago.

“Tavern” from Renascence and Other Poems, first published in 1917


1900Meridel LeSeuer was born in Murray, Iowa; radical leftist American poet, short fiction writer, essayist, feminist, activist against unfair labor conditions and in favor of the land rights of Southwest and Minnesota Native American tribes. After studying dance and physical fitness, in the early 1920s she moved to New York City to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Acting, and lived in an anarchist commune. By 1925, she was a member of the Communist Party. She found work in Hollywood as an extra and a stunt woman in silent pictures, but also continued to write articles for newspapers and journals, and children’s books which became popular, including biographies like Nancy Hanks of Wilderness Road and Sparrow Hawk.  During the Depression, she wrote the harrowing “Women on the Breadlines,” published in New Masses magazine in January 1932. Lesueur was blacklisted in the 1950s as a communist, and taught writing classes in her mother’s home. In the 1960s, she travelled the U.S., attending and writing about the student protests, and in the 1970s, she lived among the Navajo people in Arizona. Her work was discovered by feminists in the 1970s, and enjoyed a revival. LeSueur’s unpublished novel, The Girl, written in the 1930s, was finally published in 1978.  Ripening: Selected Work was published 1993. She died at the age of 96 in 1996.

This poem was written after LeSeuer attended the 1985 UN Conference on Women in Nairobi.


by Meridel LeSeuer

They came, bright over the old African horizon
They came, wave after wave with their wounds bandaged in flowered woven bandages.
They rose in great waves, earth in their flesh
They came out of slavery upon which the western world was built.
They came appearing in their massive soaring power.
They came rising out of the mortgaged stolen country.
They came out of the corrupt city of Nairobi, the skyscrapers actually embedded in the starving breasts of thousands of starving farmers and workers.
The property sign brazenly, Standard Oil, Exxon, General Motors, all the predators from my country now looting the earth and the cheap labor of living beings.
They came in the thunder, carrying their dead children.
They drummed and danced and shook the gourds in flesh and power and survival.
Don’t stop me, the Sudan woman cried, I came to speak of hunger.
Don’t stop me, I appear at last.
I am not supposed to be here, I was not supposed to survive.
We are supposed to be gone.
But we appear in the thunder of our solidarity.
We claim our earth.
We claim our flesh
We have been nought
We shall be all.
I saw them. I am an old woman and I began to dance.
I will never be afraid again.
I will never feel alone again.
Dying in the old deathly world with the murderers.
Assassins. Vultures.
I will never leave the rising power of the oppressed.
The earth shall rise on new foundations, dancing, singing and the touch of love and the hosanna of freedom
They come.

1900Giorgios Seferis born as Georgios Seferriades in Urla, in the Ottoman Empire; one of the most important 20th century Greek poets, and a career diplomat in the Greek Foreign Service (1926-1967). He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1963 “for his eminent lyrical writing, inspired by a deep feeling for the Hellenic world of culture.” When the repressive right-wing ‘Regime of the Colonels’ overthrew the Greek government in 1967, many of his poems were banned, and Seferis went into voluntary seclusion. After two years of widespread censorship, political detentions, and torture, Seferis broke his silence in March, 1969, making a personal statement against the regime on the BBC World Service, with copies distributed simultaneously to every newspaper in Athens. Seferis died at age 71 in 1971, and huge crowds followed his coffin through the streets of Athens, in defiance of the military junta, singing composer Mikis Theodorakis’ setting of the banned Seferis poem. ‘Denial.’


by Giorgios Seferis

On the secret seashore
white like a pigeon
we thirsted at noon;
but the water was brackish.

On the golden sand
we wrote her name;
but the sea-breeze blew
and the writing vanished.

With what spirit, what heart,
what desire and passion
we lived our life; a mistake!
So we changed our life.

— translation by Edmund Keeley and Phillip Sherrard
 “Denial” from George Seferis: Collected Poems, © 1995 by Princeton University Press


February 23

1942Haki R. Madhubuti born as Don Luther Lee in Little Rock, Arkansas; African-American author, poet, publisher, educator, and operator of a black-themed bookstore. Co-founder in 1967 of Third World Press, considered the oldest independent black publishing house in the U.S. His poetry collections include Book of Life and HeartLove: Wedding and Love Poems.

Is Truth Liberating?

by Haki R. Madhubuti

if it is truth that binds
why are there
so many lies between

if it is truth that is liberating
are people told:
they look good when they don’t
they are loved when they aren’t
everything is fine when it ain’t
glad you’re back when you’re not.

Black people in america
may not be made for the truth
we wrap our lives in disco
and sunday sermons
selling false dreams to our children.

are refundable,
can be bought on our revolving
charge cards as
we all catch truth
on the next go round
it doesn’t hurt.

“Is Truth Liberating?” from Liberation Narratives: New and Collected Poems: 1966-2009, © 2009 by Haki R. Madhubuti – Third World Press


February 24

1837 – Rosalia de Castro born in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, an autonomous community of Spain; one of the most important figures of 19th century Spanish modern lyricism, and leading figure of the emergence of the literary Galician Language. Castro published her first poetry collection, on May 17, 1863, now celebrated as Día das Letras Galegas (Galician Literature Day), an official holiday in Galicia.

I Know Not What I Seek Eternally

by Rosalia de Castro

I know not what I seek eternally
on earth, in air, and sky;
I know not what I seek; but it is something
that I have lost, I know not when,
and cannot find, although in dreams invisibly
it dwells in all I touch and see.

Ah bliss! Never can I recapture you
either on earth, in air, or sky,
although I know you have reality
and are no futile dream.

– translated Muriel Kittel


February 25

1871 – Lesya Ukrainka born as Larysa Petrivna Kosach in Novorad-Volynskyi in what was then the Russian Empire; Ukrainian poet and political, civil and feminist activist; contributed greatly to the development of Ukrainian Modernism and its transition from Ukrainian ethnographic themes to subjects that were universal, historical and psychological. In her early teens, she contracted tuberculosis of the bone,  and often had to spend time away from home in places with dryer climates. She was arrested by tsarist police in 1907, and remained under surveillance until her death at age 42 at a health spa in the Georgia region of Russia in 1913.

Contra Spem Spero

(Against All Hope I Hope) 

by Lesya Ukrainka

Away, dark thoughts, you autumn clouds!
A golden spring is here!
Shall it be thus in sorrow and in lamentation
That my youthful years pass away?

No, through all my tears I still shall laugh,
Sing songs despite my troubles;
Have hope despite all odds,
I want to live! Away, you sorrowful thoughts!

On this poor, indigent ground
I shall sow flowers of flowing colors;
I shall sow flowers even amidst the frost,
And water them with my bitter tears.

And from those burning tears will melt
The frozen crust, so hard and strong,
Perhaps the flowers will bloom and
Bring about for me a joyous spring.

Unto a winding, flinty mountain
Shall I bear my weighty stone,
Yet, even bearing such a crushing weight,
Will I sing a joyful song.

Throughout a lasting night of darkness
Ne’er shall I rest my own eyes,
Always searching for the guiding star,
The bright empress of the dark night skies.

I shall not allow my heart to fall sleep,
Though gloom and misery envelop me,
Despite my certain feelings
That death is beating at my breast.

Death will settle heavily on that breast,
The snow covered by a cruel haze,
But fierce shall beat my little heart,
And maybe, with its ferocity, overcome death.

Yes, I will laugh despite my tears,
I’ll sing out songs amidst my misfortunes;
I’ll have hope despite all odds,
I will live! Away, you sorrowful thoughts!

– translation by Vera Rich
“Contra Spem Spero” from Lesya Ukrainka: Selected Works – University of Toronto Press, 2014 edition, originally published in 1968



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Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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