Vasko Popa



Translated by Anne Pennington

1. Before Play

for Zoran Mišić

You close one eye
You peer into yourself look in all the corners
Make sure there are no nails no thieves
No cuckoos’ eggs

Then you close your other eye as well
You crouch then jump
You jump as high as high as high
Right up to the top of yourself

Then your own weight drags you down
You fall for days as deep as deep as deep
Down to the bottom of your abyss

If you’re not smashed to bits
If you’re still in one piece and get up in one piece
Then you can play


5. The Wedding

Each takes off his skin
Each uncovers his constellation
Which has never seen the night

Each fills his skin with stones
Each starts dancing with it
By the light of his own stars

He who doesn’t stop until dawn
He who doesn’t blink doesn’t drop
He earns his skin

(This game is rarely played)


12. Ashes

Some are nights others stars

Each night lights up its star
And dances a black dance round it
Until the star burns out

Then the nights split up
Some become stars
The others remain nights

Again each night lights up its star
And dances a black dance round it
Until the star burns out

The last night becomes both star and night
It lights itself
Dances the black dance round itself


13. After Play

At last the hands clasp the belly
Lest the belly burst with laughing
But the belly’s not there

One hand just manages to lift itself
To wipe the cold sweat from the forehead
The forehead’s gone too

The other hand clutches at the heart
Lest the heart leap out of the breast
The heart’s gone too

Both hands drop
Idle drop into the lap
The lap’s gone too

On one hand now the rain is falling
From the other grass is growing
What more should I say

Notes on this poem

This translation was published in Vasko Popa’s Complete Poems 1953-87 (Anvil, 1997, 2011) and is updated from the version published in Modern Poetry in Translation No.1 to reflect the fact that Anne Pennington’s original translations were revised by Francis R. Jones. It is published here by permission of Carcanet Press.