Dick Davis is Professor Emeritus of Persian at Ohio State University, where he was chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures from 2002 to 2012. He has written scholarly works on both English and Persian literature, as well as eight volumes of his own poetry, and has been the recipient of numerous academic and literary awards, including both the Ingram Merrill and Heinemann awards for poetry. His publications include volumes of poetry and verse translation chosen as books of the year by The Sunday Times (UK) 1989; The Daily Telegraph (UK) 1989; The Economist (UK) 2002; The Washington Post 2010, and The Times Literary Supplement (UK) 2013. He has published numerous book-length verse translations from medieval Persian, most recently, Faces of Love: Hafez and the Poets of Shiraz (2012). He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and has been called, by the Times Literary Supplement, “our finest translator from Persian”.
To Take Courage in Childhood
The humdrum home becomes a spellbound place
Where life’s laid down, indelibly, for good;
This is the meaning of a mother’s face,
Here is the garden that is Dante’s wood
Where you’re to be undone, it seems, forever.
The florid beasts step forward, and the guide
Who whispers, “This is no time to be clever” –
What horrors will you witness at his side?
Remember though, my child, as you descend
Into the darkness that you’re certain hates you
This will not be your home. And in the end
It’s Beatrice, not Virgil, who awaits you.
Sorrow is ineluctable, not just
Among ourselves. The doctor he was meant
To be could never mitigate so much,
The stunted children in the factories,
The famished street-walker, the beggar who
Was turned away with nothing from our doors.
Within those doors the bullied and abandoned,
The beaten child who cries himself to sleep
And is afraid to wake.
He felt them all
Connected to him by an endless skein
Clogging him like the gossamer of ropes
With which the swarming Lilliputians held
Poor Gulliver, who had to get away.
The Beagle proved to be the quiet place,
His sober, meditative sanctuary;
But even so they had to put ashore.
The great man grew indignant at the plight
Of slaves and fulminated in his letters,
Excoriating Christendom so-called
That could so blithely countenance such cruelty.
And then there was the world of animals.
Just how far down life’s ramifying tree
Did all this go (the mourning elephant,
Pack animals who drive the weakest out,
His terrier, and the earthworms whom he tested
To see if they were sensitive to sound …)?
So that at times all life could seem to be
A panoply of never-ending grief,
Immense, implacable, and everywhere.
Strange how this man of tortured empathy
So boundless it encompassed all the earth
Should have his name usurped by social schemes
Of conscious callousness and willed indifference.