Philip Levine and Annamacharya (AKA Annamayya)

I think it may be interesting to contrast two poems on the human condition. One profane, the other sacred. One by a good social poet, recently deceased, and the other, by a poet so extraordinary, he dared to make fun of his contemporary genius poet, the basket weaver Kabir (‘So you want to be poets, you idiots? Try basket weaving.’)

You Can Have It
By Philip Levine

My brother comes home from work
and climbs the stairs to our room.
I can hear the bed groan and his shoes drop
one by one. You can have it, he says.
[…]
The city slept. The snow turned to ice.
The ice to standing pools or rivers
racing in the gutters. Then bright grass rose
between the thousands of cracked squares,

and that grass died. I give you back 1948.
I give you all the years from then
to the coming one. Give me back the moon
with its frail light falling across a face.

Give me back my young brother, hard
and furious, with wide shoulders and a curse
for God and burning eyes that look upon
all creation and say, You can have it.

Natiki nade na caduvu

by Annamayya

If you get rid of poverty, you’re stuck with riches.
You’ll never have time to think of God.
There’s always a zillion things to do.
Life whips you, like a bonded slave,
this play of shadows on the screen.
If you say no to the bad things, you are bound by the good.
You’ll never have time to think of God.
Life seeps in, like water under the carpet,
If you won’t work for wages, it’ll take work for nothing.
Say you can’t bear it: it won’t let you go,
this play of shadows on the screen.
You’re tired all day, and at night sleep takes over.
You’ll never have time to think of god.
When the god on the hill stands before you,
you’ll know: Life is nothing but show,
this play of shadows on the screen.

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