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II. Morning Coffee

My beloved, my devoted
friend and woman brings my morning
treat to bed: strong brown and fragrant
coffee with white cream, for breakfast.

As she serves it flirting, joking,
with unending cooing, fooling,
you might think in all creation
there is not a sweeter laughter.

I imagine that the flutelike
intonation of her chatter
can be matched by angels only
and the songbirds’ lusty twitter.

Her white hand — a tender lily!
How her wafting, light, cascading
curls caress her rosy features!
Such a beauty — such great splendour!

Yet, this morning, it has struck me
(why? or why not?) that her waistline
might be just a shade more slender
 . . . just a little. Just a touch.

III. The Power of Poetry

When I cried out my pain and pride and joy
you yawned: Get lost you silly boy!
When I set out my soul in poetry
your heart leapt up . . . you sang with me.

Heinrich Heine (1796-1857), a Jewish-German writer mostly based in Paris, was the great-grandfather of all poets and foreign correspondents devoted to human rights in a stiflingly illiberal world. He would have been extremely familiar with the effects of society’s loss of collective self-confidence, which we experience in our state of permanent security alerts, our lack of compassion for huge populations on the move, who risk everything to flee war and destitution, the resurgence of our populist, authoritarian political parties, the imposition by our rulers of mean domestic economic policies, and the proliferation of external military aggression. I translated these playful but deadly serious poems on my way to the Middle East to cover a conflagration of medieval brutality and callous personal cruelty.
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