World Poems on the Underground

You took away all the oceans and all the room, Osip Mandelstam ' You took away all the oceans and all the room. You gave me my shoe-size in earth with bars around it.'

The poets in our collection of World Poems were born in forty-four different countries, spanning the continents. Some poets remained in their country of birth, identifying passionately with its language and culture; others roamed the world as students, travellers or exiles. Many settled in London, drawn by its long tradition of welcoming the wider diasporas from every corner of the world.

Common themes recur in these poems: the triumphs and tragedies of history, the sorrows of exile, the joys of return, the enduring consolations of art and poetry. The poets range from writers just making a name for themselves to Nobel laureates. Several write in English, others in over twenty different languages; their poems are translated here by distinguished British, Irish and American poets. Each poet contributes something unique and personal to the story of their lives and also of ours.

We hope the poems will introduce a new audience to a broad range of world poetry: a celebration in many eloquent voices of our common humanity

You can download a copy of our World Poems on the Underground Leaflet here or see all 44 poems in their original poster form below.

AFGHANISTAN: My Voice Partaw Naderi translated by Sarah Maguire & Yama Yari

My Voice ,Partaw Naderi Translated by Sarah Maguire and Yama Yari ' I come from a distant land with a foreign knapsack on my back with a silenced song on my lips As I travelled down the river of my life I saw my voice (like Jonah) swallowed by a whale And my very life lived in my voice' Kabul, December 1989

 ARUBA: Free Merle Collins

Free, Merle Collins 'Born free to be caught and fashioned and shaped and freed to wander within a caged dream of tears'

 AUSTRALIA: Late Summer Fires Les Murray

Late Summer Fires, Les Murray ' The paddocks shave black with a foam of smoke that stays, welling out of red-black wounds. In the white of a drought this happens. The hardcourt game. Logs that fume are mostly cattle, inverted, stubby. Tree stumps are kilns. Walloped, wiped, hand-pumped, even this day rolls over, slowly. At dusk, a family drives sheep out through the yellow of the Aboriginal flag.'

 AUSTRIA: A Collector Erich Fried  translated by Stuart Hood

A Collector, Erich Fried tr. Stuart Hood 'The things I found But they'll scatter them again to the four winds as soon as I am dead Old gadgets fossilised plants and shells books broken dolls coloured postcards And all the words I have found my incomplete my unsatisfied words '

BARBADOS: Naima Kamau Brathwaite  

Naima for John Coltrane, Kamau Brathwaite 'Propped against the crowded bar he pours into the curved and silver horn his own unhappy longing for a home'

CANADA: giovanni caboto/john cabot Earle Birney

giovanni caboto/john cabot by Earle Birney (1904-1995) ' fourteen hundred and ninety seven giovanni sailed from the coast of devon 52 days discovered cape breton n.s. caught some code went home with 10 bear hides (none prime) told henry 7 his majesty now owned cipango land of jewels abounding moreover in silks & brasilwode also the spice islands of asia & the country of the grand khan henry gave giovanni 30 quid to go back to nova scotia who was kidding who?'

CHILE Poetry Pablo Neruda translated by Alistair Reid

POETRY LA POESIA by Pablo Neruda (1904-73) translated by Alastair Reid ' La Poesía Y fue a esa edad... Llegó la poesía a buscarme. No sé, no sé de dónde salió, de invierno o río.... And it was at that age ... Poetry arrived in search of me. I don't know, I don't know where it came from, from winter or a river. I don't know how or when, no, they were not voices, they were not words, nor silence, but from a street I was summoned, from the branches of night, abruptly from the others, among violent fires or returning alone, there I was without a face and it touched me.'

 CHINA: Vase Yang Lian  translated by John Cayley

Vase, Yang Lian 'a word eradicates the world a feather drifts down and yet, a bird's nest in each of its fragments preserves the whole'

CZECH REPUBLIC: In the microscope  Miroslav Holub translated by Ian Milner

FINLAND: Almost without Noticing  Eira Stenberg translated by Herbert Lomas

Almost without Noticing, Eira Stenberg tr. Herbert Lomas ' Almost without noticing, without thinking, it seems, you've arrived where you see far. Thirty years back, more, the path vanishes, thirty years ahead, more, the path vanishes: and you're forced to sit down in your own shadow to think. Memory mother of truth and myth, tell how the terrain divided the stream.'

FRANCE: Distances Philippe Jaccottet  translated by Derek Mahon

Distances, Philippe Jaccottet (b.1925) Translated by Derek Mahon 'Les distances Tournent les martinets dans les hauteurs de l' air: plus haut encore tournent les astres invisibles. Que le jour se retire aux extrémités de la terre, apparaîtront ces feux sur l' etendue de sombre sable… Ainsi nous habitons un domaine de mouvements et de distances; ainsi le coeur va de l' arbre à l' oiseau, de l' oiseau aux astres lointains, de l' astre à son amour. Ainsi l' amour dans la maison fermée s' accroît, tourne et travaille, serviteur des soucieux portant une lampe à la main. Swifts turn in the heights of the air; higher still turn the invisible stars. When day withdraws to the ends of the earth their fires shine on a dark expanse of sand. We live in a world of motion and distance. The heart flies from tree to bird, from bird to distant star, from star to love; and love grows in the quiet house, turning and working, servant of thought, a lamp held in one hand. '

 GERMANY: Boy with Orange Lotte Kramer

World Poems on the Underground Boy with Orange (out of Kosovo)  Lotte Kramer. A boy holding an orange in his hands has crossed the border in uncertainty

 GHANA: Tin Roof Nii Ayikwei Parkes

African Poems on the Underground: Tin Roof: Nii Ayikwei Parkes. Wild harmattan winds whip you but still you stay;

 GREECE: ‘Loving the rituals’ Palladas  translated by Tony Harrison

Loving the rituals, Palladas (4th century AD) tr. Tony Harrison ‘Loving the rituals that keep men close, Nature created means for friends apart: pen, paper, ink, the alphabet, signs for the distant and disconsolate heart.’

 GUYANA: Toussaint L’Ouverture Acknowledges Wordsworth’s Sonnet ‘To Toussaint L’Ouverture’ John Agard

World Poems on the Underground Toussaint L’Ouverture Acknowledges Wordsworth’s Sonnet ‘To Toussaint L’Ouverture’   John Agard. I have never walked on Westminster Bridge or had a close-up view of daffodils

HUNGARY: Accordionist George Szirtes

Accordionist, George Szirtes ' The accordionist is a blind intellectual carrying an enormous typewriter whose keys grow wings as the instrument expands into a tall horizontal hat that collapses with a tubercular wheeze. My century is a sad one of collapses. The concertina of the chest; the tubular bells of the high houses; the flattened ellipses of our skulls that open like petals. We are the poppies sprinkled along the field. We are simple crosses dotted with blood. Beware of the sentiments concealed in this short rhyme. Be wise. Be good.'

INDIA: Finding India in Unexpected Places  Sujata Bhatt

World Poems on the Underground: Finding India in Unexpected Places Sujata Bhatt. A street in Bath, a bus in Medellin, a gesture in Gyeongju

 IRAQ: Poetry Saadi Youssef  translated by Khaled Mattawa

Poetry , Saadi Youssef tr. Khaled Mattawa Calligraphy by Mustafa Ja'far Poems on the Underground 2006 'Who broke these mirrors and tossed them shard by shard among the branches? And now... shall we ask L'Akhdar to come and see? Colours are all muddled up and the image is entangled with the thing and the eyes burn. L'Akhdar must gather these mirrors on his palm and match the pieces together any way he likes and preserve the memory of the branch. '

IRELAND The Emigrant Irish Eavan Boland

Eavan Boland, The Emigrant Irish Poems on the Underground 1992 ' Like oil lamps we put them out the back, of our houses, of our minds. We had lights better than, newer than and then a time came, this time and now we need them. Their dread, makeshift example. They would have thrived on our necessities. What they survived we could not even live. By their lights now it is time to imagine how they stood there, what they stood with, that their possessions may become our power: Cardboard. Iron. Their hardships parcelled in them. Patience. Fortitude. Long-suffering in the bruise-coloured dusk of the New World. And all the old songs. And nothing to lose.' .''

 ITALY: The Aegean Maria Luisa Spaziani  translated by Beverly Allen

The Aegean, Maria Luisa Spaziani tr. Beverly Allen ' This music has lasted since the world began. A rock was born among the waters while tiny waves chatted in a soft universal tongue'

JAMAICA: Sun a-shine, rain a-fall  Valerie Bloom

Sun a-shine, rain a-fall, Valerie Bloom 'Sun a-shine, rain a-fall, The Devil an' him wife cyan 'gree at all, The two o'them want one fish-head, The Devil call him wife bonehead, She hiss her teeth, call him cock-eye, Greedy, worthless an 'workshy, While them busy callin' name, The puss walk in, sey is a shame To see a nice fish go to was'e, Lef' with a big grin pon him face.'

JAPAN: Autumn evening Matsuo Basho  translated by Kenneth Rexroth

Autumn Evening, Matsuo Basho ' Autumn evening- A crow on a bare branch'

Kurdistan My Children Choman Hardi

My children by Choman Hardi I can hear them talking, my children fluent English and broken Kurdish. And whenever I disagree with them they will comfort each other by saying: Don't worry about mum, she's Kurdish. Will I be the foreigner in my own home? '

 LUXEMBOURG: The birds will still sing Anise Koltz translated by John Montague

Anise Koltz Tr. John Montague , The Birds Will Still Sing ' Les oiseaux continuent à chanter Abattez mes branches sciez-moi en morceaux les oiseaux continuent à chanter dans mes racines The Birds Will Still Sing Break my branches saw me into bits the birds will still sing in my roots'

MALAWI: The Palm Trees at Chigawe  Jack Mapanje

The Palm Trees at Chigawe. Jack Mapanje 'You stood like women in green Proud travellers in panama hats and java print'

MALAYSIA: Modern Secrets  Shirley Geok-lin Lim

Modern Secrets, Shirley Lim 'Last night I dreamt in Chinese. Eating Yankee shredded wheat I said it in English To a friend who answered In monosyllables: All of which I understood. The dream shrank to its fiction. I had understood its end Many years ago. The sallow child Ate rice from its ricebowl And hides still in the cupboard With the china and tea-leaves.'

NEW ZEALAND: Immigrant Fleur Adcock

Immigrant, Fleur Adcock 'November '63: eight months in London. I pause on the low bridge to watch the pelicans:'

NICARAGUA On Lake Nicaragua Ernesto Cardenal translated by Ernesto Cardenal and Robert Pring-Mill

On Lake Nicaragua by Ernesto Cardenal (b.1925) Translated by the author and Robert Pring-Mill 'Slow cargo-launch, midnight, mid-lake, bound from San Miguelito to Granada. The lights ahead not yet in sight, The dwindling ones behind completely gone. Only the stars (the mast a finger pointing to the Seven Sisters) and the moon, rising above Chontales. Another launch (just one red light) goes by and sinks into the night. We, for them: another red light sinking in the night... And I, watching the stars, lying on the deck between bunches of bananas and Chontales cheeses, wonder: perhaps there's one that is an earth like ours and someone's watching me (watching the stars) from another launch, on another night, on another lake. '

NIGERIA: I Sing of Change Niyi Osundare

I Sing of Change Niyi Osundare I sing of the beauty of Athens without its slaves Of a world free of kings and queens and other remnants of an arbitrary past

PAKISTAN: Carving Imtiaz Dharker

World Poems on the Underground Carving , Imtiaz Dharkar. Others can carve out their space in tombs and pyramids

NORWAY Should You die First Annabelle Despard

Should You Die First by Annabelle Despard (b.1943) 'Let me at least collect your smells as specimens: your armpits, woollen sweater, fingers yellow from smoke. I'd need to take an imprint of your foot and make recordings of your laugh. These archives I shall carry into exile; my body a St Helena where ships no longer dock, a rock in the ocean, an outpost where the wind howls and polar bears beat down the door.'

 POLAND: Star Adam Zagajewski  translated by Clare Cavanagh

Star, Adam Zagajewski 'I returned to you years later, gray and lovely city, unchanging city buried in the waters of the past.'

PORTUGAL: 25th April 1974 Sophia de  Mello Breyner translated by Ruth Fainlight

25th April 1974, Sophie de Mello Breyner tr.Ruth Fainlight, 'This is the dawn I was waiting for The first day whole and pure When we emerged from night and silence Alive into the substance of time'

ROMANIA: ‘Thread suns’ Paul Celan  translated by Michael Hamburger

Thread suns, Paul Celan (1920 - 70) translated by Michael Hamburger 'Thread suns above the grey-black wilderness. A tree - high thought tunes in to light's pitch: there are still songs to be sung on the other side of mankind.'

RUSSIA: from Requiem Anna Akhmatova  translated by Richard McKane

from Requiem, Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966)Translated by Richard McKane 'The hour of remembrance has drawn close again. I see you, hear you, feel you: the one they could hardly get to the window, the one who no longer walks on this earth, the one who shook her beautiful head, and said: 'Coming here is like coming home.' I would like to name them all but they took away the list and there's no way of finding them. For them I have woven a wide shroud from the humble words I heard among them. I remember them always, everywhere, I will never forget them, whatever comes.'

 ST. LUCIA: Midsummer, Tobago  Derek Walcott

Midsummer, Tobago, Derek Walcott 'Broad sun-stoned beaches. White heat. A green river. A bridge, scorched yellow palms from the summer-sleeping house drowsing through August. Days I have held, days I have lost, days that outgrow, like daughters, my harbouring arms.'

SENEGAL Nocturne Léopold Sédar Senghor translated by Gerard Benson

African Poems on the Underground Et nous baignerons mon amie Léopold Sédar Senghor, tr. Gerard Benson we shall be bathed, my love in the presence of Africa

SERBIA Belgrade Vasko Popa translated by Anne Pennington

Belgrade by Vasko Popa, translated from the Serbo-Croat by Anne Pennington ' White bone among the clouds Your arise out of your pyre out of your ploughed-up barrows Out of your scattered ashes You arise out of your disappearance The sun keeps you In its golden reliquary High above the yapping of centuries And bears you to the marriage Of the fourth river of Paradise With the thirty-sixth river of Earth White bone among the clouds Bone of our bones'

SOUTH AFRICA: Inside My Zulu Hut  Mbuyiseni Mtshali

African Poems on the Underground: Inside My Zulu Hut Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali. It is a hive without any bees to build the walls with golden bricks of honey.

SPAIN: The waves, blue walls/of Africa  Rafael Alberti translated by Mark Strand

The Waves, Rafael Alberti tr. Mark Strand 'The waves, blue walls of Africa, go and come back. When they go... Ah, to go with them! Ah, to come back with them! When they come back....'

SWEDEN: From March ’79 Tomas Tranströmer translated by John F. Deane

From March ’79, Tomas Tranströmer, tr. John F. Deane 'Tired of all who come with words, words but no language I went to the snow-covered island'

TRINIDAD Viv Faustin Charles

Viv, Faustin Charles Like the sun rising and setting Like the thunderous roar of a bull rhino Like the sleek, quick grace of a gazelle,

 TURKEY: Baku at Night Nazim Hikmet  translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk

World Poems on the Underground Baku at Night Nazim Hikmet. Reaching down to the starlit heavy sea in the pitch-black night

UNITED STATES: The Undertaking  Louise Glück 

The Undertaking by Louise Glück 'The darkness lifts, imagine, in your lifetime. There you are - cased in clean bark you drift through weaving rushes, fields flooded with cotton. You are free. The river films with lilies, shrubs appear, shoots thicken into palm. And now all fear gives way: the light looks after you, you feel the waves' goodwill as arms widen over the water; Love, the key is turned. Extend yourself - it is the Nile, the sun is shining, everywhere you turn is luck.'