Empty Lungs

Empty Lungs

Empty Lungs is a poetry zine using three works in the public domain to explore the universality of breath and breathlessness. The works are offered here with a brief written commentary to the right of each poem. In the zine itself, the works are offered with no comment. However, each poem is paired with an artwork inspired by the work of a visual artist. The last page of the zine sites the influences and offers a very brief explanation for the pairings.

Empty Lungs poetry zine

An Irish Airman Foresees His Death
W.B. Yeats

I know that I shall meet my fate

Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public man, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

In An Irish Airman Foresees His Death, the phrase ‘waste of breath’ has a meaning and an implication. ‘Waste of breath’ means not worth doing, or done in vain. The implication comes in the context of our knowledge that this foresight of death is true – Major Robert Gregory is dead. There are no years to come. And so breath here is a meaningful life. It is the past and the future. Breath is that which the Major bargains away in his impulse of delight.

Love Song for Lucinda
Langston Hughes

Is a ripe plum
Growing on a purple tree.
Taste it once
And the spell of its enchantment
Will never let you be.

Is a bright star
Glowing in far Southern skies.
Look too hard
And its burning flame
Will always hurt your eyes.

Is a high mountain
Stark in a windy sky.
If you
Would never lose your breath
Do not climb too high.

In this excerpt from Love Song for Lucinda, breath is that which you might lose if you pursue love. It is not necessarily life, although it could be. Death by asphyxiation for those who climb mountains. But breath in this context might also be comfort or certainty. 

Sarojini Naidu

LAMP of my life, the lips of Death
Hath blown thee out with their sudden breath;
Naught shall revive thy vanished spark . . .
Love, must I dwell in the living dark?

Tree of my life, Death’s cruel foot
Hath crushed thee down to thy hidden root;
Nought shall restore thy glory fled . . .
Shall the blossom live when the tree is dead?

Life of my life, Death’s bitter sword
Hath severed us like a broken word,
Rent us in twain who are but one . .
Shall the flesh survive when the soul is gone?

Sarojini Naidu’s Suttee sits inside an absent Bindi. The outer pattern is inspired by the works of Bharti Kher. The Bindi is placed on the forehead of married women. In widowhood, it is removed. White is the colour of death. In this poem, breath belongs to Death, not to the living man. The life is in this context is described as a lamp, a spark.

Poet: Sarojini Naidu
Artist Inspiration: Bharti Kher

Love Song for Lucinda
Poet: Langston Hughes
Artist Inspiration: Thomas Hart Benton

An Irish Airman Foresees his Death
Poet: W.B. Yeats
Artist Inspiration: Sydney William Carline

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