Dante by Anna Akhmatova

He did not return, even after his death, to

That ancient city he was rooted in.

Going away, he did not pause for breath

Nor look back. My song is for him.

Torches, night, a last embrace,

Fate, a wild howl, at his threshold.

Out of hell he sent her his curse

And in heaven could not forget her.

But never in a penitential shirt did

He walk with a lighted candle and barefoot

Through beloved Florence he could not betray,

Perfidious, base, and self-deserted.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1936)

from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

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The Return by R. S. Thomas

Coming home was to that:

The white house in the cool grass

Membraned with shadow, the bright stretch

Of stream that was its looking-glass;

 

And smoke growing above the roof

To a tall tree among whose boughs

The first stars renewed their theme

Of time and death and a man’s vows.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Song At The Year’s Turning (1955)

We Pronounced by Olga Berggolts

We pronounced

the simplest, poorest words

as if they had never been said.

We were saying

sun, light, grass

as people pronounce

life, love, strength.

 

Remembered how we cleared

that eternal, accursed glacier

from the city streets – and an old man

stamped his foot against the pavement,

shouting, ‘Asphalt, friends, asphault!’

 

As if he were a sailor long ago,

calling out ‘Land, land!’

 

by

Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts)

a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz

(1945)

translated by Robert Chandler

Searching The Doll by Mike Jenkins

Slowly pacing the beach,

in age now not in sleep,

it’s a cemetery

but I’ve come to dig.

Gulls wailing what’s inside.

 

I’m alone again at night

in a waking trance

searching for that doll

I dropped, the blood-smirch

on its white wedding-dress.

 

My prints always lead back

to the cellar of that house.

A nine-month sentence stretched

to life on its camp-bed:

the memory condemned.

 

I chatted so readily then

hadn’t learnt suspicion’s martial art,

his affection the breadth of air

and hands soft as powdery sand.

Soon became my jailer, my interrogator.

 

Buried me under his sweaty bulk

so my frenzied fingers tried

to take flight and reach up

to the single slit of light.

Dead birds washed up with the flotsam.

 

by Mike Jenkins

from This House, My Ghetto

Still Point by R. S. Thomas

In the universe one

world beneath cloud

foliage. In that world

a town. In the town

 

a house with a child,

who is blind, staring

over the edge of the universe

into the depths of love.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from No Truce With The Furies (1995)

Hywel and Blodwen by Idris Davies

Where are you going to, Hywel and Blodwen,

With your eyes as sad as your shoes?

We are going to learn a nimble language

By the waters of the Ouse.

 

We are trampling through Gloucester and through Leicester,

We hope we shall not drop,

And we talk as we go of the Merthyr streets

And a house at Dowlais Top.

 

We have triads and englyns from pagan Dyfed

To brace us in the fight,

And three or four hundred Methodist hymns

To sing on a starless night.

 

We shall grumble and laugh and trudge together

Till we reach the stark North Sea

And talk till we die of Pantycelyn

And the eighteenth century.

 

We shall try to forget the Sunday squabbles,

And the foreign magistrate,

And the stupid head of the preacher’s wife,

And the broken iron gate.

 

So here we say farewell and wish you

Less trouble and less pain,

And we trust you to breed a happier people

Ere our blood flows back again.

 

by Idris Davies


There was a Welsh language opera based on the same Welsh story as this poem. Blodwen is an opera in three acts composed in 1878 by Dr Joseph Parry to a Welsh libretto by Richard Davies. It was the first opera written in the Welsh language. I just mention it as I doubt many people know of it.

Jealousy by Inna Lisnianskaya

I look out the window at the retreating back.

Your jealousy is both touching and comical.

Can’t you see I am old and scary, a witch,

and apart from you no one needs me at all!

 

Well, what’s so touching and funny in that?

Jealous, you’re keen to send all of them packing

away from our home, with it’s roof’s mossy coat,

and our life which consists entirely of sacking.

 

But they do not desist, out of kindness of sorts –

from scraping away the moss, checking a rafter,

and they bring flowers as well, to thank me

for your still being alive and so well looked after.

 

And they stay away with something else, a notion

of how to survive as the years advance

and still be loved, and, with time running out,

to listen to eulogies, fresher than the news.

 

And my attachment, the truth of my love, no less,

they envy. So keep your jealousy buttoned up!

In this world, with its surfeit of painful loss,

let me open the door with a smile on my lips.

 

by Инна Львовна Лиснянская (Inna Lvovna Lisnyanskaya)

(2001)

translated by Daniel Weissbort


She was the wife of Semyon Lipkin. The above poem was written shortly before his death.

There isn’t much about her in English so if you want to know more you may have to research her husband intially and work from there for biographical details. However one collection of her poetic works titled ‘Far from Sodom‘ is available in English should you wish to read more of her writing.

She was born in Baku and published her first collection in 1957 then moved to Moscow three years later. In 1979 she and her husband resigned from the Union of Soviet Writers in protest to the expulsion of Viktor Yerofeyev and Yevgeny Popov from it. The following seven years her works were only published abroad though from 1986 she was able to publish regularly and was awarded several important prizes.