Воронеж (Voronzh) by Anna Akhmatova

for Osip Mandelstam

All the town’s gripped in an icy fist.

Trees and walls and snow are set in glass.

I pick my timid way across the crystal.

Unsteadily the painted sledges pass.

Flocks of crows above St Peter’s, wheeling.

The dome amongst the poplars, green and pale in

subdued and dusty winter sunlight, and

echoes of ancient battles that come stealing

out across the proud, victorious land.

All of a sudden, overhead, the poplars

rattle, like glasses ringing in a toast,

as if a thousand guests were raising tumblers

to celebrate the marriage of their host.

 

But in the exiled poet’s hideaway

the muse and terror fight their endless fight

throughout the night.

So dark a night will never see the day.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1936)

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

translation by Peter Oram


A different translation of the Воронеж (Voronzh) poem. The alternative on this site is translated by D. M Thomas and is also titled Воронеж (Voronzh).

The poet Osip Mandelstam who was living in the city of Voronezh when Akhmatova visited him in February 1936. Peter the Great built a flotilla here and the Field of Kulikovo, where the Tartars were defeated in 1380 isn’t far away.

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Good Friday by R. S. Thomas

It was quiet. What had the sentry

to cry, but that it was the ninth hour

and all was not well? The darkness

begun to lift, but it was not the mind

 

was illumined. The carpenter

had done his work well to sustain

the carpenter’s burden; the Cross an example

of the power of art to transcend timber.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)

Folk Tale by R. S. Thomas

Prayers like gravel

flung at the sky’s

window, hoping to attract

the loved one’s

attention. But without

visible plaits to let

down for the believer

to climb up,

to what purpose open

that far casement?

I would

have refrained long since

but that peering once

through my locked fingers

I thought that I detected

the movement of a curtain.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Experimenting with an Amen (1986).

‘Nothing, Nothing Will Be Returned…’ by Georgy Ivanov

Nothing, nothing will be returned;

love, forgiveness – unearned, unlearned;

though we can never learn to forget.

 

Sweet is the sleep of an alien land.

We sense spring, hear the sea’s even sound

in this world of eternal torment.

 

by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)

(1949)

translated by Robert Chandler

Song (‘Wandering, wandering, hoping to find’) by R. S. Thomas

Wandering, wandering, hoping to find

The ring of mushrooms with the wet rind,

Cold to the touch, but bright with dew,

A green asylum from time’s range.

 

And finding instead the harsh ways

Of the ruinous wind and the clawed rain;

The storm’s hysteria in the bush;

The wind creatures and their pain.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from The Stones in the Fields (1946)

Black As The Pupil Of An Eye, Sucking At Light by Marina Tsvetaeva

Black as the pupil of an eye, sucking at light

like the pupil of an eye, I love you, far-sighted night.

 

Give me the voice to sing of you, godmother of every hymn,

you in whose hand lie the brindles of the four winds.

 

Calling on you, extolling you, I am no more than

a shell where the sea-swell goes on roaring.

 

Night! I have looked long enough into human eyes.

Now, emblaze me, make ash of me, black-sun-night!

 

by Марина Ивановна Цветаева (Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)

(1916)

translated by Robert Chandler

The Cry of Elisha after Elijah by R. S. Thomas

The chariot of Israel came,

And the bold, beautiful knights,

To free from his close prison

The friend who was my delight;

Cold is my cry over the vast deep shaken,

Bereft was I, for he was taken.

 

Through the straight places of Baca

We went with an equal will,

Not knowing who would emerge

First from that gloomy vale;

Cold is my cry; our bond was broken,

Bereft was I, for he was taken.

 

Where, then, came they to rest,

Those steeds and that car of fire?

My understanding is darkened,

It is no gain to enquire;

Better to await the long night’s ending,

Till the light comes, far truths transcending.

 

I yield, since no wisdom lies

In seeking to go his way;

A man without knowledge am I

Of the quality of his joy;

Yet living souls, a prodigious number,

Bright-faced as dawn, invest God’s chamber.

 

The friends that we loved well,

Though they vanished far from our sight,

In a new country were found

Beyond this vale of night;

O blest are they, without pain or fretting

In the sun’s light that knows no setting.

 

by R. S. Thomas (From the Welsh of Thomas William, Bethesda’r Fro)

from The Stones in the Fields (1946)