Leaving Cardiff by Dannie Abse

I wait in the evening air.

Sea-birds drop down to the sea.

I prepare to sail from where

the docks’ derelictions are.

 

I stand on the deck and stare,

slack hammocks of waves below,

while black shapes upon the pier

make the furthest star seem near.

 

Now the funnel’s negations blow

and my eyes, like spaces, fill,

and the knots of water flow,

pump to my eyes and spill.

 

For what who would choose to go

when who sailing made no choice?

Not for one second, I know,

can I be the same man twice.

 

The straw coloured flames flare still,

spokes over the long horizon,

and the boats under the hill

of Penarth, unload and move on.

 

by Dannie Abse

from Tenants of the House (1957)


Fun facts: This was written in 1957 and the former working docks, which by the time of the poem were ‘derelict’ and I myself recall in childhood walking through along the barrage, were redeveloped (‘gentrified’ wouldn’t be an understatement) in recent years into the Cardiff Bay area filled with bars, restaurants, the Wales Millennium Centre, the Senedd and BBC buildings amongst many other developments. Penarth is an affluent town, within walking distance along the coastline, south west of Cardiff .

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The Death of Sophocles by Anna Akhmatova

Then the king learnt that Sophocles was dead

(Legend)

To Sophocles’ house that night an eagle flew down from the sky,

And sombrely rang from the garden the cicadas’ choir.

At that hour the genius was passing into immortality,

Skirting, at the walls of his native town, the night-fires

Of the enemy. And this was when the king had a strange dream:

Dionysus himself ordered the raising of the siege,

That no noise disturb the Athenians in burying him

With fitting ceremony and with elergies.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1961)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas


Fun facts: Sophocles (Σοφοκλῆς) c. 497/6 – winter 406/5 BC) is one of three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. His first plays were written later than those of Aeschylus, and earlier than or contemporary with those of Euripides. Sophocles wrote over 120 plays during the course of his life, but only seven have survived in a complete form: Ajax, Antigone, The Women of Trachis, Oedipus Rex, Electra, Philoctetes and Oedipus at Colonus.

The most famous tragedies of Sophocles feature Oedipus and also Antigone: they are generally known as the Theban plays, although each play was actually a part of a different tetralogy, the other members of which are now lost. Sophocles influenced the development of drama, most importantly by adding a third actor, thereby reducing the importance of the chorus in the presentation of the plot. He also developed his characters to a greater extent than earlier playwrights such as Aeschylus.

Sophocles died at the age of ninety or ninety-one in the winter of 406/5 BC, having seen within his lifetime both the Greek triumph in the Persian Wars and the bloodletting of the Peloponnesian War. As with many famous men in classical antiquity, his death inspired a number of apocryphal stories. The most famous is the suggestion that he died from the strain of trying to recite a long sentence from his Antigone without pausing to take a breath. Another account suggests he choked while eating grapes at the Anthesteria festival in Athens. A third holds that he died of happiness after winning his final victory at the City Dionysia. A few months later, a comic poet, in a play titled The Muses, wrote this eulogy: “Blessed is Sophocles, who had a long life, was a man both happy and talented, and the writer of many good tragedies; and he ended his life well without suffering any misfortune.” According to some accounts, however, his own sons tried to have him declared incompetent near the end of his life; he is said to have refuted their charge in court by reading from his as yet unproduced Oedipus at Colonus. One of his sons, Iophon, and a grandson, also called Sophocles, also became playwrights.

Several ancient sources mention Sophocles’ homosexuality or bisexuality. Athenaios reported that Sophocles loved boys like Euripides loved women. The poet Ion of Chios relates an anecdote involving Sophocles seducing a serving boy at a symposium, and Athenaios one in which Sophocles is tricked by a hustler.

Regarding LGBT history under Stalin it makes interesting reading regarding the recriminalisation of homosexuality by him, associating it with fascism and accusating men of being pederasts thus conflating homosexuality with pedophilia. Especially as he tolerated the activities of Beria. Long after Stalin’s death in 1953, a 1964 Soviet sex manual instructed citizens that: “With all the tricks at their disposal, homosexuals seek out and win the confidence of youngsters. Then they proceed to act. Do not under any circumstances allow them to touch you. Such people should be immediately reported to the administrative organs so that they can be removed from society” despite liberalisation reforms under Khrushchev.

Roots by Dannie Abse

A man with no roots is lost

like the darkness in the forest.

Heart, my heart, what red voices cry

centuries of suffering in my flowing hands?

 

Love lasts as long as there are

two people, however silent the word.

Love, my love, how may I meet your eyes,

how may I meet the eyes that I will close?

 

Future, my future, on whose arms

will my hands be planted?

Love, my love, be assured your eyes

will live after you like children.

 

by Dannie Abse

from Early Poems

‘Look, Outside My Window The Vine Is Spreading So Fast…’ by Afanasy Fet

Look, outside my window the vine is spreading so fast it

almost blocks out the light. Dark, picturesque green now

covers up half of the panes. And amidst the foliage a bunch of

seemingly carefully-placed grapes has started to turn

yellow… Hands off, sweetest! Why this rage for destruction?

If one plump little white hand should be seen to steal

into the yard for a bunch of grapes, the neighbours will waste no

time in declaring: she must have been in his room.

by Афанасий Афанасьевич Фет (Afanasy Afanasyevich Fet)

a.k.a. Шеншин (Shenshin)

(1847)

translated by Robert Chandler

A Grumble by Yevgeny Baratynsky

Bane of the gorgeous summer, meddlesome fly, why must you

torture me, ducking and weaving, clinging to face and to fingers?

Who was it gave you that sting that has power to cut short at will

thought on its albatross wings or the burning kisses of love?

You make of the peaceable thinker, bred on the pleasures of Europe,

a barbarous Scythian warrior, thirsting for enemy blood.

 

by Евгений Абрамович Баратынский (Yevgeny Abramovich Baratynsky)

(1841)

translated by Peter France

Requests by R. S. Thomas

To the angel without wings:

‘Greetings; don’t let me keep you.’

 

To the winged one, making as if

to be up and gone: ‘Stay awhile.’

 

To the dark angel, pedlar

of reflections: ‘I am not at home.’

 

To the one sworn eternally

to silence: ‘Eavesdrop my heart.’

 

To truth’s angel: ‘In his ear about me

nothing but the white lie.’

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Mass for Hard Times (1992)