Коршун (The Kite) by Alexander Blok

Over the empty fields a black kite hovers,

and circle after circle smoothly weaves.

In the poor hut, over her son in a cradle

a mother grieves:

‘There suck my breast: there, grow and take our bread,

and learn to bear your cross and bow your head.’

 

Time passes. War returns. Rebellion rages.

The farms and villages go up in flame,

and Russia in her ancient tear-stained beauty,

is yet the same,

unchanged through all the ages. How long will

the mother grieve and the kite circle still?

 

by Александр Александрович Блок (Alexander Alexandrovich Blok)

(22 March 1916)

translated by Frances Cornford and Esther Polianowsky Salaman


Fun fact: As you can tell from the date this was written into the lead up to the Russian Revolution. To be more exact, during the early months of 1916, there were increasing food and fuel shortages and increasingly high prices. Thus the Progressive Bloc was formed. Despite successes in the Brusilov offensive, the Russian war effort was still characterised by shortages, poor command, death and desertion. Away from the front, the conflict caused starvation, inflation and a torrent of refugees. Both soldiers and civilians blamed the incompetence of the Tsar and his government. This lead, later in the year, to increasing strikes which are supported by the military who declare they won’t protect the Tsar from a revolution – which would be successful in October 1917 after many further events and internal conflicts.

A recital of the poem in Russian:

The original Russian text in Cyrillic:

Чертя за кругом плавный круг,
Над сонным лугом коршун кружит
И смотрит на пустынный луг. —
В избушке мать над сыном тужит:
«На́ хлеба, на́, на́ грудь, соси,
Расти, покорствуй, крест неси».

Идут века, шумит война,
Встаёт мятеж, горят деревни,
А ты всё та ж, моя страна,
В красе заплаканной и древней. —
Доколе матери тужить?
Доколе коршуну кружить?

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Tom Picton, Mountain-Fighter (1895-1939) by Robert Havard

Tom Picton, why d’you go to Spain,

some bastard get you drunk again?

 

Was in the Railway Bar,

never knew his name.

Said he’d see me in Espanya,

put me on the Cardiff train.

 

Tom Picton, why d’you go to Spain,

you punchy now, got clots on the brain?

 

Had his fill of punching holes

in butties on the mountain,

a gutsful of picking coals

now Maudie’s gone again.

 

Tom Picton, why d’you go to Spain,

think you’ll stand a bullet’s pain?

 

Can always duck and bend

see boy. Only bullet

that can kill me, friend,

has got my name on it.

 

Tom Picton, Twmmy boy, why d’you go to Spain?

 

For Christsake, mun, I came.

 

by Robert Harvard


Fun fact: Tom Picton actually existed.

Thomas Issac Picton was born in 1895 and became a miner in Treherbert, Rhonnda Fawr, South Wales.  He was one-time amateur middle weight boxing champion of Wales. During the 1914-18 War he was light-heavy weight champion in the Navy. His ships were torpedoed on two occasions and received decorations for bravery on two occasions. Tom was a noted bare-knuckle `mountain’ fighter in the years after the war…

Like most of his generation, class and nationhood, Picton became radicalised by the experiences of the 1920s and 1930s. He was a close friend of Communist Councillor George Thomas of Treherbert but little else marked him out from the ordinary until he became aware of the consequences of the passing, on the 11th January 1937, by the British Government of the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1870 applicable to the Spanish Civil War. The effect was to criminalise the finest segment of British youth of the 1930s in the shape of all who volunteered to fight for the International Brigade in Spain…

Enraged by the unfairness of this Act and despite his age – he was 52 years – Picton must have convinced his way into the IB due to his fitness and legendary prowess as a fist-fighter. He joined the Communist Party either just before going to Spain, or actually while in Spain. But, unfortunately, he was one of those detained in France. Yet, miraculously, even inexplicably, he found himself freed from jail and finally arrived in Spain…

Tom Picton was taken prisoner and executed despite being a prisoner of war in San Pedro de Cardeña, a prison in Bilbao, by Franco’s fascists in April 1938. His widow, Maud, had always refused to believe the news, as no body was found. Maud spent years on several futile visits to Spain to try to establish his whereabouts, on which she took her daughter.

The poem was probably written prior to the confirmation of his death hence the discrepancy with the later confirmed date of death. Tom was likely deemed a casualty of war and his date of death only given as that of the civil war’s end as no more accurate information was available at that time.

Death of a Poet by Anna Akhmatova

The unrepeatable voice won’t speak again,

Died yesterday and quit us, the talker with groves.

Or into gentlest rain of which he sang.

And all the flowers that grew only in this world

Came into bloom to meet his death.

And straightway it’s grown quiet on the planet

That bears a name so modest… Earth.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1960)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas


Fun fact: The poem refers to the death of Boris Pasternak (29 January 1890 – 30 May 1960).

The Kingdom by R. S. Thomas

It’s a long way off but inside it

There are quite different things going on:

Festivals at which the poor man

Is king and the consumptive is

Healed; mirrors in which the blind look

At themelves and love looks at them

Back; and industry is for mending

The bent bones and the minds fractured

By life. It’s a long way off, but to get

There takes no time and admission

Is free, if you will purge yourself

Of desire, and present yourself with

Your need only and the simple offering

Of your faith, green as a leaf.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from H’m (1972)

Among Shoals of Stars by Mike Jenkins

Each night the sea

tires of its slopping and slapping

and ascends the limestone staircase

of cactus-sharp stone.

 

It lies down

where sky has been,

waving away the blue

and only hooded clouds

show its occasional restlessness.

 

Bright fish with mouths

that globe, look down on me

and the breezy whish-whish

of sea-weed is the needled

branches of every pine.

 

I see the lights

of planes as they are out

trawling for dreams.

The moon spills milk

which I drink in,

before I too lie down

to sleep among shoals of stars.

 

by Mike Jenkins

from Invisible Times

‘I Loved You – And Maybe Love…’ by Alexander Pushkin

I loved you – and maybe love

still smoulders in my heart;

but let my love not trouble

you or cause you any hurt.

I loved you but stayed silent,

timid, despairing, jealous;

I loved you truly – God grant

you such love from someone else.

 

by Александр Сергеевич Пушкин (Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin)

a.k.a. Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin

(1829)

translated by Robert Chandler

Ravens by R. S. Thomas

It was the time of the election.

The ravens loitered above the hill

In slow circles; they had all air

To themselves. No eyes heard

Them exulting, recalling their long

History, presidents of the battles

of flesh, the sly connoisseurs

Of carrion; desultory flags

Of darkness, saddening the sky

At Catraeth and further back,

When two, who should have been friends,

Contended in the innocent light

For the woman in her downpour of hair.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Pietà (1966)


Fun Fact: The poem refers to the Battle of Catraeth and the medieval Welsh poem Y Gododdin.