Январь (January) by Yunna Morits

Such blueness blazes at our window
From the nearness of the river
We want to turn aside our eyes
As on ikons or at miracles.
Such shrouds, such continents of snow,
To touch a day sets our ears ringing
And people everywhere are blue.
– And you and I, apprentices
of the enchanter, stand and freeze
In the spaces of the studio
Beside the blackboard on the wall,
With dry throats and piercing gaze.
I’ll draw and scan, in arrogance,
Each syllable, each minute’s life,
To my remoteness; and the crammed
Fairbooth, no rag to veil its panes –
And all that was irrelevance
Now shapes our fate, enters our veins,
Stands as prefix to our names.
Accomplices! Our love’s forever,
For all men, to the ruinous grave,
To the torn wound, and to the line
Unfinished: where grass springs, and stands
Above our breasts, above our hands.
Such blueness blazes at our window
From the nearness of the river.

by Юнна Петровна Мориц
(Yunna Petrovna Morits [also spelled ‘Moritz’])
Translated by J. R. Rowland

Январь

У нас такая синева
В окне — от близости реки,
Что хочется скосить зрачки,
Как на иконе, как при чуде.
У нас такие покрова
Снегов — почти материки,
Что день задень — в ушах звонки,
И всюду голубые люди,
И я да ты — ученики
У чародея. Холодея,
Стоим в просторах мастерской
У стенки с аспидной доской.
Зрачками — вглубь. В гортани — сушь.
Вкачу, вчитаю по слогам
В гордыню, в собственную глушь
Ежеминутной жизни гам,
Битком набитый балаган
Без тряпки жалкой на окне.
И все, что прежде было вне,
Теперь судьбу слагает нам,
Родным составом входит в кровь,
Приставкой к личным именам.
Сообщники! У нас-любовь
Ко всем грядущим временам,
Ко всем — до гибельного рва,
До рваной раны, до строки
Оборванной, где прет трава
Поверх груди, поверх руки!
У нас такая синева
В окне от близости реки.

Additional information: Yunna Petrovna Morits (Moritz) is a Soviet and Russian poet, poetry translator and activist. She was born 2 June 1937 in Kiev, USSR (present day Kyiv, Ukraine) into a Jewish family. Her father Pinchas Moritz, was imprisoned under Stalin, she suffered from tuberculosis in her childhood and spent years of hardship in the Urals during World War II.

She has been founding member of several liberal organizations of artistic intelligentia, including the Russian section of International PEN. She is a member of Russian PEN Executive Committee and its Human Rights Commission. She has been awarded several prestigious prizes, including Andrei Sakharov Prize For Writer’s Civic Courage.

After 2014 Morits became a supporter of the Russian occupation of Donbass and Crimea. Some of her recent poetry conveys anti-Ukrainian and anti-Western sentiments, and her invective at perceived anti-Russian campaign by the West.

Moritz was first published in 1954, and her first collection of poetry, Razgovor o schast’e (Conversation About Happiness), came out in 1957. She completed studies at the Gorky Literary Institute in 1961 and, in addition to writing her own poetry, has translated both Hebrew and Lithuanian works. In 1954, when she was not yet eighteen, she announced uncautiously to fellow students in Moscow, including the compiler of this anthology, that “the Revolution has croaked.” She was always then and continues to be rather harsh and uncompromising. Though she may have lost friends, who were unable to withstand her categorical judgements, she has never lost her conscience. A mercilessness is sometimes felt in her poetry – as in the lines “War upon you! Plague upon you! / Butcher…” from the poem in honor of the Georgian poet Titian Tabidze, who was killed in Stalin’s torture chambers. This poem caused a storm of protest when it was published in the journal lunost’ (Youth) in 1961.

Moritz is a masterful poet; where she reaches into her own pain, she does more than just touch us – she conquers. Yet if her adult verse is dominated by dark tones, then her poetry for young people is full of joy of the open-air market. It is as if Moritz does not deem adults worthy of joy and must give it all to children.

Biographical information about Moritz, p.932, ‘Twentieth Century Russian Poetry’ (1993), compiled by Yevgeny Yevtushenko (ed. Albert C. Todd and Max Hayward) , published by Fourth Estate Limited by arrangement with Doubleday of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc.

Yunna Morits born in Kiev. Her first collection of poetry, Talk of Happiness, was published in 1957. In 1964 she published a collection of translations of the Jewish poet M. Toif. With Joseph Brodsky, she was a particular favourite of Akhmatova’s. She has had a hard life: she suffered from tuberculosis, and her husband, a literary critic, committed suicide at the time of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Though regarded by many writers as one of the finest women poets in Russia today, Morits is very little published now, and is scarcely known abroad. She has been much influenced by Pasternak and, like him and Zabolotsky, has an animistic vision of nature. Her powerful, atmospheric poems about the Far North or the South, severe, utterly serious, with intimations of pain, of loss, of separation, are darkly moving. Her verses stir with the slow rhythm of nature. She is a poet of rooted attachments, measuring her love against the forces of nature. She is drawn to those men – hunters, settlers, fishermen – whose business it is to live and contend with these forces. The intensity of her work, its concrete, weighted depiction of the drama of the spiritual life as it is reflected or as it unfolds in nature, places her in the forefront of contemporary Russian poetry.

Biographical information about Moritz, p.241, ‘Post-War Russian Poetry’ (1974), edited by Daniel Weissbort , published by Penguin Books Ltd.

Poem of the Frost and Snow by Lewis Morris

Ere I freeze, to sing bravely
By Mary, is best for me;
I will make a new canto
To the terrible mist and snow,
Steel ground, grass short and withered,
The black month, the shiver-stirred.
I’m not hale here, nor wisely
Sing nor well, alas for me!
Better the awkward Muse might
Run in May or June’s sunlight,
When a sweet bird in the thick
Of leaves charms with its music,
And under a birch like heaven
A fool enjoys hugging Gwen,
And his voice in a greenhall
Is found, and a poem’s soul.
But not like this, I dare swear,
Does winter stay forever.
How old it looks, white snowdrift
Hiding every slope and rift,
Everywhere cold, white each tree,
And no stream in the valley.
Water locked, no genial day,
Black frost along the footway;
Birds of the world, sad deadlock –
God’s put their food under lock:
The key let Him take home then
Rightly to be kept in heaven!

by Lewis Morris
(1701-1765)

Additional information: Lewis Morris (2 March 1701 – 11 April 1765) was a Welsh hydrographer, antiquary, poet and lexicographer, the eldest of the Morris brothers of Anglesey. Lewis was the eldest son of Morris ap Rhisiart Morris, a farmer, of Llanfihangel-Tre’r-Beirdd in Anglesey. His bardic name was Llewelyn Ddu o Fôn (“Black Llewelyn [Lewis] of Anglesey”). The correspondence between him and his younger brothers is a valuable historical source. In 1751, he founded the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion along with his brother Richard.

More details about him can be found on the Dictionary of Welsh Biography website.

It is important not to confuse him with Sir Lewis Morris (1833 – 1907) who was a later poet of the Anglo-Welsh school as well as being an academic and politician.

‘Твой зрачок в небесной корке’ (‘Let it be blessed’) by Osip Mandelstam

The reserve of weak,
sensitive eyelashes protects
your pupil in its heavenly rind,
as it looks into the distance and down.

Let it be blessed
and live long in its homeland –
cast the surprise pool
of your eye to catch me!

Already it looks willingly
at the ephemeral ages –
bright, rainbowed, fleshless,
still pleading.

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам
(Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam)
(His surname is commonly Latinised as Mandelstam)
(2 January 1937)
from the second Voronezh Notebook
translated by Richard and Elizabeth McKane

‘Твой зрачок в небесной корке’

Твой зрачок в небесной корке,
Обращенный вдаль и ниц,
Защищают оговорки
Слабых, чующих ресниц.

Будет он обожествленный
Долго жить в родной стране —
Омут ока удивленный,—
Кинь его вдогонку мне.

Он глядит уже охотно
В мимолетные века —
Светлый, радужный, бесплотный,
Умоляющий пока.

Additional information: The translators chose to use the first line of the second stanza as a title for the unnamed piece rather than the first line of the first stanza as most would do with untitled poems for reference purposes. Hence the discrepancy in the title of this post between the Russian and English. Aside from this they numbered this poem as the seventeenth entry in the second of Mandelstam’s Voronezh Notebooks but I don’t know if that is a officially recognised convention when referring to the unnamed pieces in the three notebooks (as you might use regarding, for example, Shakespeare’s sonnets).

The notebooks were written while he was in exile, accompanied by his wife Nadezhda in the southwestern Russian city of Voronezh, which was a reprieve of sorts after he had been arrested during the repression of the 1930s. Mandelstam and his wife chose Voronezh, possibly, partly, because the name appealed to him. In April 1935, he wrote a four line poem that included the pun – Voronezh blazh‘, Voronezh voron, nozh meaning ‘Voronezh is a whim, Voronezh – a raven, a knife.’

The apartment building he resided in during his exile, located on Friedrich Engels Street next to the Orlyonok Park, was recently given special status.

Heron at Port Talbot by Gillian Clarke

Snow falls on the cooling towers
delicately settling on cranes.
Machinery’s old bones whiten; death
settles with its rusts, its erosions.

Warning of winds off the sea
the motorway dips to the dock’s edge.
My hands tighten on the wheel against
the white steel of the wind.

Then we almost touch, both braking flight,
bank on the air and feel that shocking
intimacy of near-collision,
animal tracks that cross in snow.

I see his living eye, his change of mind,
feel pressure as we bank, the force
of his beauty. We might have died
in some terrible conjunction.

The steel town’s sulphurs billow
like dirty washing. The sky stains
with steely inks and fires, chemical
rustings, salt-grains, sand under snow.

And the bird comes, a surveyor
calculating space between old workings
and the mountain hinterland, archangel
come to re-open the heron-roads,

meets me at an inter-section
where wind comes flashing off water
interrupting the warp of the snow
and the broken rhythms of blood.

by Gillian Clarke
from Letter from a Far Country (Gwasg Gomer, 1982)

A recording of Gillian Clarke discussing the poem’s inspiration and reciting the poem itself at 0:44

Additional information: The steel works plant in Port Talbot covers a large area of the coastline near the southern area of the town. The plant’s two blast furnaces and the steel production plant buildings are major landmarks visible from both the M4 motorway and the South Wales Main Line when passing through the town. The air when passing is notable suffice to say.

Here is an analysis of the poem.

If you’re reading this on Boxing Day 2021, when this post was published, I hope you had a nice Christmas Day (for those who celebrate it) yesterday.