Winter by Anonymous (10th-11th Century)

Wind sharp, hillside bleak, hard to win shelter;
Ford is impassible, lake is frozen;
A man may near stand on one stalk of grass.

Wave upon wave roofs over land-edge;
Shouts loud against breast of peak and brae;
Outside, a man may barely stand.

Lake-haunts cold, with the storm winds of winter;
Withered the reeds, stalks all broken;
Wind-gusts angry, stripping of wood.

Cold bed of fish in the gloom of ice;
Stag lean, bearded reeds;
Evening brief, slant of bent wood.

Snow falls, covers with white;
Warriors go not forth on foray;
Lakes cold, their tint without sunlight.

Snow falls, hoarfrost white;
Idle shield on an old shoulder;
A monstrous wind freezes the grass.

Snow falls, high in the ice;
Sweeps the wind atop the thick trees;
A stout shield that, on a bold shoulder.

Snow falls, covers the vale;
Warriors hurry to battle;
I’ll not go, wound does not let me.

Snow falls, over the slope;
Prisoned the steed, the cattle thin;
Here’s no question of a summer’s day.

Snow falls, white border of mountains;
On the sea, ship’s timbers bare;
The coward nurses many a scheme.

by Anonymous
(10th -11th century)
translated by Tony Conran

Гражданская война (Civil War) by Maksimilian Voloshin

Some rose from the underground,
Some from exile, factories, mines,
Poisoned by suspicious freedom
And the bitter smoke of cities.
Others from military ranks,
From noblemen’s ravished nests,
Where to the country churchyard
They carried dead fathers and brothers.
In some even now is not extinguished
The intoxication of immemorial conflagrations;
And the wild free spirit of the steppe,
Of both the Razins and the Kudaiars, lives on.
In others, deprived of all roots, is
The torn fabric and sad discord of our days –
The putrefied spirit of the Neva capital,
Tolstoy and Chekhov, Dostoyevsky.
Some raise on placards
Their ravings about bourgeois evil,
About the radiant pure proletariat,
A Philistine paradise on earth.
In others is all the blossom and rot of empires,
All the gold, all the decay of ideas,
The splendor of all great fetishes,
And of all scientific superstition.
Some go to liberate
Moscow and forge Russia anew,
Others, after unleashing the elements,
Want to remake the entire world.
In these and in others war inspires
Anger, greed, the dark intoxication of wild outbursts –
And in a greedy pack the plunderer
Afterward steals to heroes and leaders
In order to break up and sell out to enemies
The wondrously beautiful might of Russia,
To let rot piles of wheat,
To dishonor her heavens,
To devour her riches, incinerate her forests,
And suck dry her seas and ore.
And the thunder of battles will not cease
Across all the expanses of the southern steppes
Amid the golden splendor
Of harvests trampled by horses.
Both here and there among the ranks
Resounds one and the same voice:
“Who is not with us is against us!”
“No one is indifferent, truth is with us!”
And I stand one among them
In the howling flame and smoke
And with all my strength
I pray for them and for the others.

by Максимилиа́н Алекса́ндрович Воло́шин
(Maksimilian Voloshin)
(22 November 1920)
from the cycle ‘Strife
with Wrangel
Koktebel, Crimea
translated by Albert C. Todd

Гражданская война

Одни восстали из подполий,
Из ссылок, фабрик, рудников,
Отравленные тёмной волей
И горьким дымом городов.

Другие — из рядов военных,
Дворянских разорённых гнёзд,
Где проводили на погост
Отцов и братьев убиенных.

В одних доселе не потух
Хмель незапамятных пожаров,
И жив степной, разгульный дух
И Разиных, и Кудеяров.

В других — лишённых всех корней —
Тлетворный дух столицы Невской:
Толстой и Чехов, Достоевский —
Надрыв и смута наших дней.

Одни возносят на плакатах
Свой бред о буржуазном зле,
О светлых пролетариатах,
Мещанском рае на земле…

В других весь цвет, вся гниль империй,
Всё золото, весь тлен идей,
Блеск всех великих фетишей
И всех научных суеверий.

Одни идут освобождать
Москву и вновь сковать Россию,
Другие, разнуздав стихию,
Хотят весь мир пересоздать.

В тех и в других война вдохнула
Гнев, жадность, мрачный хмель разгула,
А вслед героям и вождям
Крадётся хищник стаей жадной,
Чтоб мощь России неоглядной
Pазмыкать и продать врагам:

Cгноить её пшеницы груды,
Её бесчестить небеса,
Пожрать богатства, сжечь леса
И высосать моря и руды.

И не смолкает грохот битв
По всем просторам южной степи
Средь золотых великолепий
Конями вытоптанных жнитв.

И там и здесь между рядами
Звучит один и тот же глас:
«Кто не за нас — тот против нас.
Нет безразличных: правда с нами».

А я стою один меж них
В ревущем пламени и дыме
И всеми силами своими
Молюсь за тех и за других.

The poem, in it’s original Russian form, recited by Boris Chenitsa.

Addition information: Voloshin‘s poem – published on the centenary (plus one year) of the poem’s creation!

The ‘with Wrangel’ mentioned in the poem’s accreditation I believe refers to Pyotr Wrangel who was a Russian officer of Baltic German origin in the Imperial Russian Army. During the later stages of the Russian Civil War, he was commanding general of the anti-Bolshevik White Army in Southern Russia. After his side lost the civil war in 1920, he left Russia. He was known as one of the most prominent exiled White émigrés and military leader of the South Russia (as commander in chief).

Razin refers to Stepan (Stenka) Razin (ca. 1630 – 1671), a Don Cossack who led a peasant rebellion in 1670 – 1671. Celebrated in folk songs and folktales, he was captured and publicly quartered alive.

According to my book’s notes “Kudaiar refers to a legendary brigand celebrated in folk songs”. However translating it myself from the Russian root Кудеяр it is actually better Latinised/transliterated to Kudeyar regarding a Russian legendary folk hero whose story is told in Nikolay Kostomarov‘s 1875 novel of the same name. It should be noted there were apparently several Cossack robbers who adopted this name. In a letter to tsar Ivan IV a Muscovite boyar, from Crimea, reported that “there is only one brigand left here – the accursed Kudeyar“. The name is apparently Persian, composed of two elements standing for “God” and “man”.

The Neva capital refers to St Petersburg. Its location on the Neva River was the constant feature of the capital, whose name was changing from St Petersburg to Petrograd to Leningrad during the era.

Koktebel is an urban-type settlement and one of the most popular resort townlets in South-Eastern Crimea. It is situated on the shore of the Black Sea about halfway between Feodosia and Sudak and is subordinated to the Feodosia Municipality. It is best known for its literary associations as Voloshin made it his residence, where he entertained many distinguished guests, including Marina Tsvetayeva, Osip Mandelshtam, and Andrey Bely (who died there). They all wrote remarkable poems in Koktebel. Another prominent literary resident of Koktebel was Ilya Ehrenburg who lived there circa 1919 while escaping from anti-Semitic riots in Kiev.

Voloshin, whose real surname was Kirilenko-Voloshin, was born into a noble family that included Zaporozhskie Cossacks and Germans Russified in the seventeenth century. He studied law at Moscow University, though he was unable to complete a degree because of his participation in student protests in 1898. He continued to study extensively in Paris from 1903 to 1917 and traveled throughout Europe and Russia. Voloshin settled in Russia for good in 1917, just before the February Revolution, and spent the rest of his years in Koktebel in the Crimea.

Voloshin always stood alone against literary currents and intrigues. The hospitality of his home in Koktebel, which has been turned into a museum, was open to all; during the Civil War both a Red leader and a White officer found refuge in it. Voloshin’s position was neutral but not indifferent, for he condemned but the excesses of the Red Terror and the bloody actions of the White Guards. His response to the Revolution, however, never slipped into spite or petty argument or pessimism, as did the opinions of many of his literary colleagues. His response was much like Aleksandr Blok’s poem “The Twelve” (see page 71), in which a white apparition of Christ rises above the Red Guards marching through a blizzard.

Voloshin based his writing to a large extent on French poetic models, but in his best works – particularly in the Civil War period – he freed himself from literariness and plunged into the maelstrom of Russian events. In these poems he tried hard to stand above the conflict, “praying for the one side as much as for the other”. Nevertheless, his sympathies were not on the side of obsolete tsarism but with the future of Russia, its people, and its culture. His celebrated poem “Holy Russia” was misinterpreted by Proletkult critics as anti-Bolshevik; its lines “You yielded to passion’s beckoning call / And gave yourself to bandit and to thief” refer not only to the Bolsheviks but to the gangs of anarchist-bandits who roamed through Russia. Voloshin’s interpretation of Russian history is controversial, subjective, and sometimes mystical, but it always conveys an undoubting faith that Russia will emerge from its fiery baptism purified and renewed.

By the time of his return to Russia from Paris in 1917, Voloshin had become a sophisticated European intellectual, more philosophical, and more socially and historically minded. Enormous intellectual and artistic daring was needed for him to call Peter the Great the “first Bolshevik.” After his return, his poetry became viewed by Soviet critics with dogmatic narrowness and in the latter years of his life went unpublished. A single-volume Soviet edition of Voloshin’s work in 1977 unfortunately made him appear an aesthete, not the chronicler of the civil war of Russia. Yet it was in the latter role that he grew into a great poet; indeed, a series of definitions from his poem “Russia” could serve as a philosophic textbook for the study of the nation’s history. Voloshin made himself a great poet by never succumbing to indifference, by his understanding of the historical laws of a social explosion, and by his courage to bless and not to curse.

Biographical information about Voloshin, p.33 – 34, ‘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.

Home Front by Tony Curtis

That winter of our Island Fortress,
the docks blacked-out and sirens wailing,
the house closed its brittle silence around her.
Rain drummed the windows behind her children’s dreams.
Over the months she saved from her widow’s pay
and the hours of cleaning at the manse
seven silver coins, one from the abdication year
with the head of the love-lost king.

Should the coastline be split by incoming shells,
parachutes flower in the Vale
and jackboots strut in King’s Square,
then she would lay her six children
to sleep, sealing the windows and doors
with newspapers and blankets.
Seven shillings’ worth of gas
would deliver them out of occupation.

For months she has dreamt of his lost freighter,
torpedoed six days out of New York,
men overboard, gagging on salt and diesel.
How the ship reared and plunged like a whale,
her wash sweeping cold hands from flotsam.
As he sank into the anonymous dark
the final waves from her
minting coins from the constant moon.

Tonight the City of London burns
with St Paul’s untouched at the very centre.
At the edge of night the Welsh ports sound no alarms.
She opens the curtains to a moon-bright sky,
counts out the coins in the tea-caddy
and holds them cupped in her palms.
OMN. Rex. Defender of the Faith. Emperor of India.
The seven polished shillings sing in her hands.

by Tony Curtis

Additional information: Although it goes without saying Tony Curtis is a Welsh poet not to be confused with the American actor.

Зима (Winter) by Bella Akhmadulina

Winter, to me your gestures are
cold and careful: yes, in
winter there is something
gentle as medicine,

or why else would sickness
put out trusting hands
into that season, from its own
torture and darkness?

Weave your magic then
my love, let the kiss
of one curl of ice
brush over my forehead.

Soon I shall trust any
deception, and look without fear
into the eyes of dogs, as I
press close to the trees:

And forgive, playfully, with a
run, turn and jump; and
after a bout of forgiveness
forgive again,

become like a winter’s day:
empty and oval, though
in comparison to such
presence, always small.

I shall turn to nothing, and
so call over the wall,
not some shadow of myself, but light
I shall not block at all.

by Бе́лла (Изабе́лла) Аха́товна Ахмаду́лина
Белла Әхәт кызы Әхмәдуллина
Bella Akhatovna Akhmadulina
(1950)
translated by Elaine Feinstein

Зима

О жест зимы ко мне,
холодный и прилежный.
Да, что-то есть в зиме
от медицины нежной.

Иначе как же вдруг
из темноты и муки
доверчивый недуг
к ней обращает руки?

О милая, колдуй,
заденет лоб мой снова
целебный поцелуй
колечка ледяного.

И все сильней соблазн
встречать обман доверьем,
смотреть в глаза собак
и приникать, к деревьям.

Прощать, как бы играть,
с разбега, с поворота,
и, завершив прощать,
простить еще кого-то.

Сравняться с зимним днем,
с его пустым овалом,
и быть всегда при нем
его оттенком, малым.

Свести себя на нет,
чтоб вызвать за стеною
не тень мою, а свет,
не заслоненный мною.

A recital of the poem in Russian by Maria Selivanova.

Additional information: Bella (Izabella) Akhatovna Akhmadulina (10 April 1937 – 29 November 2010) was a Soviet and Russian poet, short story writer, and translator, known for her apolitical writing stance. She was part of the Russian New Wave literary movement. She was cited by Joseph Brodsky as the best living poet in the Russian language. She is known in Russia as “the voice of the epoch“.
Despite the aforementioned apolitical stance of her writing, Akhmadulina was often critical of authorities in the Soviet Union, and spoke out in favour of others, including Nobel laureates Boris Pasternak, Andrei Sakharov, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. She was known to international audiences via her travels abroad during the Khrushchev Thaw, during which she made appearances in sold-out stadiums. Upon her death in 2010 at the age of 73, President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev hailed her poetry as a “classic of Russian literature.”

The main themes of Akhmadulina‘s works are friendship, love, and relations between people. She wrote numerous essays about Russian poets and translators, some devoted to her close friend, Bulat Okudzhava. Akhmadulina avoided writing overtly political poems, but took part in political events in her youth, supporting the so-called dissident movement.

Akhmadulina wrote in an apolitical style making use of imagery and humour in her work. She used rhymed quatrains in her early works, which discussed ordinary, yet imaginative occurrences from daily life in language that was full of both archaisms and neologisms. Religion and philosophy became her themes as she aged and she wrote in longer forms.

Of mixed Tartar and Italian descent, Bella Akhmadulina was born in Moscow into a middle-class family. At the age of eighteen she married Yevtushenko, a fellow student at the Gorky Institute of Literature, from which she was expelled. Her second husband was the well-known short-story writer Yuri Nagibin, with whom she collaborated on a film scenario. Her third marriage weas to the playwright and children’s writer Gennadi Mamlin.

Akhmadulina’s first collection, String, was published in 1962 and criticized by the Party as ‘superfluous’, too intimate, etc. It was composed mainly of short lyrics, witty, whimsical, well-turned – strongly influenced by Ahmatova in their sobriety of form and preoccupation with individual emotions. Though Akhmadulina’s work appeared thereafter in magazines and almanacs from time to time, it was not until 1969 that her second collection, Music Lessons, was published. In 1963 a fragment of her long poem ‘A Fairy Tale about the Rain’ was published in Literary Georgia. ‘Rain’ marked a high point and and is still her most ambitious work to date. Since then she appears to have done more translating, especially from Georgian, than original writing, though the indications are that she has again entered a more creative period. Akhmadulina has perhaps major potentialities (Yevtushenko regards her as the foremost woman poet in Russian since the death of Akhmatova). Her work became rapidly more complex after the early short lyrics, and in ‘Rain’ it gained a weight of symbolic meaning that indicates considerable poetic endurance and power. Her subject in this poem, and in many others leading up to it, is nothing less than her relationship to her own poetic inspiration, symbolized by the Rain.

As Christine Rydel says in her illuminating analysis of Akhmadulina’s symbolic system, ‘The Metapoetical World of Bella Akhmadulina’ (Russian Literature Triquarterly, No.1): ‘Where most poets look to love for inspiration, Akhmudalina looks to inspiration for love.’ Like Tsvetayeva, with whom, as in ‘Music Lessons’ and ‘I Swear’, she identifies explicitly, Akhmadulina is uncomfortable, uneasy in the world. There is a plaintive, complaining tone to all this that can be irritating, but her verbal power, her technical accomplishment, allied to her capacity, by remote control as it were, to enter into and share in the destiny of her distinguished women predecessors, accurately and agonizingly conveys the struggle of creativity in an alienating environment.

Biographical information about Akhmadulina, p.227- 228, Post-War Russian Poetry (1974), ed. Daniel Weissbort , published by Penguin Books Ltd.
‘Bella Akhmadulina: Meeting in the Ostankino Concert Studio’ (1976)‎. It’s about an hour and a half long featuring her doing recitals of her poetry and talking about various subjects. If you have time it’s worth watching (It’s in Russian obviously but the auto-translated subtitles will let you get the gist of many parts).

Among Akhmadulina’s ancestors on her mother’s side were Italians who settled in Russia, including the professional revolutionary Aleksandr Stopani, after whom a street in Moscow was named. On her father’s side were Tatars. In 1955, when her first verses were published in the journal Oktiabr’, it was immediately obvious that a real poet had come on the scene. She entered the Gorky Literary Institute the same year and became its queen. All of the young poets there were in love with her, including the compiler of this anthology who became her first husband. Her talent was also admired by poets of the older generation – Pavel Antokolsky, Mikhail Svetlov and Vladimir Lugovskoi. She encountered Boris Pasternak once while walking down a country path; he recognized her and invited her to visit him the next day when guests were coming, but she was too shy and respectful to come.

After mastering the assonant “Yevtushenko” rhyme, she took a sharp turn in the opposite direction, into whispers, rustling indeterminacy, and, at times, such intimacy as to be incomprehensible. Many of her major poems establish links to the memory on the great Russian poets on the past, especially Marina Tsvetaeva, Osip Mandelstam and Aleksandr Pushkin.

With Anna Akhmatova’s death, Akhmadulina became known as the most brilliant woman poet writing in Russian. She is an absolute sorceress with poetic form, though she has a tendency to spin intricate verbal webs. Probably no one in Russian poetry at the present has such an innate feeling for words. Akhmadulina’s poetry is somewhat private and she has a reputation of being apolitical, as assessment that misses the point. One can discern in such poems as “I Swear”, “St. Bartholomew’s Night,” and “A Fairy Tale About Rain” a social conscience permeated with a hatred for the vile politics that degrades people. Her fragile, gentle hand has signed any and all letters in defense of dissidents or anyone in trouble in the Soviet system. She was unafraid to cross police lines to visit Sakharov while he was in exile.

Akhmadulina writes elegant prose, placing refinement of language above all else, as she does with her poetry. She was awarded the State Prize for literature in 1989 and was the first of her generation to be elected an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Biographical information about Akhmadulina, p.873 – 874, ‘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.

October by Gillian Clarke

Wind in the poplars and a broken branch,
a dead arm in the bright trees. Five poplars
tremble gradually to gold. The stone face
of the lion darkens in a sharp shower,
his dreadlocks of lobelia grown long,
tangled, more brown now than blue-eyed.

My friend dead and the graveyard at Orcop –
her short ride to the hawthorn hedge, lighter
than hare-bones on men’s shoulders, our faces
stony, rain, weeping in the air. The grave
deep as a well takes the earth’s thud, the slow
fall of flowers.

Over the page the pen
runs faster than wind’s white steps over the grass.
For a while health feels like pain. Then panic
running the fields, the grass, the racing leaves
ahead of light, holding that robin’s eye
in the laurel, hydrangeas’ faded green.
I must write like the wind, year after year
passing my death-day, winning ground.

By Gillian Clarke
from Selected Poems (in the New Poems section of the 1996 edition)

Additional information: Orcop is a village and civil parish in the county of Herefordshire, England. It lies 14 kilometres (8.7 miles) south of Hereford.

St John the Baptist’s Church, in the parish of Orcop, is known as ‘the Poets Church‘ due to being the site where the English poet and broadcaster Frances Horovitz was laid to rest in October 1983 so, I assume, she is the deceased friend referred to in the poem.