Farewell, Captain… by Vladimir Korvin-Piotrovsky

Farewell, Captain. In bygone days,
Your features suddenly transformed,
You’d whirl away on that mad steed.
Wherever the four winds blew.
You’ll not return. Near a kiosk now,
Chewing on tobacco whiskers,
In a raincoat soiled to the shine,
You silently check your watch.
But time, violating its term,
Runs on like a mountain stream,
And it seems that a giant hand
Blends the clouds with water.
And it seems a crazed horse
Or Pegasus, caught in raging rapids,
Breaking its carriage into kindling,
Looks on, half-strangled by its trace,
Looks on mockingly at us.

By Владимир Львович Корвин-Пиотровский
(Vladimir Lvovich Korvin-Piotrovsky)
(1891-1966)
translated by Bradley Jordan

Additional information: Vladimir Lvovich Korvin-Piotrovskii (Владимир Львович Корвин-Пиотровский) was born 15 May 1891 in Kiev and died on April 2 1966. His place of birth is sometimes identified as Bila Tserkva, Ukraine, where he spent much of his childhood. During World War I, he served as an artillery officer in the White Army. After being taken prisoner and barely escaping execution, he crossed through Poland and made his way to Berlin around 1920.

In Berlin, he became active in the Russian emigre literary community. There he met Yuri Ofrosimov and Vladimir Nabokov (during the period he used the pen name Vladimir Sirin). He also became involved with the Berlin Poets’ Club, a group of Russian emigre poets founded by Mikhail Gorlin. In addition to Ofrosimov, Korvin-Piotrovskii and Sirin, members included Raisa Blokh, Nina Korvin-Piotrovskaia (née Kaplun), Vera Nabokov, and Sofia Pregel.

Vladimir and his wife left Germany before World War II began. Nina Korvin-Piotrovskaia worked at the French embassy in Berlin, and they were able to travel to Paris with embassy staff. During World War II, Korvin-Piotrovskii was active in the French Resistance movement. He was arrested and imprisoned for approximately eight months in 1944. His fellow prisoners included the French writer André Frossard, whose memoir La maison des otages documents this time period. Vladimir and Nina Korvin-Piotrovskii were close friends with Italo and Leila Griselli and visited them many times in Italy. Italo Griselli, a sculptor, made busts of both Vladimir and Nina Korvin-Piotrovskii.

In 1961 the family moved to Los Angeles, California, where Vladimir Korvin-Piotrovskii died on April 2, 1966 and Nina Korvin-Piotrovskaia died in 1975.

Korvin-Piotrovsky was descended from ancient Russian aristocracy and Hungarian kings. In the Civil War he served as an artillery officer in the White Army. As an émigré in Berlin, he worked as a chauffer while heading the poetry department for the journal Spolokhi (Nothern Lights). He published under the name P.V. In 1939 he moved to Paris, where he took part in the Resistance, and spent almost a year imprisoned by the Gestapo. His poems and essays from prison were published in the book Vozdushnyi zmei (Aerial Serpents) under his real name. A two-volume collection of his work, Pozdnii gost’ (Late Guest), was published in Washington in 1969.
While his early lyrics were often unrhymed, Korvin-Piotrovsky’s later verse returned to classical forms of rhymed iambic tetrameter. The content often turned from contemporary events to bygone centuries, to pictures of night, fog, autumn, and winter, continuing a tradition of Russian romanticism. He was both a poet and a playwright who left a heterogeneous legacy, a unique poetic testimony to Russia’s fate and his own.

Biographical information about Korvin-Piotrovsky p.224, ‘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.

I was unable to source the Russian version of the poem unfortunately. If anyone knows where to find it online please leave a comment or link.

There by R.S. Thomas

They are those that life happens to.

They didn’t ask to be born

In those bleak farmsteads, but neither

Did they ask not. Life took the seed

And broadcast it upon the poor,

Rush-stricken soil, an experiment

In patience.

What is a man’s

Price? For promises of a break

In the clouds; for harvests that are not all

Wasted; for one animal born

Healthy, where seven have died,

He will kneel down and give thanks

In a chapel whose stones are wrenched

From the moorland.

I have watched them bent

For hours over their trade,

Speechless, and have held my tongue

From its question. It was not my part

To show them, like a meddler from the town,

their picture, nor the audiences

That look at them in pity or pride.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Pietà (1966)

‘He Loved Light, Freedom and Animals’ by Mike Jenkins

An inscription on the grave of one of the children who died in the Aberfan disaster of October 21st, 1966

 

No grave could contain him.

He will always be young

in the classroom

waving an answer

like a greeting.

 

Buried alive –

alive he is

by the river

skimming stones down

the path of the sun.

 

When the tumour on the hillside

burst and the black blood

of coal drowned him,

he ran forever

with his sheepdog leaping

for sticks, tumbling together

in windblown abandon.

 

I gulp back tears

because of a notion of manliness.

After the October rain

the slag-heap sagged

its greedy coalowner’s belly.

 

He drew a picture of a wren,

his favourite bird for fraility

and determination. His eyes gleamed

as gorse-flowers do now

above the village.

 

His scream was stopped mid-flight.

Black and blemished

with the hill’s sickness

he must have been,

like a child collier

dragged out of one of Bute’s mines –

a limp statistic.

 

There he is, climbing a tree,

mimicking an ape, calling out names

at classmates. Laughs springing

down the slope. My wife hears them

her ears attuned as a ewe’s in lambing,

and I try to foster the inscription,

away from its stubborn stone.

 

by Mike Jenkins

from Empire of Smoke


Not so Fun facts: This poem refers to the Aberfan disaster the catastrophic collapse of a colliery spoil tip at 9.15 am on 21 October 1966. The tip had been created on a mountain slope above the Welsh village of Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil and overlaid a natural spring. A period of heavy rain led to a build-up of water within the tip which caused it to suddenly slide downhill as a slurry, killing 116 children and 28 adults as it engulfed the local junior school and other buildings. The tip was the responsibility of the National Coal Board (NCB), and the subsequent inquiry placed the blame for the disaster on the organisation and nine named employees.

I’ve been to the town and it’s still a very quiet place to this day as a generation of the community was lost in that disaster. Where the junior school once stood there is now a memorial garden.

The Moor by R. S. Thomas

It was like a church to me.

I entered it on soft foot,

Breath held like a cap in the hand.

It was quiet.

What God was there made himself felt,

Not listened to, in clean colours

That brought a moistening of the eye,

In movement of the wind over grass.

 

There were no prayers said. But stillness

Of the heart’s passions – that was praise

Enough; and the mind’s cession

Of its kingdom. I walked on,

Simple and poor, while the air crumbled

And broke on me generously as bread.

 

by R. S Thomas

from Pietà (1966)

Pietà by R. S. Thomas

Always the same hills

Crowd the horizon,

Remote witnesses

Of the still scene.

 

And in the foreground

The tall Cross,

Sombre, untenanted,

Aches for the Body

That is back in the cradle

Of a maid’s arms.

 

By R. S. Thomas

from Pietà (1966)