Looking Glass by R.S. Thomas

 There is a game I play
with a mirror, approaching
it when I am not there,
as though to take by surprise.

the self that is my familiar. It
is in vain. Like one eternally
in ambush, fast or slow
as I may raise my head, it raises

its own, catching me in the act,
disarming me by acquaintance,
looking full into my face as often
as I try looking at it askance.


by R. S. Thomas
from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)
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Nativity by R. S. Thomas

The moon is born

and a child is born,

lying among white clothes

as the moon among clouds


They both shine, but

the light from the one

is abroad in the universe

as among broken glass.


by R. S. Thomas

from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)

Countering by R. S. Thomas

Then there is the clock's

commentary, the continuing

prose that is the under-current

of all poetry. We listen

to it as, on a desert island,

men do to the subdued

music of their blood in a shell.


Then take my hand that is

of the bone the island

is made of, and looking at

me say what time it is

on love's face, for we have

no business here other than

to disprove certainties the clock knows.


by R. S. Thomas

from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)

Formula by R. S. Thomas

And for the soul

in its bone tent, refrigerating

under the nuclear winter,

no epitaph prepared


in our benumbed language

other than the equation

hanging half-mast like the after-

birth of thought: E = mc2.


by R. S. Thomas

from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)

Coming by R.S. Thomas

To be crucified

again? To be made friends

with for his jeans and beard?

Gods are not put to death

 

any more. Their lot now

is with the ignored.

I think he still comes

stealthily as of old,

 

invisible as a mutation,

an echo of what the light

said, when nobody

attended; an impression

 

of eyes, quicker than

to be caught looking, but taken

on trust like flowers in the

dark country towards which we go.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)

Свобода (Freedom) by Vladimir Kornilov

I’m not ready for freedom yet.

Am I the one to blame?

You see, there was no likelihood

of freedom in my time.

My great-great-grandad, my great grandad,

my own grandad never

dared to dream of

‘Freedom now!’

None of them saw it: ever.

What’s this thing that they call freedom?

Does it bring satisfaction?

Or is it helping others first

and putting oneself last?

An overwhelming happiness,

pride and envy expelled,

throwing open one’s own soul,

not prying in anyone else’s.

Here are oceans composed of sweat,

Himalayas of toil!

Freedom’s a lot harder than

unfreedom to enjoy.

For years I, too, awaited freedom,

waited till I trembled,

waited till I ached – yet I’m

unready, now it’s come.

 

by Владимир Николаевич Корнилов (Vladimir Nikolayevich Kornilov)

(1986)

translated by Katherine E. Young


Fun facts: Here is my rough effort to translate the Russian language Wikipedia article page on him as there is no English page available and most of the results for his name will lead you to information about the historical naval figure.

Vladimir Nikolaevich Kornilov ( June 29, 1928 , Dnepropetrovsk – January 8, 2002 , Moscow ) was a Soviet Russian poet, writer, and literary critic. He was heavily censored throughout the Soviet era for his, to the Soviet authorities, ideologically troubling works.

He was born into a family of civil engineers. When the Great Patriotic War began (i.e. World War II), he was evacuated to Novokuznetsk ( Siberia ), then moved to Moscow . In 1945 – 1950 he studied at the Gorky Literary Institute (i.e. the LitInstitute mentioned in this poem) , which he was he was expelled from three times for absenteeism and “ideologically vicious verses”.

Kornilov’s first poems were published in 1953 . However,  his works were rarely published, and even then only after ‘corrections’ had been made by censors. In 1957, his collection of poems “Agenda from the military registration and enlistment office” was rejected. Only in 1964 his first book of poems, The Pier, was published by the Soviet Writer Publishing House, and in 1965, on the recommendation of Anna Akhmatova , Kornilov was successfully admitted to the Union of Writers of the USSR.

A hard time awaited the prose works of Kornilov. His first and second novels – “Without arms, without legs”, completed in 1965 , and “Girls and ladies”, written in October 1968 he tried to get published for a long time unsuccessfully in the Soviet Union . The former was not printed and although the latter was accepted for publication in December 1971 but immediately thereafter rejected or banned.

By his third and largest prose work – the novel “Demobilization” – Kornilov no longer even tried to be publish in his homeland and instead sent his works to the west, where, from 1974 onwards, they were in print.

[he has two books in English I could find after a very brief search: Girls to the Front (1984) and Building a Prison (1985) so it’s possible the others were in German and other languages or have different titles in other languages. By all means comment on this post if you find others available in English.]

Being published in samizdat and in foreign Russian-language publications, as well as Kornilov’s speeches in support of Julius Daniel and Andrei Sinyavsky ( 1966 ), displeased the Soviet authorities.

In 1975 he was made a member of the Soviet section of Amnesty International and on the recommendation of G. Böll, he was accepted also into the French Pen Club.

Kornilov signed a letter to “heads of state and government” with a request to protect academician Andrei Sakharov , and in March 1977 he was expelled from the Union of Writers of the USSR (he was initially accepted in 1965, and while expelled his membership was eventually restored in 1988 ). His books were removed from their libraries and sold in 1979. He began to publish his works again in the USSR from 1986 onwards.

Kornilov died from a bone tumor on January 8, 2002 .

… hopefully that is helpful to anyone wanting a little information about the poet.

 

Original Russian cyrillic version of the poem:

Не готов я к свободе –
По своей ли вине?
Ведь свободы в заводе
Не бывало при мне.

Никакой мой прапрадед
И ни прадед, ни дед
Не молил Христа ради:
«Дай, подай!» Видел: нет.

Что такое свобода?
Это кладезь утех?
Или это забота
О себе после всех?

Неподъёмное счастье,
Сбросив зависть и спесь,
Распахнуть душу настежь,
А в чужую не лезть.

Океаны тут пота,
Гималаи труда!
Да она ж несвободы
Тяжелее куда.

Я ведь ждал её тоже
Столько долгих годов,
Ждал до боли, до дрожи,
А пришла – не готов.

Ritual by R.S. Thomas

Not international

renown, but international

vocabulary, the macaronics

of time: μοίρα, desiderium,

brad, la vida

breve, despair – I am the bone

on which all have beaten out

their message to the mind

that would soar. Faithful

in translation, its ploy was to evade

my resources. It saw

me dance through the Middle

Ages, and wrote its poetry

with quilled pen. What

so rich as the language

to which the priests

buried me? They have exchanged

their vestments for white coats,

working away in their bookless

laboratories, ministrants

in that ritual beyond words

which is the Last Sacrament of the species.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)


Fun fact: The greek word μοίρα means fate. Desiderium means desire. La vida breve means ‘the short life’ or ‘life is short’ in Spanish but is also the title of an opera.