Return to Cardiff by Dannie Abse

‘Hometown’; well, most admit an affection for a city:
grey, tangled streets I cycled on to school, my first cigarette
in the back lane, and fool, my first botched love affair.
First everything. Faded torments; self-indulgent pity.

The journey to Cardiff seemed less a return than a raid
on mislaid identities. Of course the whole locus smaller:
the mile-wide Taff now a stream, the castle not as in some black
gothic dream, but a decent sprawl, a joker’s toy facade.

Unfocused voices in the wind, associations, clues,
odds and ends, fringes caught, as when, after the doctor quit,
a door opened and I glimpsed the white, enormous face
of my grandfather, suddenly aghast with certain news.

Unable to define anything I can hardly speak,
and still I love the place for what I wanted it to be
as much as for what it unashamedly is
now for me, a city of strangers, alien and bleak.

Unable to communicate I’m easily betrayed,
uneasily diverted by mere sense reflections
like those anchored waterscapes that wander, alter, in the Taff,
hour by hour, as light slants down a different shade.

Illusory, too, that lost, dark playground after rain,
the noise of trams, gunshots in what they once called Tiger Bay.
Only real this smell of ripe, damp earth when the sun comes out,
a mixture of pungencies, half exquisite and half plain.

No sooner than I’d arrived the other Cardiff had gone,
smoke in the memory, these but tinned resemblances,
where the boy I was not and the man I am not
met, hesitated, left double footsteps, then walked on.

By Dannie Abse
from Poems, Golders Green
(1962)

.

Additional information: Dannie Abse was born in Cardiff, Wales, to a Jewish family. He was the younger brother of politician and reformer Leo Abse and the eminent psychoanalyst, Wilfred Abse. Unusually for a middle-class Jewish boy, Dannie Abse attended St Illtyd’s College, a working-class Catholic school in Splott.

The River Taff (‘Afon Taf’ in Welsh) is a river in Wales. It rises as two rivers in the Brecon Beacons; the Taf Fechan (little Taff) and the Taf Fawr (great Taff) before becoming one just north of Merthyr Tydfil. Its confluence with the River Severn estuary is in Cardiff. The river supports several species of migratory fish, including salmon, sewin (sea trout), and eel.

Tiger Bay (‘Bae Teigr’ in Welsh) was the local name for an area of Cardiff which covered Butetown and Cardiff Docks. Following the building of the Cardiff Barrage, which dams the tidal rivers, Ely and Taff, to create a body of water, it is referred to as Cardiff Bay. Tiger Bay is Wales’ oldest multi-ethnic community with sailors and workers from over 50 countries settling there in the 1950s.

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Зеркало (Mirror) by Boris Pasternak

In the mirror is steaming a cocoa cup,

A lace curtain sways, and along

The path to the chaos of garden and steppe

The mirror runs to the swing.

.

There swaying pines needle the air with resin;

There, fussily bending to look

For its glasses, the garden is combing the grass;

There Shade is reading a book.

.

And into the background, the darkness, beyond

The gate into grasslands sweet

With drugs, down the path, between snail-trails and twigs

The quartz shimmers white in the heat.

.

The soul can’t be mined, like a seam with saltpetre,

Or hacked out, like gems, with a pick.

The huge garden shakes in the hall, in the mirror –

But the glass does not break.

.

I cannot extinguish the light of my eyes

In this hypnotic domain,

As slugs in the garden will plug the eyes

Of statues after rain.

.

Water trickles the ear, and a siskin,

Chirping, hurdles the sticks.

You can stain their lips with bilberry juice,

You will not put an end to their tricks.

.

The garden raises its fist to the mirror;

The room and the garden shake.

It runs to the swing, and catches it, shakes it,

And still the glass does not break.

.

.

by Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к

(Boris Leonidovich Pasternak)

from Сестра моя — жизнь (My Sister, Life)

(Summer 1917)

translated by Jon Stallworthy and Peter France

The poem recited, in it’s original Russian form, by E. Pasternak.

Beneath is the original Russian version of the poem in Cyrillic.

Зеркало

В трюмо испаряется чашка какао,
Качается тюль, и — прямой
Дорожкою в сад, в бурелом и хаос
К качелям бежит трюмо.

Там сосны враскачку воздух саднят
Смолой; там по маете
Очки по траве растерял палисадник,
Там книгу читает Тень.

И к заднему плану, во мрак, за калитку
В степь, в запах сонных лекарств
Струится дорожкой, в сучках и в улитках
Мерцающий жаркий кварц.

Огромный сад тормошится в зале
В трюмо — и не бьет стекла!
Казалось бы, всё коллодий залил,
С комода до шума в стволах.

Зеркальная всё б, казалось, нахлынь
Непотным льдом облила,
Чтоб сук не горчил и сирень не пахла, –
Гипноза залить не могла.

Несметный мир семенит в месмеризме,
И только ветру связать,
Что ломится в жизнь и ломается в призме,
И радо играть в слезах.

Души не взорвать, как селитрой залежь,
Не вырыть, как заступом клад.
Огромный сад тормошится в зале
В трюмо — и не бьет стекла.

И вот, в гипнотической этой отчизне
Ничем мне очей не задуть.
Так после дождя проползают слизни
Глазами статуй в саду.

Шуршит вода по ушам, и, чирикнув,
На цыпочках скачет чиж.
Ты можешь им выпачкать губы черникой,
Их шалостью не опоишь.

Огромный сад тормошится в зале,
Подносит к трюмо кулак,
Бежит на качели, ловит, салит,
Трясет — и не бьет стекла!

Small Fruit Tree After Rain by Dobriša Cesarić

Consider the small fruit tree after the rain:

full of trembling raindrops

the enchanted magnificence of its branches

glitters in the sunlight.

 

Yet when the sun hides, in a moment

the magic vanishes.

It is again, as it was before,

an ordinary, poor little tree.

 

by Dobriša Cesarić (1902 – 1980), Croatia

Translated by Jeni Williams and Pavlija Jovic after the Croatian of Dobriša Cesarić.