The Nativity? No.
Something has gone wrong.
There is a hole in the stable
acid rain drips through
onto an absence. Beauty
is hoisted upside down.
The truth is Pilate not
lingering for an answer.
The angels are prostrate
'beaten into the clay'
as Yeats thundered. Only Satan beams down,
poisoning with fertilisers
the place where the child
lay, harrowing the ground
for the drumming of the machine-
gun tears of the rich that are
seed of the next war.
By R. S. Thomas
from Counterpoint (1990) 2. Incarnation
Oh don’t look back
at that ice
at that dark;
there, waiting greedily
for you is a look
that will demand an answer.
I looked back today. And suddenly,
I saw him – alive and with living eyes,
looking at me out of the ice,
my one and only, for all time.
I hadn’t known it was like that;
I’d thought I lived and breathed another.
But Oh, my joy, my dream, my death,
I only live beneath your gaze.
I have been faithful to him alone;
in that alone I have done right:
to all the living, I’m his wife;
to you and me – your widow.
by Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts)
a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz
translated by Robert Chandler
A Soviet poet, writer, playwright and journalist. She is most famous for her work on the Leningrad radio during the city’s blockade, when she became the symbol of the city’s strength and determination.
Olga was married a number of times. In 1925 she joined a youth literature group ‘The Shift’ where she became acquainted with Boris Kornilov. In 1927 Boris and Olga entered the State Institute of Art History, and in 1928 they got married. In 1930 she graduated from the philological faculty and was sent to Kazakhstan to work as a journalist for the Soviet Steppe newspaper. During this period Olga divorced Kornilov and married her fellow student Nikolay Molchanov. Her former husband Boris Kornilov was arrested “for taking part in the anti-Soviet Trotskyist organization” and executed on February 1938. In January 1942 she survived another personal tragedy: her second husband Nikolay Molchanov died of hunger. Olga later dedicated a poem 29 January 1942 and her book The Knot (1965) to Nikolay. On March 1942 Olga, who suffered from a critical form of dystrophy, was forcefully sent by her friends to Moscow using the Road of Life, despite her protests. On 20 April she returned to Leningrad and continued her work at the Radio House. On her return she married Georgy Makogonenko, a literary critic, also a radio host during the siege.
Drawing the youthful Goethe to their breast,
those Roman nights took on the weight of gold…
I’ve much to answer for, yet still am graced;
an outlawed life has depths yet to be told.
by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
translated by Robert Chandler
I’m certainly not a Sibyl;
my life is clear as a stream.
I just don’t feel like singing
to the rattle of prison keys.
by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)
translation by Robert Chandler
Fun fact: Here Akhmatova refutes a comparison being made of herself to an oracle when saying she is not a Sibyl. In doing so she is challenging any suggestion she speaks a bluntly stated truth about their society, as many of her close friends had in their works and suffered for it, through her poetry during the Soviet era – specifically the era this was written under Stalin’s reign. At the same time in this denial she acknowledges a certain level of cowardice, by in a way ‘going with the flow’, knowing she behaves as such to avoid imprisonment or exile – again as many of her contemporaries and loved ones were fated to suffer during this era.
The sibyls were women that the ancient Greeks believed were oracles. The earliest sibyls, according to legend, prophesied at holy sites. Their prophecies were influenced by divine inspiration from a deity; originally at Delphi and Pessinos, the deities were chthonic deities. In Late Antiquity, various writers attested to the existence of sibyls in Greece, Italy, the Levant, and Asia Minor.
The English word sibyl (/ˈsɪbəl/ or /ˈsɪbɪl/) comes — via the Old French sibile and the Latin sibylla — from the ancient Greek Σίβυλλα (Sibulla). Varro derived the name from theobule (“divine counsel”), but modern philologists mostly propose an Old Italic or alternatively a Semitic etymology.