‘Not To Set Fire To Myself’ by Varlam Shalamov

Not to set fire to myself

or be burned like Avvakum,

I do what I can

to chase away thought.

 

I now orbit the earth

in low-level flight,

life’s burdens and vanities

far out of sight.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1981)

translated by Robert Chandler


 

Fun Fact: Referenced in this poem is Avvakum Petrov (Аввакум Петров) a Russian protopope of the Kazan Cathedral on Red Square who led the opposition to Patriarch Nikon’s reforms of the Russian Orthodox Church. For his opposition to the reforms, Avvakum was repeatedly imprisoned. For the last fourteen years of his life, he was imprisoned in a pit or dugout (a sunken, log-framed hut) at Pustozyorsk above the Arctic Circle. He was finally executed by being burned at the stake. The spot where he was burned has been commemorated by an ornate wooden cross. His autobiography and letters to the tsar, Boyarynya Morozova, and other Old Believers are considered masterpieces of 17th-century Russian literature.

Good Friday by R. S. Thomas

It was quiet. What had the sentry

to cry, but that it was the ninth hour

and all was not well? The darkness

begun to lift, but it was not the mind

 

was illumined. The carpenter

had done his work well to sustain

the carpenter’s burden; the Cross an example

of the power of art to transcend timber.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)