Our court nightingale,
beak open wide,
can let out the loudest
trills in the world.
The creature is stunning
by what pours from his throat –
but it was he who spurred
Derzhavin to write
that praise and flattery
are by no means the same:
a slave can flatter
but he can’t do praise.
by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)
translated by Robert Chandler
Fun facts: The Dershavin mentioned in th epoem is Gavriil (Gavrila) Romanovich Derzhavin (Гавриил (Гаврила) Романович Державин, 14 July 1743 – 20 July 1816) who was one of the most highly esteemed Russian poets before Alexander Pushkin, as well as a statesman. Although his works are traditionally considered literary classicism, his best verse is rich with antitheses and conflicting sounds in a way reminiscent of John Donne and other metaphysical poets.
Original Russian cyrillic version:
Раскроет клюв пошире,
Бросая трель с ветвей,
Крикливейшую в мире.
Не помнит божья тварь
Себя от изумленья,
Долбит, как пономарь,
Хваленья и моленья.
Свистит что было сил,
По всей гремя державе,
О нем и говорил
Что раб и похвалить
Кого-либо не может.
Он может только льстить,
Что не одно и то же.
A recital of the Russian version set to music:
All in vain. I will cease now
My long absorption with the plough,
With the tame and the wild creatures
and man united with the earth.
I have failed after many seasons
In the mind’s precincts do not apply.
But where to turn? Earth endures
After the passing, necessary shame
Of winter, and the old lie
Of green places beckons me still
From the new world, ugly and evil,
That men pry for in truth’s name.
by R. S. Thomas
from Song at the Year’s Turning (1955)
Last night the sea heaved up a creature,
one I could not explain.
Half-boat, half-animal it seemed:
ribs of rusted tin, skull smooth as plastic.
My daughter played in its house of bones,
bouncing pebbles like syllables ringing.
She kept asking its name, how old was it?
Was it a dragon? Oil like blood dripped.
‘I don’t know!’ I said (sounding unscientific):
she pulled out bolts of its neck to sit on.
I pursued it in books: the Bible dumb.
She ran in and out of its tunnel of questions.
by Mike Jenkins
from A Dissident Voice
We have a Yellow Oozit
What lives behind our sink.
It lives on cold nail varnish
So its eyeballs are all pink.
It does no work this Oozit,
It’s as idle as can be,
But this is not surprising,
Cos it’s got no hands you see.
There’s an idle Yellow Oozit
To the North East of the sink.
And we love our idle Oozit,
A lot more than you think.
– by Mike Harding