Пауль Клее (Paul Klee) by Arseny Tarkovsky

Over the meadows, beyond the mountains,
there once lived a painter called Klee,
and he sat on his own on a path
with various bright-coloured crayons.

He drew rectangles and he drew hooks,
an imp in a light-blue shirt,
Africa, stars, a child on a platform,
wild beasts where Sky meets Earth.

He never intended his sketches
to be like passport photos,
with people, horses, cities and lakes
standing up straight like robots.

He wanted these lines and these spots
to converse with one another
as clearly as cicadas in summer,
but then one morning a feather

materialized as he sketched.
A wing, the crown of ahead -
the Angel of Death. It was time
for Klee to part from his friends

and his Muse. He did.He died.
Can anything be more cruel?
Though had Paul Klee been any less wise,
his angel might have touched us all

and we too, along with the artist,
might have left the world behind
while that angel shook up our bones,
but – what help would that have been?

Me, I'd much rather walk through a gallery
than lie in some sad cemetery.
I like to loiter with friends by paintings -
yellow-blue wildlings, follies most serious.


by Арсений Александрович Тарковский
(Arseny Alexandrovich Tarkovsky)
(1957)
translated by Robert Chandler

Arseny was the father of the famous and highly influential film director Andrei Tarkovsky. His poetry was often quoted in his son’s films.

Paul Klee (18 December 1879 – 29 June 1940) was a Swiss German artist. His highly individual style was influenced by movements in art that included Expressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism. Klee was a natural draftsman who experimented with and eventually deeply explored color theory, writing about it extensively; his lectures Writings on Form and Design Theory (Schriften zur Form und Gestaltungslehre), published in English as the Paul Klee Notebooks, are held to be as important for modern art as Leonardo da Vinci’s A Treatise on Painting for the Renaissance. He and his colleague, Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, both taught at the Bauhaus school of art, design and architecture. His works reflect his dry humor and his sometimes childlike perspective, his personal moods and beliefs, and his musicality.

Here is a reading of the poem in Russian set to music featuring one of Klee’s artworks.

Beneath is the original Russian version of the poem.

Пауль Клее

Жил да был художник Пауль Клее
Где-то за горами, над лугами.
Он сидел себе один в аллее
С разноцветными карандашами,

Рисовал квадраты и крючочки,
Африку, ребенка на перроне,
Дьяволенка в голубой сорочке,
Звезды и зверей на небосклоне.

Не хотел он, чтоб его рисунки
Были честным паспортом природы,
Где послушно строятся по струнке
Люди, кони, города и воды.

Он хотел, чтоб линии и пятна,
Как кузнечики в июльском звоне,
Говорили слитно и понятно.
И однажды утром на картоне

Проступили крылышко и темя:
Ангел смерти стал обозначаться.
Понял Клее, что настало время
С Музой и знакомыми прощаться.

Попрощался и скончался Клее.
Ничего не может быть печальней.
Если б Клее был немного злее,
Ангел смерти был бы натуральней.

И тогда с художником все вместе
Мы бы тоже сгинули со света,
Порастряс бы ангел наши кости.
Но скажите мне: на что нам это?

На погосте хуже, чем в музее,
Где порой слоняются живые,
И висят рядком картины Клее -
Голубые, желтые, блажные…
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The Age [Excerpt] by Osip Mandelstam

Buds will swell just as in the past,

Sprouts of green will spurt and rage,

but your backbone has been smashed,

my grand and pitiful age.

 

And so, with a meaningless smile,

you glance back, cruel and weak,

like a beast once quick and agile,

at the prints of your own feet.

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)

(1925)

translated by Robert Chandler


‘Farewell Forever, Unwashed Russia!’ by Mikhail Lermontov

Farewell forever, unwashed Russia!

O land of slaves, of masters cruel!

And you, blue-uniformed oppressors!

And you, meek nation whom they rule!

 

Beyond the Caucasus’ high ridges,

I may be safe from your viziers –

far from those eyes – unseen, all-seeing –

and far from their all-hearing ears.

 

by Михаил Юрьевич Лермонтов (Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov)

(1841)

translated by Guy Daniels, revised by Robert Chandler


Fun fact: This poem wasn’t published until 1887 – over 40 years after Lermontov’s death (caused by being shot through the heart during a duel on 27 July 1841) during his second exile. It is possible he wrote this upon being told of his exile when he was ordered to leave St Petersburg within 48 hours. The ‘blue uniformed oppressors’ in the poem were the tsarist police of the time who wore distinctly coloured uniforms and would have played their part in ensuring he followed the exile order.

Song of a Last Encounter by Anna Akhmatova

I walked without dragging my feet

but felt heavy at heart and frightened;

and I pulled onto my left hand

the glove that belonged to the right.

 

There seemed to be countless steps,

though I knew there were only three,

and an autumn voice from maples

whispered, ‘Die with me!

 

I have been undone by a fate

that is cheerless, flighty and cruel.’

I repied, ‘So have I, my dearest –

let me die one death with you…’

 

The song of a last encounter:

I glanced up at a dark wall:

from the bedroom indifferent candles

glowed yellow… And that was all.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1911, Tsarkoye Selo)

from Вечер (Evening, 1912)

translation by Robert Chandler


This is an alternative version of same poem translated as Song of the Last Meeting by D. M. Thomas.

Barn Owl by R. S. Thomas

i.

Mostly it is a pale

face hovering in the afterdraught

of the spirit, making both ends meet

on a scream. It is the breath

of the churchyard, the forming

of white frost in a believer,

when he would pray; it is soft

feathers camouflaging a machine.

 

It repeats itself year

after year in its offspring,

the staring pupils it teaches

its music to, that is the voice

of God in the darkness cursing himself

fiercely for his lack of love.

 

ii.

and there the owl happens

like white frost as

cruel and as silent

and the time on its

blank face is not

now so the dead

have nothing to go

by and are fast

or slow but never punctual

as the alarm is

over their bleached bones

of its night-strangled cry.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from The Way of It  (1977)