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!

Miracle On St David’s Day by Gillian Clarke

‘They flash upon that inward eye
which is the bliss of solitude

from ‘The Daffodils’ by William Wordsworth
 An afternoon yellow and open-mouthed
with daffodils. The sun treads the path
among cedars and enormous oaks.
It might be a country house, guests strolling,
the rumps of gardeners between nursery shrubs.

I am reading poetry to the insane.
An old woman, interrupting, offers
as many buckets of coal as I need.
A beautiful chestnut-haired boy listens
entirely absorbed. A schizophrenic

on a good day, they tell me later.
In a cage of first March sun a woman
sits not listening, not feeling.
In her neat clothes the woman is absent.
A big, mild man is tenderly led

to his chair. He has never spoken.
His labourer’s hands on his knees, he rocks
gently to the rhythms of the poems.
I read to their presences, absences,
to the big, dumb labouring man as he rocks.

He is suddenly standing, silently,
huge and mild, but I feel afraid. Like slow
movement of spring water or the first bird
of the year in the breaking darkness,
the labourer’s voice recites ‘The Daffodils’.

The nurses are frozen, alert; the patients
seem to listen. He is hoarse but word-perfect.
Outside the daffodils are still as wax,
a thousand, ten thousand, their syllables
unspoken, their creams and yellows still.

Forty years ago, in a Valleys school,
the class recited poetry by rote.
Since the dumbness of misery fell
he has remembered there was a music
of speech and that once he had something to say.

When he’s done, before the applause, we observe
the flowers’ silence. A thrush sings
and the daffodils are flame.

By Gillian Clarke
from Letter from a Far Country (1982)


Gillian Clarke discussing and then reciting her poem ‘Miracle on St David’s Day’

Gillian remarks on her site: “All you need to know about this poem is that it is a true story. It happened in the ’70s, and it took me years to find a way to write the poem.

What Are We To Do? by Daniil Kharms

While the dolphin and the sea-horse

Played silly games together,

The ocean beat against the cliffs

And washed the cliffs with its water.

The scary water moaned and cried.

The stars shone. Years went by.

Then the horrid hour came:

I am no more, and so are you,

The sea is gone, the cliffs, the mountains,

And the stars gone, too;

Only the choir sounds out of the dead void.

And for simplicity’s sake, our wrathful God

Sprung up and blew away the dust of centuries,

And now, freed from the shackles of time

He flies alone, his own and only dearest friend.

Cold everywhere, and darkness blind.

 

by ‘Dandan‘ a pseudonym used by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)

(15 October 1934)

translated by Matvei Yankelevich


Fun fact: A dandan or dendan is a mythical sea creature that appears in volume 9 of ‘The Book of One Thousand and One Nights’ (or more commonly ‘Arabian Nights’). It appears in the tale “Abdullah the Fisherman and Abdullah the Merman”, where the merman tells the fisherman that the dandan is the largest fish in the sea and is the enemy of the mermen. A dendan is capable of swallowing a ship and all its crew in a single gulp. Kharms was probably aware of this and thus played on it for one of his pseudonyms.

‘Twilight was turning to darkness outside…’ by Vladislav Khodasevich

Twilight was turning to darkness outside.

Under the eaves a window banged wide.

 

A curtain was lifted, a light briefly shone,

a swift shadow fell down the wall and was gone.

 

Happy the man who falls head first to death:

at least for a moment his viewpoint is fresh.

 

by Владислав Фелицианович Ходасевич (Vladislav Felitsianovich Khodasevich)

(1922)

translated by Michael Frayn

Ravens by R. S. Thomas

It was the time of the election.

The ravens loitered above the hill

In slow circles; they had all air

To themselves. No eyes heard

Them exulting, recalling their long

History, presidents of the battles

of flesh, the sly connoisseurs

Of carrion; desultory flags

Of darkness, saddening the sky

At Catraeth and further back,

When two, who should have been friends,

Contended in the innocent light

For the woman in her downpour of hair.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Pietà (1966)


Fun Fact: The poem refers to the Battle of Catraeth and the medieval Welsh poem Y Gododdin.

Today by Gillian Clarke

Kate in full day in the heat of the sun

looks into the grave, sees in that unearthing

of a Roman settlement, under a stone

only the shadow of a skeleton.

 

Gwyn on his back in the dark, lying

on the lawn dry from months of drought,

finds in the sky through the telescope

the fuzzy dust of stars he had been searching.

 

Imprint of bones is a constellation

shining against silence, against darkness,

and stars are the pearly vertebrae

of water-drops against the drought, pelvis,

 

skull, scapula five million light years old

wink in the glass, and stardust is all we hold

of the Roman lady’s negative

in the infinite dark of the grave.

 

by Gillian Clarke

from New Poems

Roots by Dannie Abse

A man with no roots is lost

like the darkness in the forest.

Heart, my heart, what red voices cry

centuries of suffering in my flowing hands?

 

Love lasts as long as there are

two people, however silent the word.

Love, my love, how may I meet your eyes,

how may I meet the eyes that I will close?

 

Future, my future, on whose arms

will my hands be planted?

Love, my love, be assured your eyes

will live after you like children.

 

by Dannie Abse

from Early Poems

Путем зерна (The Grain’s Path) by Vladislav Khodasevich

The sower walks down the even furrows;

his fathers all furrowed the path he follows.

 

The young seed glitters gold in his hand,

but it must fall into the black ground.

 

There, amid the tunnels of the blind worm,

it will die on its due day – and grow again.

 

So now my soul treads the path of the grain –

down into darkness – and spring’s return.

 

And you, my people, and you, my native land,

you will die and live, when the dark months end,

 

for we have been granted only this one truth:

whatever lives must follow the grain’s path.

 

by Владислав Фелицианович Ходасевич (Vladislav Felitsianovich Khodasevich)

(1917)

translated by Robert Chandler

The Empty Church by R. S. Thomas

They laid this stone trap

for him, enticing him with candles,

as though he would come like some huge moth

out of the darkness to beat there.

Ah, he had burned himself

before in the human flame

and escaped, leaving the reason

torn. He will not come any more

 

to our lure. Why, then, do I kneel still

striking my prayers on a stone

heart? Is it in hope one

of them will ignite yet and throw

on its illuminated walls the shadow

of someone greater than I can understand?

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Frequencies (1978)

The Chapel by R. S. Thomas

A little aside from the main road,

becalmed in a last-century greyness,

there is the chapel, ugly, without the appeal

to the tourist to stop his car

and visit it. The traffic goes by,

and the river goes by, and quick shadows

of clouds, too, and the chapel settles

a little deeper into the grass.

 

But here once on an evening like this,

in the darkness that was about

his hearers, a preacher caught fire

and burned steadily before them

with a strange light, so that they saw

the spendour of the barren mountains

about them and sang their amens

fiercely, narrow but saved

in a way that men are not now.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)