High up at the head of the valley where the stream’s face hardened
under the breath of December and where the mountain guardians
received their delivery of white cloaks fashioned by swirling winds
and moonlight flooded the land
the mining village nestled in new disguise
frost nibbling away at its feet
by Geoff Jones
Uchel i fyny ar flaen y cwm lle caledai wyneb y nant
dan anadl mis Rhagfyr a lle câi ceidwaid y mynydd
eu rhodd o fentyll gwynion wedi’u llunio gan wyntoedd troelli
a llifai’r lloergan y wlad
nythai’r pentref glofaol dan rith newydd
cnoai llorrew ar ei draed
translated by Nigel Thomas from Poetry Mine (2009)
Additional information: The poet notes ‘Nantyglo: stream of coal’. There are a number of Geoff Jones’ on the internet so it was a little hard to find details about him. Here is a link to his Twitter account as, unfortunately, it seems his website is gone now. Here is a newspaper/news website article about him.
I returned to my city, familiar as tears, As veins, as mumps from childhood years.
You’ve returned here, so swallow as quick as you can The fish oil of Leningrad’s riverside lamps.
Recognize when you can December’s brief day, Egg yolk folded into its ominous tar.
Petersburg! I still don’t want to die: You have the numbers of my telephones.
Petersburg! I still have addresses, By which I can find the voices of the dead. I live on the back stairs and the doorbell buzz
And all night long I wait for the dear guests, Rattling, like manacles, the chains on the doors.
by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam.) His surname is commonly Latinised as Mandelstam) (December 1930) translated by Bernard Meares (revised)
Я вернулся в мой город, знакомый до слез, До прожилок, до детских припухлых желез.
Ты вернулся сюда, — так глотай же скорей Рыбий жир ленинградских речных фонарей.
Узнавай же скорее декабрьский денек, Где к зловещему дегтю подмешан желток.
Петербург, я еще не хочу умирать: У тебя телефонов моих номера.
Петербург, у меня еще есть адреса, По которым найду мертвецов голоса.
Я на лестнице черной живу, и в висок Ударяет мне вырванный с мясом звонок.
И всю ночь напролет жду гостей дорогих, Шевеля кандалами цепочек дверных.
Additional information: Leningrad was the name of St Petersburg during the Soviet era. The poem was written in 1930 when Mandelstam had just returned from the Caucasus to his hometown of St. Petersburg (Leningrad). ‘Dear guests‘ was a euphemism for the political police who now patrolled the city upon his return.
Basic breakdown of the poem: In the poem, the speaker happily announces his return home, but at the same time has a slight anxiety due to a new government having appeared in St. Petersburg. He compares the atmosphere of the city with tar but still tries to find something bright and pleasant in everything. He admits that Leningrad remains his hometown (where Mandelstam grew up when his family moved there soon after his birth) because of the addresses he has of friends and relatives there. A man very much wants to see his loved ones, so he lives on the stairs consumed with hope. However, despite all this each doorbell reminds him of a blow to the temple and the door chains remind him of heavy and unpleasant shackles.
The poem reads as an elegy in which Mandelstam mourns the changes he sees in the city he has returned to. He wants to show that it is not the best of times when a new government comes to the city. Also he reveals the anxiety felt by people during this period of change. He talks about how dear his hometown is to him but, despite his remaining connections, he does not feel safe there anymore.
The main theme is that he feels disaster is gradually approaching the city and, for him, St. Petersburg has already changed in his absence although he finds links to his past remain. Overall, the poem demonstrates Mandelstam’s pain and despair as if there is a tragic denouement regarding everything familiar he encounters but has grown hostile and anxiety inducing to him.
Today the art of our retreat is to see portents and mystery – To see colour and sinew, the flash of white As the bare hills of the age are visited from heaven: His solitude swims in the quiet of the water, A pilgrim acquainted with sedges, And he washes the weather of the lake with his form That (as it were) spotlights the passion Of a soul’s breath As it goes its slow, bare way in the chill of March: His neck became a vigil, The immaculate arm of a hunter, The poise there, the stance of his eye! – And the flame of his beak plummeted down to the pool: The mountains looked disquieted As he resumed his glide, easing himself to the flood: A shiver ran through his wings, then stopped, And on a sharp beat he broke from the water: Slowly he went, then up to the high air, And the fire of his wings draws a soul from its cold.
by Euros Bowen (1904-1988) (December 1987) translated by Tony Conran
Additional information: The Welsh version is titled ‘Yr Alarch‘ but, unfortunately, I was unable to source a copy to confirm its wording and provide it as I have some other poems in translation previously. If you have access to a copy it would be greatly appreciated if you could, for the benefit of future readers to compare the translation and original, provide a link to a site listing it or copy/paste the Welsh version in the comments.
Deep in the mountain the idol rests in sweet repose, infinite and blest, the fat of necklaces dripping from his neck protects his dreams of flood tide and of slack.
As a boy, he buddied with a peacock, they gave him rainbow of India to eat and milk in a pink clay dish, and didn't stint the cochineal.
Bone put to bed, locked in a knot, shoulders, arms and knees made flesh, he smiles with his own dead-silent lips, thinks with his bone, feels with his brow, and struggles to recall his human countenance...
by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam.) His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam) from the first of the Voronezh Notebooks (10-26 December 1936) translated by Andrew Davis
Goldfinch, friend, I'll cock my head - let's check the world out, just me and you: this winter's day pricks like chaff; does it sting your eyes too?
Boat-tailed, feathers yellow-black, sopped in colour beneath your beak, do you get, you goldfinch you, just how you flaunt it?
What's he thinking, little airhead? - white and yellow, black and red! Both eyes check both ways – both! - will check no more – he's bolted!
by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam.) His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam) (9-27 December 1936) translated by Andrew Davis
The original Russian Cyrillic version of the poem
Мой щегол, я голову закину — Поглядим на мир вдвоем: Зимний день, колючий, как мякина, Так ли жестк в зрачке твоем?
Хвостик лодкой, перья черно-желты, Ниже клюва в краску влит, Сознаешь ли — до чего щегол ты, До чего ты щегловит?
Что за воздух у него в надлобье — Черн и красен, желт и бел! В обе стороны он в оба смотрит — в обе!— Не посмотрит — улетел!
Extra information: The RSPB website has information, a bird identifying ‘questionnaire’ if you’ve seen any you don’t recognise, sound clips of bird calls, videos and more about goldfinches and many other species of birds. It might be an interesting distraction if you haven’t looked at it before.
The image of a goldfinch or starling is a repeated motif in the poetry of Mandelstam. (if you can’t read Russian then just put the text of the linked page, or it’s page address, into GoogleTranslate which gives a surprisingly eloquent translation).
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