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 can, for the benefit of future readers to compare the translation and original, provide in the comments a link or the Welsh version it would be greatly appreciated.
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).
O sacrifice to reckless thought, it seems you must have hoped your scanty blood had power enough to melt the eternal Pole. A puff of smoke, a silent flicker upon the age-old ice - and then a breath of iron winter extinguished every trace.
by Фёдор Иванович Тютчев (Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev) (14 December, 1825) translated by Robert Chandler
Fun fact: Counted amongst the admirers of Tyutchev’s works were Dostoevsky and Tolstoy along with Nekrasov and Fet. Then later Osip Mandelstam who, in a passage approved of by Shalamov, believed that a Russian poet should not have copy of Tyutchev in his personal library – he should know all of Tyutchev off by heart.
A video of the full poem being recited in Russian.
The full original Russian Cyrillic version:
14-ое ДЕКАБРЯ 1825
Вас развратило Самовластье, И меч его вас поразил,— И в неподкупном беспристрастье Сейприговор Закон скрепил. Народ, чуждаясь вероломства, Поносит ваши имена — Иваша память от потомства, Как труп вземле, схоронена.
О жертвы мысли безрассудной, Вы уповали, можетбыть, Что станет вашей крови скудной, Чтобвечный полюс растопить! Едва, дымясь,она сверкнула, На вековой громаде льдов, Зима железная дохнула — И неосталось и следов.