The Kingdom by R. S. Thomas

It’s a long way off but inside it

There are quite different things going on:

Festivals at which the poor man

Is king and the consumptive is

Healed; mirrors in which the blind look

At themelves and love looks at them

Back; and industry is for mending

The bent bones and the minds fractured

By life. It’s a long way off, but to get

There takes no time and admission

Is free, if you will purge yourself

Of desire, and present yourself with

Your need only and the simple offering

Of your faith, green as a leaf.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from H’m (1972)

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Love Me. I Am Pitch Black by Maria Petrovykh

Love me. I am pitch black,

sinful, blind, confused.

But if not you, then who else

is going to love me? Face

to face, and fate to fate.

See how stars shine bright

in the dark sky. Love me

simply, simply, as day

loves night and night loves day.

You have no choice. I am

pure night, and you – pure light.

 

by Мария Сергеевна Петровых (Maria Sergeyevna Petrovykh)

(1942)

translated by Robert Chandler


A complete rendition though this version uses shorter, irregular, lines in its translation.

Rachel by Anna Akhmatova

A man met Rachel, in a valley. Jacob

Bowed courteously, this wanderer far from home.

Flocks, raising the hot dust, could not slake their

Thirst. The well was blocked with a huge stone.

Jacob wrenched the stone from the well

Of pure water, and the flocks drank their fill.

 

But the heart in his breast began to grieve,

It ached like an open wound.

He agreed that in Laban’s fields he should serve

Seven years to win the maiden’s hand.

For you, Rachel! Seven years in his eyes

No more than seven dazzling days.

 

But silver-loving Laban lives

In a web of cunning, and is unknown to grace.

He thinks: every deceit forgives

Itself to the glory of Laban’s house.

And he led Leah firmly to the tent

Where Jacob took her, blind and innocent.

 

Night drops from on high over the plains,

The cool dews pour,

And the youngest daughter of Laban groans,

Tearing the thick braids of her hair.

She curses her sister and reviles God, and

Begs the Angel of Death to descend.

 

And Jacob dreams the hour of paradise:

In the valley the clear spring,

The joyful look in Rachel’s eyes,

And her voice like a bird’s song.

Jacob, was it you who kissed me, loved

Me, and called me your black dove?

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1921)

– from Anno Domini MCMXXI translation by D. M. Thomas

Toilet by Hugo Williams

I wonder will I speak to the girl
sitting opposite me on this train.
I wonder will my mouth open and say,
‘Are you going all the way
to Newcastle?’ or ‘Can I get you a coffee?’
Or will it simply go ‘aaaaah’
as if it had a mind of its own?

Half closing eggshell blue eyes,
she runs her hand through her hair
so that it clings to the carriage cloth,
then slowly frees itself.
She finds a brush and her long fair hair
flies back and forth like an African fly-whisk,
making me feel dizzy.

Suddenly, without warning,
she packs it all away in a rubber band
because I have forgotten to look out
the window for a moment.
A coffee is granted permission
to pass between her lips
and does so eagerly, without fuss.

A tunnel finds us looking out the window
into one another’s eyes. She leaves her seat,
but I know that she likes me
because the light saying ‘TOILET’
has come on, a sign that she is lifting
her skirt, taking down her pants
and peeing all over my face.

 

by Hugo Williams

‘I Don’t Know If You’re Alive Or Dead…’ by Anna Akhmatova

I don’t know if you’re alive or dead.

Can you on earth be sought,

Or only when the sunsets fade

Be mourned serenely in my thought?

 

All is for you: the daily prayer,

The sleepless heat at night,

And of my verses, the white

Flock, and of my eyes, the blue fire.

 

No-one was more cherished, no-one tortured

Me more, not

Even the one who betrayed me to torture,

Not even the one who caressed me and forgot.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1915)

– from Белая стая (White Flock, 1917) translation by D. M. Thomas

The Guest by Anna Akhmatova

Nothing is different: thin snow beats

Against the dining-room window-pane.

I am totally unchanged,

but a man came to see me.

 

I asked: ‘What do you want?’

He said: ‘To be with you in hell.’

I laughed, ‘Ah, there I can’t

Oblige you, you’d wish us ill.’

 

His dry hand touched a petal

With a light caress.

‘Tell me how they kiss you,

Tell me how you kiss.’

 

And his eyes, glinting dully,

Never slid from my ring;

Never a single muscle

Moved under his snakeskin.

 

O I know: his joy, his greed,

Is to know intensely, eye to eye,

There’s nothing that he needs,

Nothing I can deny.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1 January 1914)

– from Четки (Rosary, 1914), translation by D. M. Thomas

A Ride by Anna Akhmatova

My feather was brushing the top of the carriage

And I was looking into his eyes.

There was a pining in my heart

I could not recognise.

 

The evening was windless, chained

Solidly under a cloudbank,

As if someone had drawn the Bois de Boulogne

In an old album in black Indian ink.

 

A mingled smell of lilac and benzine,

A peaceful watchfulness.

His hand touched my knees

A second time almost without trembling.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (May, 1913)

– from Четки (Rosary, 1914), translation by D. M. Thomas