What they are saying is
that there is life there, too;
that the universe is the size it is
to enable us to catch up.
They have gone on from the human;
that shining is a reflection
of their intelligence. Godhead
is the colonisation by mind
of untenanted space. It is its own
light, a statement beyond language
of conceptual truth. Every night
is a rinsing myself of the darkness
that is in my veins. I let the stars inject me
with fire, silent as it is far,
but certain in its cauterising
of my despair. I am a slow
traveller. But there is more than time
to arrive. Resting in the intervals
of my breathing, I pick up the signals
relayed to me from a periphery I comprehend.
by R. S. Thomas
from Frequencies (1978)
A year will come – of Russia’s blackest dread;
then will the crown fall from the royal head,
the throne of tsars will perish in the mud,
the food of many will be death and blood;
both wife and babe will vainly seek the law:
it will not shield the victims any more;
the putrid, rotting plague will mow and cut
and boldly walk the road from hut to hut;
in people’s sight its pallid face will float,
and hunger’s hand will clutch them by the throat;
a scarlet sea will send its bloody surge;
a mighty man will suddenly emerge:
you’ll recognize the man, you’ll feel
that he has come to use a knife of steel;
oh, dreadful day! Your call, your groan, your prayer
will only make him laugh at your despair;
and everything in his forbidding sight –
his brow, his cloak – will fill the land with fright.
by Михаил Юрьевич Лермонтов (Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov)
translated by Anatoly Liberman
Fun facts: He wrote this in 1830 and the irony hasn’t been lost on Russian people that less than a hundred years later Nikolai II would lose this throne and… well it’s hard not to immediately see Lermontov’s prophecy (though ‘prediction’ is the more direct translation of the Russian title) proved an all too accurate omen of events during the twentieth century during the Soviet era.
A recital of the poem in Russian:
Original Russian version:
Настанет год, России черный год,
Когда царей корона упадет;
Забудет чернь к ним прежнюю любовь,
И пища многих будет смерть и кровь;
Когда детей, когда невинных жен
Низвергнутый не защитит закон;
Когда чума от смрадных, мертвых тел
Начнет бродить среди печальных сел,
Чтобы платком из хижин вызывать,
И станет глад сей бедный край терзать;
И зарево окрасит волны рек:
В тот день явится мощный человек,
И ты его узнаешь — и поймешь,
Зачем в руке его булатный нож:
И горе для тебя! — твой плач, твой стон
Ему тогда покажется смешон;
И будет всё ужасно, мрачно в нем,
Как плащ его с возвышенным челом.
Don’t tempt me with your tender ruses,
with the return of passion’s blaze:
a disenchanted man refuses
inveiglements of former days!
My faith in faithfulness has faded,
my faith in love has passed its prime;
I won’t indugle another time
in dreams degrading and degraded.
Let blind despair not increase,
the things that were, pray, do not mention,
and, caring friend! allow the patient
to doze in long, untroubled peace.
I sleep, and sweet is relaxation;
let bygone dreams be laid to rest:
you will awaken agitation,
not love, in my tormented breast.
by Евгений Абрамович Баратынский (Yevgeny Abramovich Baratynsky)
translated by Boris Dralyuk
I loved you – and maybe love
still smoulders in my heart;
but let my love not trouble
you or cause you any hurt.
I loved you but stayed silent,
timid, despairing, jealous;
I loved you truly – God grant
you such love from someone else.
by Александр Сергеевич Пушкин (Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin)
a.k.a. Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin
translated by Robert Chandler
Towards our end, as life runs out,
love is more troubled and more tender.
Fade not, fade not, departing light
of our last love, our farewell splendour.
Shadow overshadows half the sky;
far to the west the last rays wander.
Shine on, shine on, last light of day;
allow us still to watch and wonder.
What if our blood runs thinner, cooler?
This does not make the heart less tender.
Last love, last love, what can I call you?
Joy and despair, mortal surrender.
by Фёдор Иванович Тютчев (Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev)
translated by Robert Chandler
A reading of the poem in Russian:
Fun facts: 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.
After plodding year after year
through towns in an alien land,
we have ground enough to despair –
and despair is where we must end.
For despair is our final refuge –
as if, midwinter, we had come
from Vespers in a nearby church,
through Russian snow, to our home.
by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)
by Robert Chandler
For O. A. Glebova-Sudeikina
What do you see on the wall, your eyes screwed up,
When in the sky the sunset’s burning late?
Do you see a seagull on the water’s blue
Cloth, or gardens by the Arno?
Or the great lake of Tsarkoye Selo
Where terror stepped in front of you?
Or the young man who left your captivity, left
You by walking into death like a white knight?
No, I am looking only at the wall’s
Reflections of the dying heavenly fires.
– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1913, June, Slepnyovo)
– from Четки (Rosary, 1914), translation by D. M. Thomas