Rhyme [extract] by Yevgeny Baratynsky

You, like the faithful dove, bring back

a green branch to the waiting ark

and place it in his eager hand;

you only with your echoing voice

give inspiration a human face

and bring his dream to land.

 

by Евгений Абрамович Баратынский (Yevgeny Abramovich Baratynsky)

(1840-43)

translated by Peter France


Fun fact: This extract refers to Genesis 8:11 where a a dove was released by Noah after the flood in order to find land; it came back carrying a freshly plucked olive leaf – a sign of life after the Flood and of God’s bringing Noah, his family and the animals to land.

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The Death of Sophocles by Anna Akhmatova

Then the king learnt that Sophocles was dead

(Legend)

To Sophocles’ house that night an eagle flew down from the sky,

And sombrely rang from the garden the cicadas’ choir.

At that hour the genius was passing into immortality,

Skirting, at the walls of his native town, the night-fires

Of the enemy. And this was when the king had a strange dream:

Dionysus himself ordered the raising of the siege,

That no noise disturb the Athenians in burying him

With fitting ceremony and with elergies.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1961)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas


Fun facts: Sophocles (Σοφοκλῆς) c. 497/6 – winter 406/5 BC) is one of three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. His first plays were written later than those of Aeschylus, and earlier than or contemporary with those of Euripides. Sophocles wrote over 120 plays during the course of his life, but only seven have survived in a complete form: Ajax, Antigone, The Women of Trachis, Oedipus Rex, Electra, Philoctetes and Oedipus at Colonus.

The most famous tragedies of Sophocles feature Oedipus and also Antigone: they are generally known as the Theban plays, although each play was actually a part of a different tetralogy, the other members of which are now lost. Sophocles influenced the development of drama, most importantly by adding a third actor, thereby reducing the importance of the chorus in the presentation of the plot. He also developed his characters to a greater extent than earlier playwrights such as Aeschylus.

Sophocles died at the age of ninety or ninety-one in the winter of 406/5 BC, having seen within his lifetime both the Greek triumph in the Persian Wars and the bloodletting of the Peloponnesian War. As with many famous men in classical antiquity, his death inspired a number of apocryphal stories. The most famous is the suggestion that he died from the strain of trying to recite a long sentence from his Antigone without pausing to take a breath. Another account suggests he choked while eating grapes at the Anthesteria festival in Athens. A third holds that he died of happiness after winning his final victory at the City Dionysia. A few months later, a comic poet, in a play titled The Muses, wrote this eulogy: “Blessed is Sophocles, who had a long life, was a man both happy and talented, and the writer of many good tragedies; and he ended his life well without suffering any misfortune.” According to some accounts, however, his own sons tried to have him declared incompetent near the end of his life; he is said to have refuted their charge in court by reading from his as yet unproduced Oedipus at Colonus. One of his sons, Iophon, and a grandson, also called Sophocles, also became playwrights.

Several ancient sources mention Sophocles’ homosexuality or bisexuality. Athenaios reported that Sophocles loved boys like Euripides loved women. The poet Ion of Chios relates an anecdote involving Sophocles seducing a serving boy at a symposium, and Athenaios one in which Sophocles is tricked by a hustler.

Regarding LGBT history under Stalin it makes interesting reading regarding the recriminalisation of homosexuality by him, associating it with fascism and accusating men of being pederasts thus conflating homosexuality with pedophilia. Especially as he tolerated the activities of Beria. Long after Stalin’s death in 1953, a 1964 Soviet sex manual instructed citizens that: “With all the tricks at their disposal, homosexuals seek out and win the confidence of youngsters. Then they proceed to act. Do not under any circumstances allow them to touch you. Such people should be immediately reported to the administrative organs so that they can be removed from society” despite liberalisation reforms under Khrushchev.

London Welsh by Idris Davies

We have scratched our names in the London dust,

Sung sometimes like the Jews of Babylon

Under the dusty trees of Hyde Park Corner,

Almost believing in a Jesus of Cardigan

Or a Moses on the mountains of Merioneth;

We have dreamed by the Thames of Towy and Dee,

And whistled in dairy shops in the morning,

Whistled of Harlech and Aberdovey.

We have grown sentimental in London

Over things that we smiled at in Wales.

Sometimes in Woolwich we have seen the mining valleys

More beautiful than we ever saw them with our eyes.

We have carried our accents into Westminster

As soldiers carry rifles into the wars;

We have carried our idioms into Piccadilly,

Food for the critics on Saturday night.

We have played dominoes in Lambeth with Alfred the Great,

And lifted a glass with Henry VIII

In the tavern under the railway bridge

On Friday nights in winter;

And we have argued with Chaucer down the Old Kent Road

On the englynion of the Eisteddfod.

We have also shivered by the Thames in the night

And know that the frost has no racial distinctions.

 

by Idris Davies

‘There Is Deep Meaning In A Parting’ by Fyodor Tyutchev

There is deep meaning in a parting:

fleeting love, eternal love –

love’s but a dream, a dream’s but a moment…

Today, tomorrow – awakening is imminent.

And you wake up, at last.

 

by Фёдор Иванович Тютчев (Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev)

(1851)

translated by Irina Mashinski


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 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.

This by Fernando Pessoa

They say I pretend or lie

All I write. No such thing.

It simply is that I

Feel by imagining.

I don’t use the heart-string.

 

All that I dream or lose,

That falls short or dies on me.

Is like a terrace which looks

On another thing beyond.

It’s that thing leads me on.

 

And so I write in the middle

Of things not next one’s feet,

Free from my own muddle,

Concerned for what is not.

Feel? Let the reader feel!

 

by Fernando Pessoa

(1888-1935), Portugal

translated by Jonathon Griffin after the Portuguese of Fernando Pessoa

‘Let Any, Who Will, Still Bask In The South…’ by Anna Akhmatova

“You are with me once more, Autumn my friend!”

Annensky

 

Let any, who will, still bask in the south

On the paradisal sand,

It’s northerly here – and this year of the north

Autumn will be my friend.

 

I’ll live, in a dream, in a stranger’s house

Where perhaps I have died,

Where the mirrors keep something mysterious

To themselves in the evening light.

 

I shall walk between black fir-trees,

Where the wind is at one with the heath,

And a dull splinter of the moon will glint

Like an old knife with jagged teeth.

 

Our last, blissful unmeeting I shall bring

To sustain me here –

The cold, pure, light flame of conquering

What I was destined for.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1957)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

‘The Smokey Blotches Of The Neighbours’ Windows…’ by Georgy Ivanov

The smokey blotches of the neighbours’ windows,

and windswept roses bending, drawing breath –

if I could think that life is but a dream,

that we cannot help waking after death.

 

To wait in heaven – heaven is so blue –

to wait in that cool bliss without a care.

And then, never to part with you.

With you for ever. Do you see? For ever…

 

by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)

(1958)

translated by Boris Dralyuk