‘Oh Don’t Look Back’ but Olga Berggolts

Oh don’t look back

at that ice

at that dark;

there, waiting greedily

for you is a look

that will demand an answer.

 

I looked back today. And suddenly,

I saw him – alive and with living eyes,

looking at me out of the ice,

my one and only, for all time.

 

I hadn’t known it was like that;

I’d thought I lived and breathed another.

But Oh, my joy, my dream, my death,

I only live beneath your gaze.

 

I have been faithful to him alone;

in that alone I have done right:

to all the living, I’m his wife;

to you and me – your widow.

 

by Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts)

a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz

(1947)

translated by Robert Chandler


A Soviet poet, writer, playwright and journalist. She is most famous for her work on the Leningrad radio during the city’s blockade, when she became the symbol of city’s strength and determination.

Olga was married a number of times. In 1925 she joined a youth literature group ‘The Shift’ where she became acquainted with Boris Kornilov. In 1927 Boris and Olga entered the State Institute of Art History, and in 1928 they got married. In 1930 she graduated from the philological faculty and was sent to Kazakhstan to work as a journalist for the Soviet Steppe newspaper. During this period Olga divorced Kornilov and married her fellow student Nikolay Molchanov. Her former husband Boris Kornilov was arrested “for taking part in the anti-Soviet Trotskyist organization” and executed on February 1938. In January 1942 she survived another personal tragedy: her second husband Nikolay Molchanov died of hunger. Olga later dedicated a poem 29 January 1942 and her book The Knot (1965) to Nikolay. On March 1942 Olga, who suffered from a critical form of dystrophy, was forcefully sent by her friends to Moscow using the Road of Life, despite her protests. On 20 April she returned to Leningrad and continued her work at the Radio House. On her return she married Georgy Makogonenko, a literary critic, also a radio host during the siege.

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A Dream of Horses by Gillian Clarke

I dreamed a gallop across sand

in and out the scallop of the tide

on a colourless horse as cold as a seal.

 

My hair and the mane of the horse

are the long white manes of the sea.

Every breath is a gulp of salt.

 

Now we are ocean. His hoof-prints

are pools, his quivering skin

the silk in the trough of the wave.

 

His muscular ellipses are

the sinuous long water of the sea

and I swim with the waves in my arms.

 

by Gillian Clarke

from New Poems

Come to our Revival Meeting by Idris Davies

And this is the sordid dream of the drunkard creeping to prayer,

And the maddened mob drowning the noise of the birds

Frightened and fluttering in the dusty trees,

And all the hysterical converts insulting the heavens,

The brown pond sticky with the thighs of the damned;

And here comes a fellow to shake your liver

For out of his nightmare he leapt

When the moon crept up behind the Iron Bridge

And the garage heap, where the trollop sat waiting

To sell her filth to the fool. And I saw

All this shabby mockery of April

As a neurotic’s delirium, his hallucination

Of apes and angels and dog-headed ghosts

Mingling and whirling and circling and dancing

Among the decaying boughs that laced like serpents

The ripped edges of the darkening sky.

 

O Lord God, save us from tinned donkey,

From Soviet scientific magazines,

From the Scottish Sabbath, from American war films,

From the demagogues of Aberdare and abadan,

And above all, O Lord God, save us from the Pentecostals.

 

by Idris Davies


Fun facts: There are a number of iron bridges in the Aberdare area due to its industrial heritage but it is perhaps the one across the Aberdare Canal being referred to.

The Scottish Sabbath is the practise of doing nothing on a Sunday including all shops and other businesses being closed to keep the sabbath sacred.

Aberdare is a town in the Cynon Valley area of Rhondda Cynon Taf, Wales, at the confluence of the Rivers Dare (Dâr) and Cynon. Aberdare is 4 miles (6 km) south-west of Merthyr Tydfil, 20 miles (32 km) north-west of Cardiff and 22 miles (35 km) east-north-east of Swansea. During the 19th century it became a thriving industrial settlement, which was also notable for the vitality of its cultural life and as an important publishing centre.

Abadan, famous for its oil refinery, was the site of the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran, also known as the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Persia, was the joint invasion of Iran in 1941 during the Second World War by the British Commonwealth and the Soviet Union. The invasion lasted from 25 August to 17 September 1941 and was codenamed Operation Countenance. Its purpose was to secure Iranian oil fields and ensure Allied supply lines (through the Persian Corridor) for the USSR, fighting against Axis forces on the Eastern Front.

Pentecostalism or Classical Pentecostalism is a renewal movement within Protestant Christianity that places special emphasis on a direct personal experience of God through baptism with the Holy Spirit. The term Pentecostal is derived from Pentecost, the Greek name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks. For Christians, this event commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the followers of Jesus Christ, as described in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.

Friesian Bull by Gillian Clarke

He blunders through the last dream

of the night. I hear him, waking.

A brick and concrete stall, narrow

as a heifer’s haunches. Steel bars

between her trap and his small yard.

A froth of slobbered hay droops

from the stippled muzzle. In the slow

rolling mass of his skull his eyes

surface like fish bellies.

 

He is chained while they swill his floor.

His stall narrows to rage. He knows

the sweet smell of a heifer’s fear.

Remembered summer haysmells reach him,

a trace of the herd’s freedom, clover-

loaded winds. The thundering seed

blows up the Dee breathing of plains,

of cattle wading in shallows.

His crazy eyes churn with their vision.

 

By Gillian Clarke

from Letters from a Far Country (1982)


Fun fact: The River Dee (Welsh: Afon Dyfrdwy, Latin: Deva Fluvius) is a river in the United Kingdom. It flows through parts of both Wales and England, forming part of the border between the two countries.

Disillusionment by Yevgeny Baratynsky

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)

(1829)

translated by Boris Dralyuk

Imitation of the Armenian by Anna Akhmatova

I shall come to you in a dream,

a black ewe that can barely stand;

I’ll stagger up to you and I’ll bleat,

‘Shah of Shahs, have you dined well?

You are protected by Allah’s will,

the world is a bead in your hand…

And did my son’s flesh taste sweet?

Did your children enjoy their lamb?

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1937?)

from around the time of Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book) but left unpublished

translation by Robert Chandler


Fun facts: This poem refers to the arrest of Akhmatova’s son by the authorities during the Stalinist era.

An alternative translation of the same poem was done by D. M. Thomas.

‘In Black Memory…’ by Anna Akhmatova

In black memory you’ll find, fumbling,

A glove to the elbow that unlocks

A Petersburg night. And a crumbling

Air of sweetness in the murky box.

A wind from the gulf. And, there, between

The lines of a stormy page,

Blok, smiling scornfully, holds the scene,

The tragic tenor of the age.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1960)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas


Fun fact: ‘Blok’ here of course refers to the Russian lyrical poet Alexander Blok who had died in 1921.