‘No, not the moon – the bright face of a clock’ by Osip Mandelstam

No, not the moon – the bright face of a clock

glimmers to me. How is it my fault

that I perceive the feeble stars as milky?

And I hate Batyushkov’s unbounding arrogance:

What time is it? Someone simply asked –

and he replied to them: eternity!

 

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)

(1912)

translated by Boris Dralyuk


Fun fact: Such an exchange did occur between Konstanin Batyushkov and his doctor and in his poem ‘For The Tombstone of a Little Girl’ he imagined a dead baby saying to her parents ‘Dear ones, don’t cry! / Envy my ephemerality; / I did not know this life, / And know eternity’ (translation by Peter France).

 

The Bright Field by R.S. Thomas

I have seen the sun break through

to illuminate a small field

for a while, and gone my way

and forgotten it. But that was the pearl

of great price, the one field that had

the treasure in it. I realize now

that I must give all that I have

to possess it. Life is not hurrying

 

on to a receding future, nor hankering after

an imagined past. It is the turning

aside like Moses to the miracle

of the lit bush, to a brightness

that seemed as transitory as your youth

once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)

Приморский сонет (Seaside Sonnet) by Anna Akhmatova

Everything here will outlive me,

Even the houses of the stare

And this air I breathe, the spring air,

Ending its flight across the sea.

 

Unearthly invincibility…

The voice of eternity is calling,

And the light moon’s light is falling

Over the blossoming cherry-tree.

 

It doesn’t seem a difficult road,

White, in the chalice of emerald,

Where it’s leading I won’t say…

There between the trunks, a streak

Of light reminds one of the walk

By the pond at Tsarkoye.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1958, Komarovo)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas


Fun Facts: Here is a blog account, with photos, of the walk along the shores of the great pond in Tsarskoye.

Akhmatova reciting her poem:

Original Russian cyrillic version of the poem:

Приморский сонет

Здесь все меня переживет,
Все, даже ветхие скворешни
И этот воздух, воздух вешний,
Морской свершивший перелет.

И голос вечности зовет
С неодолимостью нездешней,
И над цветущею черешней
Сиянье легкий месяц льет.

И кажется такой нетрудной,
Белея в чаще изумрудной,
Дорога не скажу куда…

Там средь стволов еще светлее,
И все похоже на аллею
У царскосельского пруда.

1958
Комарово

On Transcience by Gavrila Derzhavin

Time’s river in its rushing course

carries away all human things,

drowns in oblivion’s abyss

peoples and kingdoms and their kings.

 

And if the trumpet or the lyre

should rescue something, small or great,

eternity will gulp it down

and it will share the common fate.

 

by Гавриил ”Гаврила” Романович Державин (Gavriil ”Gavrila” Romanovich Derzhavin)

July 1816 – written on a slate a few days or possibly only hours before Derzhavin’s death on 20 July 1816.

Translated by Peter France


 

Fun fact: Read as an acrostic the first letter of each line forms the phrase ‘руина чти‘ which translates as ‘ruin of honour’, ‘honour the ruin’ or ‘read the ruin’.

Although his works are traditionally considered literary classicism, his best verse is rich with antitheses and conflicting sounds in a way reminiscent of John Donne and other metaphysical poets.

An alternate translation of this, presumably, unfinished fragment found on his table after his death is:

The current of Time’s river
Will carry off all human deeds
And sink into oblivion
All peoples, kingdoms and their kings.
And if there’s something that remains
Through sounds of horn and lyre,
It too will disappear into the maw of time
And not avoid the common pyre… <lines broken>

To Her by Vasily Zhukovsky

Where’s there a name for you?

No mortal’s art has the power

to express your charm.

 

Nor are there lyres for you!

Songs? Not to be trusted –

the echo of a belated rumour.

 

If they had ears for the heart,

every one of my senses

would be a hymn to you.

 

I carry your life’s charm,

this pure, holy image,

like a mystery in my heart.

 

All I can do is love;

only eternity can speak

the love you inspire.

 

by Василий Андреевич Жуковский (Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky)

(1811)

translated by Robert Chandler


 

Fun fact: Ivan Bunin, the Nobel Prize winning Russian emigre author, is related to him.

Prayer by R. S. Thomas

Baudelaire’s grave

not too far

from the tree of science.

Mine, too,

since I sought and failed

to steal from it,

somewhere within sight

of the tree of poetry

that is eternity wearing

the green leaves of time.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Ingrowing Thoughts (1985)

The Hearth by R. S. Thomas

In front of the fire

With you, the folk song

Of the wind in the chimney and the sparks’

Embroidery of the soot – eternity

Is here in this small room

In intervals that our love

Widens; and outside

Us is time and the victims

Of time, travellers

To a new Bethlehem, statesmen

And scientists with their hands full

Of the gifts that destroy.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from H’m (1972)