One Man Fell Asleep by Daniil Kharms

One man fell asleep a believer but woke up an atheist.
Luckily, this man kept medical scales in his room, because he was in the habit of weighing himself every morning and every evening. And so, going to sleep the night before, he had weighed himself and had found out he weighed four poods and 21 pounds. But the following morning, waking up an atheist, he weighed himself again and found out that now he weighed only four poods thirteen pounds. “Therefore,” he concluded, “my faith weighed approximately eight pounds.”


by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)
a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)
(1936-37)
translated by Eugene Ostashevsky

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Pre-Cambrian by R. S. Thomas

Here I think of the centuries,

six million of them, they say.

Yesterday a fine rain fell;

today the warmth has brought out the crowds.

After Christ, what? The molecules

are without redemption. My shadow

sunning itself on this stone

remembers the lava. Zeus looked down

on a brave world, but there was

no love there; the architecture

of their temples was less permanent

than these waves. Plato, Aristotle,

all those who furrow the calmness

of their foreheads are responsible

for the bomb. I am charmed here

by the serenity of the reflections

in the sea's mirror. It is a window

as well. What I need

now is a faith to enable me to out-stare

the grinning faces of the inmates of its asylum,

the failed experiments God put away.


by R. S. Thomas

from Frequencies (1978)

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

Red Balloon by Dannie Abse

It sailed across the startled town,

over chapels, over chimney-pots,

wind-blown above a block of flats

before it floated down.

 

Oddly, it landed where I stood,

and finding’s keeping, as you know.

I breathed on it, I polished it,

till it shone like living blood.

 

It was my shame, it was my joy,

it brought me notoriety.

From all of Wales the rude boy came,

it ceased to be a toy.

 

I heard the girls of Cardiff sigh

When my balloon, my red balloon,

soared higher like a happiness

towards the dark blue sky.

 

Nine months since, have I boasted of

my unique, my only precious;

but to no one dare I show it now

however long they swear their love.

 

‘It’s a Jew’s balloon,’ my best friend cried,

‘stained with our dear Lord’s blood.’

‘That I’m a Jew is true,’ I said,

said I, ‘that cannot be denied.’

 

‘What relevance?’ I asked, surprised,

‘what’s religion to do with this?’

‘Your red balloon’s a Jew’s balloon,

let’s get it circumcised.’

 

Then some boys laughed and some boys cursed,

some unsheathed their dirty knives:

some lunged, some clawed at my balloon,

but still it would not burst.

 

They bled my nose, they cut my eye,

half conscious in the street I heard,

‘Give up, give up your red balloon.’

I don’t know exactly why.

 

Father, bolt the door, turn the key,

lest those sad, brash boys return

to insult my faith and steal

my red balloon from me.

 

by Dannie Abse

from Poems, Golders Green (1962)


Fun facts: Dannie Abse was born in Cardiff, Wales, to a Jewish family. He was the younger brother of politician and reformer Leo Abse and the eminent psychoanalyst, Wilfred Abse. Unusually for a middle-class Jewish boy, Dannie Abse attended St Illtyd’s College, a working-class Catholic school in Splott.

Souillac: Le Sacrifice d’Abraham by R. S. Thomas

And he grasps him by the hair

With innocent savagery.

And the son’s face is calm;

There is trust there.

 

And the beast looks on.

 

This is what art could do,

Interpreting faith

With serene chisel.

The resistant stone

Is quiet as our breath,

And is accepted.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from The Bread of Truth (1963)


Fun fact: Souillac is a small market town, and is the hub for the area. This is an agricultural region which is known for its walnuts, strawberries and quiet, rural way of life. Thomas visited the abbey church of Sainte-Marie in this town and that is the subject of this poem. The domed roofs are similar to but rather smaller than those of Périgueux Cathedral. Fragments of the original Romanesque sculptures are grouped just inside the west door.

‘I like the Lutheran service, calm and grave…’ by Fyodor Tyutchev

I like the Lutheran service, calm and grave,

I like its ritual, solemn and severe;

the message of these bare and empty walls

I bow to, I revere.

 

But don’t you see? Why surely you must know

that for the last time Faith is with us there.

She has not crossed the threshold yet to go,

but all is swept and bare.

 

She has not crossed the threshold on her way,

she has not gone for good, and closed the door.

But yet the hour has struck. Kneel down and pray,

for you will pray no more.

 

by Фёдор Иванович Тютчев (Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev)

(1834)

translated by Frances Cornford and Esther Polianowsky Salaman


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 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.

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)