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.

Wedding Song by Alexander Pushkin

from The Captain’s Daughter

 

Our lovely apple tree

has no young shoots and no fine crown;

our lovely bride

has no dear father and no dear mother.

No one to dress her

in a wedding gown,

no one to bless her.

 

by Александр Сергеевич Пушкин (Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin)

a.k.a. Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin

(1836)

translated by Robert Chandler

Путем зерна (The Grain’s Path) by Vladislav Khodasevich

The sower walks down the even furrows;

his fathers all furrowed the path he follows.

 

The young seed glitters gold in his hand,

but it must fall into the black ground.

 

There, amid the tunnels of the blind worm,

it will die on its due day – and grow again.

 

So now my soul treads the path of the grain –

down into darkness – and spring’s return.

 

And you, my people, and you, my native land,

you will die and live, when the dark months end,

 

for we have been granted only this one truth:

whatever lives must follow the grain’s path.

 

by Владислав Фелицианович Ходасевич (Vladislav Felitsianovich Khodasevich)

(1917)

translated by Robert Chandler

Ap Huw’s Testament by R. S. Thomas

There are four verses to put down

For the four people in my life,

Father, mother, wife

 

And the one child. Let me begin

With her of the immaculate brow

My wife; she loves me. I know how.

 

My mother gave me the breast’s milk

Generously, but grew mean after,

Envying me my detached laughter.

 

My father was a passionate man,

Wrecked after leaving the sea

In her love’s shallows. He grieves in me.

 

What shall I say of my boy,

Tall, fair? He is young yet;

Keep his feet free of the world’s net.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Poetry for Supper (1958)