Baratynsky by Varlam Shalamov

	Three Robinson Crusoes
in an abandoned shack,
we found a real find -
a single, battered book.

We three were friends
and we quickly agreed
to share out this treasure
as Solomon decreed.

The foreword for cigarette paper:
one friend was delighted
with a gift so unlikely
he feared he was dreaming.

The second made playing cards
from the notes at the back.
May his play bring him pleasure,
every page bring him luck.

As for my own cut -
those precious jottings,
the dreams of a poet
now long forgotten -

it was all that I wanted.
How wisely we'd judged.
What a joy to set foot in
a forgotten hut.

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)
(1949)
translated by Robert Chandler

Interesting extra: The poem refers to Yevgeny Abramovich Baratynsky (Евге́ний Абра́мович Бараты́нский ) was lauded by AlexanderPushkin as the finest Russian elegiac poet. After a long period when his reputation was on the wane, Baratynsky was rediscovered by Russian Symbolism poets as a supreme poet of thought..

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Баллада о немецком цензоре (The Ballad of a German Censor) by David Samoylov

In Germany once lived a censor

of lowly rank and title.

He blotted, struck and cancelled

and knew no other no other calling.

 

He sniffed out harmful diction

and smeared it with Indian ink.

He guarded minds from infection

and his bosses valued his work.

 

On a winter day in forty-three

he was dispatched ‘nach Osten’.

And he stared from the train car’s window

at fields, graveyards, snowstorms.

 

It was cold without a fur coat.

He saw hamlets without homes or people.

Only charred chimneys were left,

creeping by, like lizards or camels.

 

And it seemed to him that Russia

was all steppe, Mongoloid, bare.

And he thought he was feeling ‘nostalgia’,

but it was really just the chill and fear.

 

He arrived at his field post office:

such-and-such region and number.

Table, chair, iron cot and mattress,

three walls – in the fourth, a window.

 

Russia’s short on Gemütlichkeit!

He had to climb over snowdrifts.

And the work? No shortage of that:

cutting, deleting, smearing.

 

Before him lay piles of letters,

lines and lines – some straight, some wavy.

Generals wrote to their comrades,

soldiers wrote to their families.

 

There were letters, messages, queries

from the living, from those who’d been killed.

There were words he judged ‘non-Aryan’,

but it was really just fear and chill.

 

He would read nearly all day round,

forgetting to eat or shave.

And inside his tired mind

something strange began to take place.

 

Words he’d blotted and excised

would come and torment him at night,

and, like some eerie circus,

would parade there before his eyes…

 

Lines, killed by black ink,

turned tyrannical, like a tirade:

‘In the East, the East, the East,

we will not, will not be spared…’

 

The text was composed of black mosaics;

each word clung fast to the next.

Not the greatest master of prose

could have come up with such a text.

 

Long thoughts, like wagon trains,

shook the joints and ridges

of his tired and weakened brain;

battered its fragile bridges.

 

He turned unfriendly to all his friends

and grew brusque, unsociable, sad.

He was brilliant for a few days

and then broke down and went bad.

 

He awoke, from the fear and chill…

with a wild, choking feeling.

The dark was impenetrable –

the window blacked out with ink.

 

He realised that bravado leads nowhere,

that existence is fragile,

and the black truth invaded his soul

and wiped away the white lie.

 

The poor censor was born a pedant.

He reached for a small notebook

and truthfully – that is, with talent –

set everything down, in order.

 

The next morning he took up, with seal,

his… No – a different task:

he underlined all that was real

and crossed out everything else.

 

Poor censor, he’d lost his mind!

Little man, like a grain of millet!

He informed on himself in a day

and was taken away that minute…

 

There once lived a censor in Germany.

His rank and title were low.

He died and was promptly buried,

and his grave fell under the plough.

 

by Давид Самойлов (David Samoylov)

pseudonym of Давид Самуилович Кауфман (David Samuilovich Kaufman)

(1961)

translated by Boris Dralyuk


Additional information: David Samoylov (Давид Самойлов), pseudonym of David Samuilovich Kaufman ( Давид Самуилович Кауфман; 1 June 1920 in Moscow — 23 February 1990 in Tallinn) was a notable poet of the War generation of Russian poets, considered one of the most important Russian poets of the post-World War II era as well.

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.

A Life by R.S. Thomas

Lived long; much fear, less

courage. Bottom in love’s school

of his class; time’s reasons

too far back to be known.

Good on his knees, yeilding,

vertical, to petty temptations.

A mouth thoughts escaped

from unfledged. Where two

were company, he the unwanted

third. A Narcissus tortured

by the whisperers behind

the mirror. Visionary only

in his perception of an horizon

beyond the horizon. Doubtful

of God, too pusillanimous

to deny him. Saving his face

in verse from the humiliations prose

inflicted on him. One of life’s

conscientious objectors, conceding

nothing to the propaganda of death

but a compulsion to volunteer.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)

 

‘Help me, O Lord, through this night’ by Osip Mandelstam

Help me, O Lord, through this night.

I fear for life, your slave.

To live in Peter’s city is to sleep in a grave.

 

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

(1931)

translated by Robert Chandler

Storm Awst by Gillian Clarke

The cat walks. It listens, as I do,

To the wind which leans its iron

Shoulders on our door. Neither

The purr of a cat nor my blood

Runs smoothly for elemental fear

Of the storm. This then is the big weather

They said was coming. All the signs

Were bad, the gulls coming in white,

Lapwings gathering, the sheep too

Calling all night. The gypsies

Were making their fires in the woods

Down there in the east…always

A warning. The rain stings, the whips

Of the laburnum hedge lash the roof

Of the cringing cottage. A curious

Calm, coming from the storm, unites

Us, as we wonder if the work

We have done will stand. Will the tyddyn,

In its group of strong trees on the high

Hill, hold against the storm Awst

Running across the hills where everything

Alive listens, pacing its house, heart still?

 

by Gillian Clarke

from The Sundial, (Gwasg Gomer, 1978)


Fun facts:  Glossary: Welsh = English

Awst = August

Storm Awst = August storm

tyddyn = [farm] smallholding

‘What’s War? What’s Plague…’ by Anna Akhmatova

What’s war? What’s plague? We know that they will pass,

Judgement is passed, we see an end to them.

But which of us can cope with this fear, this –

The terror that is named the flight of time?

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

Komarovo, 9 September (1964)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas