The Witch with Eyes of Amber by Clark Ashton Smith

I met a witch with amber eyes

Who slowly sang a scarlet rune,

Shifting to an icy laughter

Like the laughter of the moon.

Red as a wanton’s was her mouth.

And fair the breast she bade me take

With a word that clove and clung

Burning like a furnace-flake.

But from her bright and lifted bosom,

When I touched it with my hand,

Came the many-needled coldness

Of a glacier-taken land.

And, lo! The witch with eyes of amber

Vanished like a blown-out flame,

Leaving but the lichen-eaten

Stone that bore a blotted name.

 

by Clark Ashton Smith

Hallowe’en by R.S. Thomas

Outside a surfeit of planes.

Inside the hunger of the departed

to come back. ‘Ah, erstwhile humans,

would you make your mistakes

over again? In life, as in love,

the second time around is

no better.’

I confront their expressions

in the embers, on grey walls:

faces among the stones watching

me to see if this night

of all nights I will make sacrifice

to the spirits of hearth and of

roof-tree, pouring a libation.

 

‘Stay where you are,’ I implore.

‘This is no world for escaped beings

to make their way back into.

The well that you took your pails

to is polluted. At the centre

of the mind’s labyrinth to machine howls

for the sacrifice of the affections;

vocabulary has on a soft collar

but the tamed words are not to be trusted.

As long as the flames hum, making

their honey, better to look in

upon truth’s comb than to

take off as we do on fixed wings

for depollinated horizons.’

 

by R. S Thomas

from No Truce with the Furies (1995)

Маяковскому (To Mayakovsky) by Marina Tsvetaeva

Beyond the chimneys and steeples,

baptized by smoke and flame,

stamping-footed archangel,

down the decades I call your name!

 

Rock-steady or change-at-a-whim!

Coachman and stallion in one!

He snorts and spits into his palm –

chariot of glory, hold on!

 

Singer of city-square wonders,

I salute that arrogant tone

that rejected the brilliant diamond

for the sake of the ponderous stone.

 

I salute you, cobblestone-thunderer!

– see, he yawns, gives a wave, then he swings

himself back into harness, back under

the shafts, his archangelic wings.

 

by Марина Ивановна Цветаева (Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)

(18 September 1921)

translated by Peter Oram


Fun facts: This poem is dedicated to Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky (Владимир Владимирович Маяковский) who was a Russian Soviet poet, playwright, artist, and actor.

During his early, pre-Revolution period leading into 1917, Mayakovsky became renowned as a prominent figure of the Russian Futurist movement. Though Mayakovsky’s work regularly demonstrated ideological and patriotic support for the ideology of the Communist Party and a strong admiration of Vladimir Lenin, Mayakovsky’s relationship with the Soviet state was always complex and often tumultuous. Mayakovsky often found himself engaged in confrontation with the increasing involvement of the Soviet State in cultural censorship and the development of the State doctrine of Socialist realism.  In 1930 Mayakovsky committed suicide. Even after death his relationship with the Soviet state remained unsteady. Though Mayakovsky had previously been harshly criticized by Soviet governmental bodies like the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers (RAPP), Joseph Stalin posthumously declared Mayakovsky “the best and the most talented poet of our Soviet epoch.”

 

Original Russian Cyrillic version:

Маяковскому

Превыше крестов и труб,
Крещенный в огне и дыме,
Архангел-тяжелоступ -
Здорово, в веках Владимир!

Он возчик и он же конь,
Он прихоть и он же право.
Вздохнул, поплевал в ладонь:
- Держись, ломовая слава!

Певец площадных чудес -
Здорово, гордец чумазый,
Что камнем — тяжеловес
Избрал, не прельщась алмазом.

Здорово, булыжный гром!
Зевнул, козырнул и снова
Оглоблей гребет — крылом
Архангела ломового.

18 сентября 1921 

Tawny Owl by Gillian Clarke

Plain song of owl

moonlight between cruciform

shadows of hunting.

 

She sings again

closer

in the sycamore,

 

her coming quieter

than the wash

behind the wave,

 

her absence darker

than privacy

in the leaves’ tabernacle.

 

Compline. Vigil.

Stations of the dark.

A flame floats on oil

 

in her amber eye.

Shoulderless shadow

nightwatching.

 

Kyrie. Kyrie.

 

by Gillian Clarke

from New Poems

Маки (Poppies) by Innokenty Annensky

The gay day flames. The grass is still.

Like greedy impotence, poppies rise,

like lips that lust and poison fill,

like wings of scarlet butteflies.

 

The gay day flames… The garden now

is empty. Lust and feast are done.

Like heads of hags, the poppies bow

beneath the bright cup of the sun.

 

by Иннокентий Фёдорович Анненский (Innokenty Fyodorovich Annensky)

(1910)

translated by C. M. Bowra


 

Fun extra: Here is the poem performed in Russian.

The Empty Church by R. S. Thomas

They laid this stone trap

for him, enticing him with candles,

as though he would come like some huge moth

out of the darkness to beat there.

Ah, he had burned himself

before in the human flame

and escaped, leaving the reason

torn. He will not come any more

 

to our lure. Why, then, do I kneel still

striking my prayers on a stone

heart? Is it in hope one

of them will ignite yet and throw

on its illuminated walls the shadow

of someone greater than I can understand?

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Frequencies (1978)

‘Let Any, Who Will, Still Bask In The South…’ by Anna Akhmatova

“You are with me once more, Autumn my friend!”

Annensky

 

Let any, who will, still bask in the south

On the paradisal sand,

It’s northerly here – and this year of the north

Autumn will be my friend.

 

I’ll live, in a dream, in a stranger’s house

Where perhaps I have died,

Where the mirrors keep something mysterious

To themselves in the evening light.

 

I shall walk between black fir-trees,

Where the wind is at one with the heath,

And a dull splinter of the moon will glint

Like an old knife with jagged teeth.

 

Our last, blissful unmeeting I shall bring

To sustain me here –

The cold, pure, light flame of conquering

What I was destined for.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1957)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

Still He Lay Without Moving, As If, After Some Difficult… by Vasily Zhukovsky

Still he lay without moving, as if, after some difficult

task, he had folded his arms. Head quietly bowed, I stood

still for a long time, looking attentively into the dead man’s

eyes. These eyes were closed. Nevertheless, I could

see on that face I knew so well a look I had never

glimpsed there before. It was not inspiration’s flame,

nor did it seem like the blade of his wit. No, what I could

see there,

wrapped round his face, was thought, some deep, high

thought.

Vision, some vision, I thought must have come to home. And I

wanted to ask, ‘What is it? What do you see?’

 

by Василий Андреевич Жуковский (Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky)

(1837)

translated by Robert Chandler


 

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

Pyrophilia

When you were born it was I who kept your parents warm in this cold heartless world.

When you were little they warned you about me. They warned you how I would hurt you even though I was pretty. They told you, though I gave you light and warmth, I would take my tariff if you ever tried to touch me wouldn’t I?

November 5th they brought you to me in the darkness outisde to celebrate a dead man. They lit the sky with my little colourful brethren who they happily sacrificed for their entertainment. A gloriously brief death for those you use for your amusement.

When you were a little older they left you alone and you sought after me in curiosity. That look in your eyes was my fuel. They found us hidden away together and scolded you, told you that I would burn you in my embrace, but you didn’t listen. In the garden they would still call me to get rid of their unwanted things, but you, you they wished to keep with them and so they kept us apart.

Summer came and you had no need for me so I was abandoned. In winter you all locked yourselves inside with me. Watching me. Feeding me. Without me you and everyone like you would have been dead a long time ago. But still you fear me though I was enslaved by you.

Years passed but you never forgot about me did you? Me? I was there waiting in the dark alone until next we would meet. ou would have seen me if you ever looed. Sometimes in summer you would call on me to cook you food outside and every November without fail we would meet again amongst the crowds. But now you kept your distance as if afraid of me.

My desire for you smouldered but you were so cold towards me. Had I done something wrong? Was the burning passion between us truly gone? One day you let your guard down and I entered your house. I found you sleeping and the consummation of our love took your breath away.

When it was your funeral they delivered you to me in a wooden box made just for you. How intense our final moments were together as we both let our flame extinguish finally.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. Amen.


I forgot I was going to try and post daily this week. Here is a short vignette I wrote a long time ago. It is a very rough first draft so I am not pleased with it but then I doubt I will ever bother to revisit the concept and tidy it up without some incentive.

Fire is associated, in concept and symbolism, with passion and intensity of emotions amongst other things. I am sure someone has written something like this before. No doubt one if the classics of literature is on this subject as its one of those things that seems so obvious a concept for practising your writing style.

Comments or likes are always appreciated if you read this or anything else. I changed the look of the blog a few days ago. What do you think? I’m not sure the Gibson girls thing was the best idea to be honest.

… and just to have a video associated with the topic.