‘Why Is Our Century Worse Than Any Other? …’ by Anna Akhmatova

Why is our century worse than any other?

Is it that in the stupor of fear and grief

It has plunged its fingers in the blackest ulcer,

Yet cannot bring relief?

 

Westward the sun is dropping,

And the roofs of towns are shining in its light.

Already death is chalking doors with crosses

And calling the ravens and the ravens are in flight.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1919)

– from Подорожник (Plantain/Wayside Grass, 1921) translation by D. M. Thomas

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That Summer by Emyr Humphreys

There was nothing to help us

Trapped in that ornamental summer

By sunlight and ubiquitous foreboding; the tides

The pebbles indifferent to our sore feet

Told us nothing: banner headlines

Congealed those lukewarm fish and chips.

 

From where we stood to the horizon

The future stretched like a brooding canvas

Awaiting a blood stained brush. There were rocks

and groundsheets to sleep on, nowhere to go.

Only the tanks knew where to assemble.

 

Who would win who would lose

Whose corpse would hang on the wire

Would come later. The seagulls knew

More than we did as they wheeled above us

Like fighter bombers, their droppings

Illegible leafets, mobilising their screeches

As they crossed and recrossed concrete

Frontiers reinforced in the Underworld.

 

It didn’t need to happen. It shouldn’t

But it would. Limbs still free

Twitched with the urge to run: the sea

Was a threat not a refuge: the sky

Was closing in. We could only turn and face

The mouth of the tunnel: only wait

For the machine to emerge and howl

On our behalf as it ran us down.

 

by Emyr Humphreys

‘I Hear The Oriole’s Always Grieving Voice…’ by Anna Akhmatova

I hear the oriole’s always grieving voice,

And the rich summer’s welcome loss I hear

In the sickle’s serpentine hiss

Cutting the corn’s ear tightly pressed to ear.

 

And the short skirts on the slim reapers

Fly in the wind like holiday pennants,

The clash of joyful cymbals, and creeping

From under dusty lashes, the long glance.

 

I don’t expect love’s tender flatteries,

In premonition of some dark event,

But come, come and see this paradise

Where together we were blessed and innocent.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (Summer, 1917)

– from Подорожник (Plantain/Wayside Grass, 1921) translation by D. M. Thomas