Roots by Dannie Abse

A man with no roots is lost

like the darkness in the forest.

Heart, my heart, what red voices cry

centuries of suffering in my flowing hands?

 

Love lasts as long as there are

two people, however silent the word.

Love, my love, how may I meet your eyes,

how may I meet the eyes that I will close?

 

Future, my future, on whose arms

will my hands be planted?

Love, my love, be assured your eyes

will live after you like children.

 

by Dannie Abse

from Early Poems

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‘Cautious, Toneless Sound’ by Osip Mandelstam

Cautious, toneless sound

of fruit from a tree

to the constant

melody of forest silence…

 

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

(1908)

translated by John Riley

Spring by Afanasy Fet

I come again with greetings new,

to tell you day is well begun;

to say the leaves are fresh with dew

and dappled in the early sun;

 

to tell you how the forest stirs

in every branch of every brake,

and what an April thirst is hers,

with every whistling bird awake;

 

to say, as yesterday, once more,

with love as passionate and true,

my heart is ready as before

for serving happiness and you;

 

to tell how over every thing

delight is blowing on the air –

I know not yet what I shall sing;

I only know the song is there.

 

by Афанасий Афанасьевич Фет (Afanasy Afanasyevich Fet)

a.k.a. Шеншин (Shenshin)

(1843)

translated by Frances Cornford and Esther Polianowsky Salaman

Wolves by A. K. Tolstoy

When the streets empty out

and the singing dies down

and a white fog covers

the swamps and the town,

from the forests in silence

one after another

the wolves come out and go hunting.

 

Seven wolves walk on bravely;

in front of them walks

an eighth with white fur;

while bringing up the rear

is a ninth, who is lame:

with a heel that is bloody

he completes their mysterious procession.

 

Nothing frightens or scares them.

If they walk through the town

not a dog will bark at them,

while a man will not dare

even to breathe if he sees them.

He becomes pale with fear

and quietly  utters a prayer.

 

The wolves circle the church

carefully all around;

into the parson’s yard they enter,

with tails sweeping the ground;

near the tavern they listen

pricking their ears

for any words being said that are sinful.

 

All their eyes are like candles,

sharp as needles their teeth.

Go and take thirteen bullets,

with goat’s fur plug them in,

and then fire at them bravely.

The white wolf will fall first;

after him, the rest will fall also.

 

When dawn comes and the townsmen

are awoken by the cock,

you will find nine old women

lying dead on the ground.

In front, a grey-haired one,

in back, a lame one,

all in blood… may the Lord be with us!

 

by Алексей Константинович Толстой (Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy)

(1840s)

translated by Ilya Bernstein

Red Nosed Frost [extract] by Nikolay Nekrasov

Not the autumn wind in the forest,

not streams hurtling down to the plains –

what we hear is Frost the Commander,

patrolling his far-flung domains.

 

Has snow been swept by the blizzards

over every pathway and track?

Is there any bare ground still showing,

any last brown fissure or crack?

 

Have the oak trees been handsomely dappled,

are the tops of the pines fluffed just right?

Have the ice floes been shackled together

so that every lake is gripped tight?

 

Frost comes striding over the treetops;

shards of ice crackle under his tread.

Lord Frost moves closer and closer;

beams of sunlight dance in his beard.

 

What pathway is closed to a wizard?

Ever nearer the widow he draws.

Now Frost is looming above her,

rehearsing his wintry laws.

 

There he stands in a pine tree,

beating time with his cane,

boasting of his own glory

and repeating his old refrain:

 

‘No need to be bashful, sweet maiden,

see how fine a Commander I am!

Speak truthfully now: have you ever

glimpsed a more handsome young man?

 

‘Blizzards, downpours and whirlwinds –

I can quieten them all in a trice;

I can stroll out over the ocean

and build myself chambers of ice.

 

‘One breath – and the greatest of rivers

lie silenced beneath my yoke,

transformed to the strongest of bridges,

broad roads for the merchant folk.

 

‘I love dropping down into graves

to scatter diamonds over the dead,

to freeze the blood in their veins

and ice the brains in their heads.

 

‘I love frightening a lonely robber

riding home with a purse he’s plundered:

in the depth of the forest silence

I make branches resound like thunder.

 

‘Old women go rushing back home,

their heads full of spirits and devils.

But there’s more pleasure still to be had

with drunkards returning from revels.

 

‘I don’t need chalk to whiten their faces!

I set their noses ablaze without fire!

I freeze beards to reins in a tangle

not even an axe can sever!

 

‘I’m rich, there’s no counting my treasure;

my fortune’s as great as the world.

Every day I bejewel my kingdom

anew with silver and pearls.

 

‘Dear Maiden, I bid you now enter

my empire. Let me make you my queen!

We shall reign in glory all winter,

then let summer slip by in a dream.

 

‘Come, maiden, and let me warm you

in a palace of pale blue ice!’

So Lord Frost sings out above her

as he swings his sparkling mace.

 

‘Are you warm enough there, dear maiden?’

he calls from high in the pine.

‘Oh yes,’ the young widow answers –

and icy shivers run down her spine.

 

Now Frost has dropped down lower,

his mace swinging ever so near,

and he whispers softly and tenderly:

‘Warm enough?’ ‘Oh yes, my dear!’

 

Warm enough – but what does she feel?

Frost’s breath has already numbed her

and needles of ice from his beard,

though colder and sharper than steel,

are lulling her into slumber.

 

‘Are you warm enough now?’ Frost whispers,

his arms now encircling her waist –

and she hears not Frost but Proklyusha

and all she sees is long past.

 

On her lips and her eyes and her shoulders

Darya feels the wizard’s long kisses –

and she sees not Frost but her husband

and she drinks in his honeyed whispers.

 

He’s talking to her of a wedding,

his words so caressing and sweet

that Darya’s eyes are now closing

and her axe lies still by her feet.

 

And the arc of a smile now parts

the poor lips of the wretched widow.

White flakes now cover her eyelids

and needles of ice her brow…

 

A lump of snow falls on Darya

as a squirrel takes a flying leap,

but Darya does not lift a finger;

she’s frozen, enchanted, asleep.

 

by Николай Алексеевич Некрасов (Nikolay Alexeyevich Nekrasov)

(1864)

translated by Robert Chandler and Boris Dralyuk

The Thought-Fox by Ted Hughes

I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately as the dark snow,
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.

 

by Ted Hughes (1930-1998)

from The Hawk In The Rain

The Squirrel by Aleksis Kivi

Snug the squirrel lies

In his mossy lair

Where no tooth of frost

Has ever reached.

From his lofty cell

He surveys all things

With their strife below

As a peace-flag swings

High on the pine.

 

In the cradle-fort

What a joy to rest

Rocking in the sweet

Spruce’s mother-breast

To Forestland’s music!

At a small window

The bobtail dozes

And the birds sing him

When the day closes

To Dreamland’s gold.

 

by Aleksis Kivi (1834 – 1872), Finland