No one will be in the house
But twilight. Just the same
Winter day in the gap
The gathered curtains frame.
Only swiftly beating wings
Of white flakes as they fall.
Only roofs and snow, and but
For roofs and snow – no one at all.
And frost again will start too sketch.
And I again will find despairs
Of last year whirling me back
To another winter's affairs.
And they again will sting me
With last year's guilt, the same,
Unexpiated. Lack of wood
Will cramp the window-frame.
Then suddenly the curtain
Will shudder at the door
And you will come in, like the future,
Making no sound on the floor.
And you will stand there wearing
Something white, no lace, no braid,
Something made from the fabric
From which snowflakes are made.
by Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к
(Boris Leonidovich Pasternak)
translated by Jon Stallworthy and Peter France
She came in out of the frost,
her cheeks glowing,
and filled my whole room
with the scent of fresh air
and resonent chatter
that did away with my last chance
of getting anywhere in my work.
she dropped a hefty art journal
onto the floor
and at once
there was no room any more
in my large room
was somewhat annoying,
if not absurd.
Next, she wanted Macbeth
read aloud to her.
Barely had I reached
the earth's bubbles
which never failed to entrance me
when I realized that she,
no less entranced,
was staring out of the window.
A large tabby cat
was creeping along the edge of the roof
towards some amorous pigeons.
What angered me most
was that it should be pigeons,
not she and I,
who were necking,
and that the days of Paolo and Francesca
were long gone.
by Александр Александрович Блок
(Alexander Alexandrovich Blok)
translated by Robert Chandler
‘The earth’s bubbles’ in this poem references a line from Act I, scene 3 of Shakespeare’s play Macbeth “The earth hath bubbles, as the water has, / And these are of them.” which Banquo says to Macbeth when the witches disappear after their encounter. Between 1904 and 1905 Blok wrote a poem cycle he titled ‘Bubbles of the Earth’, incorporating motifs from folk magic. In 1907 he wrote of Shakespeare, ‘ I love him deeply; and perhaps, most deely of all – in the whole of world literature – Macbeth’.
Paolo and Francesca refers to the affair between Francesca and her brother-in-law Paolo Malatesta, both of who were married, but fell in love nonetheless. Their tragic adulterous story was told by Dante in his Divine Comedy, Canto V of the Inferno, and was a popular subject with Victorian artists and sculptors, especially with followers of the Pre-Raphaelite ideology, and with other writers.
Christmas; the themes are exhausted.
Yet there is always room
on the heart for another
snowflake to reveal a pattern.
Love knocks with such frosted fingers.
I look out. In the shadow
of so vast a God I shiver, unable
to detect the child for the whiteness.
by R. S. Thomas
from No Truce with the Furies (1995)
It is said that he went gaily to that scaffold,
dressed magnificently as a bridegroom,
his lace lying on him like white frost
in the windless morning of his courage.
His red blood was the water of life,
changed to wine at the wedding banquet;
the bride Scotland, the spirit dependent on
such for the consummation of her marrriage.
by R. S. Thomas
from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)
Fun fact: This poem is about James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose, a Scottish nobleman, poet and soldier, who initially joined the Covenanters in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, but subsequently supported King Charles I as the English Civil War developed. From 1644 to 1646, and again in 1650, he fought in the civil war in Scotland on behalf of the King and is generally referred to in Scotland as simply “the Great Montrose”. His spectacular victories, which took his opponents by surprise, are remembered in military history for their tactical brilliance
I have seen it standing up grey,
Gaunt, as though no sunlight
Could ever thaw out the music
Of its great bell; terrible
In its own way, for religion
Is like that. There are times
When a black frost is upon
One’s whole being, and the heart
In its bone belfry hangs and is dumb.
But who is to know? Always,
Even in winter in the cold
Of a stone church, on his knees
Someone is praying, whose prayers fall
Steadily through the hard spell
Of weather that is between God
And himself. Perhaps they are warm rain
That brings the sun and afterwards flowers
On the raw graves and throbbing of bells.
by R. S. Thomas
from Pietà (1966)
We have scratched our names in the London dust,
Sung sometimes like the Jews of Babylon
Under the dusty trees of Hyde Park Corner,
Almost believing in a Jesus of Cardigan
Or a Moses on the mountains of Merioneth;
We have dreamed by the Thames of Towy and Dee,
And whistled in dairy shops in the morning,
Whistled of Harlech and Aberdovey.
We have grown sentimental in London
Over things that we smiled at in Wales.
Sometimes in Woolwich we have seen the mining valleys
More beautiful than we ever saw them with our eyes.
We have carried our accents into Westminster
As soldiers carry rifles into the wars;
We have carried our idioms into Piccadilly,
Food for the critics on Saturday night.
We have played dominoes in Lambeth with Alfred the Great,
And lifted a glass with Henry VIII
In the tavern under the railway bridge
On Friday nights in winter;
And we have argued with Chaucer down the Old Kent Road
On the englynion of the Eisteddfod.
We have also shivered by the Thames in the night
And know that the frost has no racial distinctions.
by Idris Davies
The woodpecker chips at the bark – easy route to the worm?
I take my time waking you, though I rose at dawn.
Your war is over – to each his own frost.
You skated on the Volga, iced Ladoga kissed,
but my frost was the morgue: from orphan to orderly,
so as not to starve, I pulled funeral trolleys.
There’s a sacred meaning in this meeting of fate and fate –
it was to unfreeze life that you and I met.
by Инна Львовна Лиснянская (Inna Lvovna Lisnyanskaya)
translated by Daniel Weissbort
She was the wife of Semyon Lipkin. The above poem was written shortly before his death.
There isn’t much about her in English so if you want to know more you may have to research her husband intially and work from there for biographical details. However one collection of her poetic works titled ‘Far from Sodom‘ is available in English should you wish to read more of her writing.
She was born in Baku and published her first collection in 1957 then moved to Moscow three years later. In 1979 she and her husband resigned from the Union of Soviet Writers in protest to the expulsion of Viktor Yerofeyev and Yevgeny Popov from it. The following seven years her works were only published abroad though from 1986 she was able to publish regularly and was awarded several important prizes.
So again we triumph!
Again we do not come!
Our speeches silent,
Our words, dumb.
Our eyes that have not met
Again, are lost;
And only tears forget
The grip of frost.
A wild-rose bush near Moscow
Knows something of
This pain that will be called
by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1956)
translation by D. M. Thomas
They played Pushkin on a grand piano.
They killed Pushkin in a duel one day.
He had asked them for a plate of cloudberries
and, lying near a bookshelf, passed away.
In icy water, full of frozen clods,
they buried Pushkin, hallowed be his name.
And we too tend to meet too many bullets;
we hang ourselves, and open up our veins.
All too often we are hit by cars,
get tossed down stairwells in a drunken state.
We live – and all our petty intrigues
wound little Pushkin in some way.
Little, cast in iron, celebrated –
in a park deserted thanks to frost –
he stands (his understudy and replacement),
bitterly regretful at the loss
of youth, and of the title Kammerjunker,
of songs, of glory, of the girls in Kishinyov,
of Goncharova in her white lace petticoat,
and of death that cannot be shrugged off.
by Сергей Иванович Чудаков (Sergeĭ Ivanovich Chudakov)
translated by Boris Dralyuk
in midday dark, I’ll warm
your words beside the stove;
frost’s bitten them.
Frost’s wordless spell
had made your letter dumb.
The letters melt, drip tears;
calling me home.
by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)
translated by Robert Chandler