‘I Go Outside To Find The Way…’ by Mikhail Lermontov

I go outside to find the way.

Through broken mist I glimpse a flinty path.

I am alone. This empty place hears God;

and stars converse with stars.

 

The heavens are a miracle

and pale blue sleep lies over all the earth.

What’s wrong with me? Why does life seem so hard?

Do I still cherish hope? Or hurt?

 

No, no, I have no expectations.

I’ve said goodbye to my past joys and griefs.

Freedom and peace are all I wish for now;

I seek oblivion and sleep.

 

But not the cold sleep of the grave –

my dream is of a sweeter sleep that will

allow life’s force to rest within a breast

that breathes, that still can rise and fall.

 

I wish a voice to sing all day

and night to me of love, and a dark tree,

an oak with spreading boughs, to still my sleep

with the green rustle of its leaves.

 

by Михаил Юрьевич Лермонтов (Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov)

(1841)

translated by Robert Chandler

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‘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

‘I like the Lutheran service, calm and grave…’ by Fyodor Tyutchev

I like the Lutheran service, calm and grave,

I like its ritual, solemn and severe;

the message of these bare and empty walls

I bow to, I revere.

 

But don’t you see? Why surely you must know

that for the last time Faith is with us there.

She has not crossed the threshold yet to go,

but all is swept and bare.

 

She has not crossed the threshold on her way,

she has not gone for good, and closed the door.

But yet the hour has struck. Kneel down and pray,

for you will pray no more.

 

by Фёдор Иванович Тютчев (Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev)

(1834)

translated by Frances Cornford and Esther Polianowsky Salaman


Fun fact: Counted amongst the admirers of Tyutchev’s works were Dostoevsky and Tolstoy along with Nekrasov and Fet. Then later Osip Mandelstam who, in a passage approved of by Shalamov, believed that a Russian poet should not have copy of Tyutchev in his personal library – he should know all of Tyutchev off by heart.

Funeral by R. S. Thomas

They stand about conversing

In dark clumps, less beautiful than trees.

What have they come here to mourn?

There was a death, yes; but death’s brother,

Sin, is of more importance.

Shabbily the teeth gleam,

Sharpening themselves on reputations

That were firm once. On the cheap coffin

The earth falls more cleanly than tears.

What are these red faces for?

This incidence of pious catarrh

At the grave’s edge? He has returned

Where he belongs; this is acknowledged

By all but the lonely few

Making amends for the heart’s coldness

He had from them, grudging a little

The simple splendour of the wreath

Of words the church lays on him.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from The Bread of Truth (1963)

Today by Gillian Clarke

Kate in full day in the heat of the sun

looks into the grave, sees in that unearthing

of a Roman settlement, under a stone

only the shadow of a skeleton.

 

Gwyn on his back in the dark, lying

on the lawn dry from months of drought,

finds in the sky through the telescope

the fuzzy dust of stars he had been searching.

 

Imprint of bones is a constellation

shining against silence, against darkness,

and stars are the pearly vertebrae

of water-drops against the drought, pelvis,

 

skull, scapula five million light years old

wink in the glass, and stardust is all we hold

of the Roman lady’s negative

in the infinite dark of the grave.

 

by Gillian Clarke

from New Poems

The Belfry by R. S. Thomas

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 Lying By Seasand by Dylan Thomas

We lying by seasand, watching yellow

And the grave sea, mock who deride

Who follow the red rivers, hollow

Alcove of words out of cicada shade,

For in this yellow grave of sand and sea

A calling for colour calls with the wind

That’s grave and gay as grave and sea

Sleeping on either hand.

The lunar silences, the silent tide

Lapping the still canals, the dry tide-master

Ribbed between desert and water storm,

Should cure our ills of the water

With a one-coloured calm;

The heavenly music over the sand

Sounds with the grains as they hurry

Hiding the golden mountains and mansions

Of the grave, gay, seaside land.

Bound by a sovereign strip, we lie,

Watch yellow, wish for wind to blow away

The strata of the shore and drown red rock;

But wishes breed not, neither

Can we fend off rock arrival,

Lie watching yellow until the golden weather

Breaks, O my heart’s blood, like a heart and hill.

 

by Dylan Thomas