Лондонцам (To The Londoners) by Anna Akhmatova

Shakespeare’s play, his twenty-fourth –

Time is writing it impassively.

By the leaden river what can we,

Who know what such feasts are,

Do, except read Hamlet, Caesar, Lear?

Or escort Juliet to her bed, and christen

Her death, poor dove, with torches and singing;

Or peep through the window at Macbeth,

Trembling with the one who kills from greed –

Only not this one, not this one, not this one,

This one we do not have the strength to read.

.

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by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1940)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

A recital of the poem, in Russian, by Alla Demidova.

Beneath is the original version of the poem in Cyrillic.

Лондонцам

И сделалась война на небе.

Апок.

Двадцать четвертую драму Шекспира

Пишет время бесстрастной рукой.

Сами участники чумного пира,

Лучше мы Гамлета, Цезаря, Лира

Будем читать над свинцовой рекой;

Лучше сегодня голубку Джульетту

С пеньем и факелом в гроб провожать,

Лучше заглядывать в окна к Макбету,

Вместе с наемным убийцей дрожать,—

Только не эту, не эту, не эту,

Эту уже мы не в силах читать!

In 1940 by Anna Akhmatova

1

When you bury an epoch

You do not sing psalms at the tomb.

Soon, nettles and thistles

Will be in bloom.

And only – bodies won’t wait! –

The gravediggers toil;

And it’s quiet, Lord, so quiet,

Time has become audible.

And one day the age will rise,

Like a corpse in a spring river –

But no mother’s son will recognize

The body of his mother.

Grandsons will bow their heads.

The moon like a pendulum swinging.

And now – over stricken Paris

Silence is winging.

.

.

2

To the Londoners

Shakespeare’s play, his twenty-fourth –

Time is writing it impassively.

By the leaden river what can we,

Who know what such feasts are,

Do, except read Hamlet, Caesar, Lear?

Or escort Juliet to her bed, and christen

Her death, poor dove, with torches and singing;

Or peep through the window at Macbeth,

Trembling with the one who kills from greed –

Only not this one, not this one, not this one,

This one we do not have the strength to read.

.

.

3

Shade

What does a certain woman know
about the hour of her death?
– Osip Mandelstam

Tallest, most elegant of us, why does memory

Insist you swim up from the years, pass

Swaying down a train, searching for me,

Transparent profile through the carriage-glass?

Were you angel or bird? – how we argued it!

A poet took you for his drinking-straw.

Your Georgian eyes through sable lashes lit

With the same even gentleness, all they saw.

O shade! Forgive me, but clear sky, Flaubert,

Insomnia, the lilacs flowering late,

Have brought you – beauty of the year

’13 – and your unclouded temperate day,

Back to my mind, in memories that appear

Uncomfortable to me now. O shade!

.

.

4

I thought I knew all the paths

And precipices of insomnia,

But this is a trumpet-blast

And like a charge of cavalry.

I enter an empty house

That used to be someone’s home,

It’s quiet, only white shadows

In a stranger’s mirrors swim.

And what is that in a mist? –

Denmark? Normandy? Or some time

In the past did I live here,

And this – a new edition

Of moments lost forever.

.

.

5

But I warn you,

I am living for the last time.

Not as a swallow, not as a maple,

Not as a reed nor as a star,

Not as water from a spring,

Not as bells in a tower –

Shall I return to trouble you

Nor visit other people’s dreams

With lamentation.

.

.

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1940)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

.

.

Below are the original Russian versions of this verse in Cyrillic.

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.

1

Август 1940

То град твой, Юлиан!

Вяч. Иванов

.

Когда погребают эпоху,

Надгробный псалом не звучит,

Крапиве, чертополоху

Украсить ее предстоит.

И только могильщики лихо

Работают. Дело не ждет!

И тихо, так, господи, тихо,

Что слышно, как время идет.

А после она выплывает,

Как труп на весенней реке,—

Но матери сын не узнает,

И внук отвернется в тоске.

И клонятся головы ниже,

Как маятник, ходит луна.

Так вот — над погибшим Парижем

Такая теперь тишина.

.

.

2

Лондонцам

И сделалась война на небе.

– Апок.

.

Двадцать четвертую драму Шекспира

Пишет время бесстрастной рукой.

Сами участники чумного пира,

Лучше мы Гамлета, Цезаря, Лира

Будем читать над свинцовой рекой;

Лучше сегодня голубку Джульетту

С пеньем и факелом в гроб провожать,

Лучше заглядывать в окна к Макбету,

Вместе с наемным убийцей дрожать,—

Только не эту, не эту, не эту,

Эту уже мы не в силах читать!

.

.

3

Тень

Что знает женщина одна о смертном часе?

О. Мандельштам

.

Всегда нарядней всех, всех розовей и выше,

Зачем всплываешь ты со дна погибших лет,

И память хищная передо мной колышет

Прозрачный профиль твой за стеклами карет?

Как спорили тогда — ты ангел или птица!

Соломинкой тебя назвал поэт.

Равно на всех сквозь черные ресницы

Дарьяльских глаз струился нежный свет.

О тень! Прости меня, но ясная погода,

Флобер, бессонница и поздняя сирень

Тебя — красавицу тринадцатого года —

И твой безоблачный и равнодушный день

Напомнили… А мне такого рода

Воспоминанья не к лицу. О тень!

.

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4

Уж я ль не знала бессонницы

Все пропасти и тропы,

Но эта как топот конницы

Под вой одичалой трубы.

Вхожу в дома опустелые,

В недавний чей-то уют.

Всё тихо, лишь тени белые

В чужих зеркалах плывут.

И что там в тумане — Дания,

Нормандия или тут

Сама я бывала ранее,

И это — переиздание

Навек забытых минут?

.

.

5

Но я предупреждаю вас,

Что я живу в последний раз.

Ни ласточкой, ни кленом,

Ни тростником и ни звездой,

Ни родниковою водой,

Ни колокольным звоном —

Не буду я людей смущать

И сны чужие навещать

Неутоленным стоном.

Баллада о немецком цензоре (The Ballad of a German Censor) by David Samoylov

In Germany once lived a censor

of lowly rank and title.

He blotted, struck and cancelled

and knew no other no other calling.

 

He sniffed out harmful diction

and smeared it with Indian ink.

He guarded minds from infection

and his bosses valued his work.

 

On a winter day in forty-three

he was dispatched ‘nach Osten’.

And he stared from the train car’s window

at fields, graveyards, snowstorms.

 

It was cold without a fur coat.

He saw hamlets without homes or people.

Only charred chimneys were left,

creeping by, like lizards or camels.

 

And it seemed to him that Russia

was all steppe, Mongoloid, bare.

And he thought he was feeling ‘nostalgia’,

but it was really just the chill and fear.

 

He arrived at his field post office:

such-and-such region and number.

Table, chair, iron cot and mattress,

three walls – in the fourth, a window.

 

Russia’s short on Gemütlichkeit!

He had to climb over snowdrifts.

And the work? No shortage of that:

cutting, deleting, smearing.

 

Before him lay piles of letters,

lines and lines – some straight, some wavy.

Generals wrote to their comrades,

soldiers wrote to their families.

 

There were letters, messages, queries

from the living, from those who’d been killed.

There were words he judged ‘non-Aryan’,

but it was really just fear and chill.

 

He would read nearly all day round,

forgetting to eat or shave.

And inside his tired mind

something strange began to take place.

 

Words he’d blotted and excised

would come and torment him at night,

and, like some eerie circus,

would parade there before his eyes…

 

Lines, killed by black ink,

turned tyrannical, like a tirade:

‘In the East, the East, the East,

we will not, will not be spared…’

 

The text was composed of black mosaics;

each word clung fast to the next.

Not the greatest master of prose

could have come up with such a text.

 

Long thoughts, like wagon trains,

shook the joints and ridges

of his tired and weakened brain;

battered its fragile bridges.

 

He turned unfriendly to all his friends

and grew brusque, unsociable, sad.

He was brilliant for a few days

and then broke down and went bad.

 

He awoke, from the fear and chill…

with a wild, choking feeling.

The dark was impenetrable –

the window blacked out with ink.

 

He realised that bravado leads nowhere,

that existence is fragile,

and the black truth invaded his soul

and wiped away the white lie.

 

The poor censor was born a pedant.

He reached for a small notebook

and truthfully – that is, with talent –

set everything down, in order.

 

The next morning he took up, with seal,

his… No – a different task:

he underlined all that was real

and crossed out everything else.

 

Poor censor, he’d lost his mind!

Little man, like a grain of millet!

He informed on himself in a day

and was taken away that minute…

 

There once lived a censor in Germany.

His rank and title were low.

He died and was promptly buried,

and his grave fell under the plough.

 

by Давид Самойлов (David Samoylov)

pseudonym of Давид Самуилович Кауфман (David Samuilovich Kaufman)

(1961)

translated by Boris Dralyuk


Additional information: David Samoylov (Давид Самойлов), pseudonym of David Samuilovich Kaufman ( Давид Самуилович Кауфман; 1 June 1920 in Moscow — 23 February 1990 in Tallinn) was a notable poet of the War generation of Russian poets, considered one of the most important Russian poets of the post-World War II era as well.

‘How bare the countryside! What dearth’ by Fyodor Tyutchev

How bare the countryside! What dearth

How stark the  hamlets’ desolation…

Long-suffering country of my birth,

poor homeland of the Russian nation.

 

Never will the stranger’s gaze

look deeper to perceive or guess

what hidden light there is that plays

and shimmers through your nakedness.

 

In servant’s guise the King of Heaven,

beneath the cross in anguish bent,

has walked the length and breadth of Russia,

blessing her people as he went.

 

by Фёдор Иванович Тютчев (Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev)

(1855)

translated by Avril Pyman


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.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma percioche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherized upon a table;

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,

The muttering retreats

Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels

And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:

Streets that follow like a tedious argument

Of insidious intent

To lead you to an overwhelming question …

Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”

Let us go and make our visit.

 

In the room the women come and go

Talking of Michelangelo.

 

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,

The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,

Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,

Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,

Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,

Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,

And seeing that it was a soft October night,

Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

 

And indeed there will be time

For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,

Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;

There will be time, there will be time

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;

There will be time to murder and create,

And time for all the works and days of hands

That lift and drop a question on your plate;

Time for you and time for me,

And time yet for a hundred indecisions,

And for a hundred visions and revisions,

Before the taking of a toast and tea.

 

In the room the women come and go

Talking of Michelangelo.

 

And indeed there will be time

To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”

Time to turn back and descend the stair,

With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —

(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)

My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,

My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin —

(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)

Do I dare

Disturb the universe?

In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

 

For I have known them all already, known them all:

Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

I know the voices dying with a dying fall

Beneath the music from a farther room.

               So how should I presume?

 

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—

The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,

And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,

When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,

Then how should I begin

To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?

               And how should I presume?

 

And I have known the arms already, known them all—

Arms that are braceleted and white and bare

(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)

Is it perfume from a dress

That makes me so digress?

Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.

               And should I then presume?

               And how should I begin?

 

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets

And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes

Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? …

 

I should have been a pair of ragged claws

Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

 

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!

Smoothed by long fingers,

Asleep … tired … or it malingers,

Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.

Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,

Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?

But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,

Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,

I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;

I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,

And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,

And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,

After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,

Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,

Would it have been worth while,

To have bitten off the matter with a smile,

To have squeezed the universe into a ball

To roll it towards some overwhelming question,

To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,

Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—

If one, settling a pillow by her head

               Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;

               That is not it, at all.”

 

And would it have been worth it, after all,

Would it have been worth while,

After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,

After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—

And this, and so much more?—

It is impossible to say just what I mean!

But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:

Would it have been worth while

If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,

And turning toward the window, should say:

               “That is not it at all,

               That is not what I meant, at all.”

 

. . . . .

 

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;

Am an attendant lord, one that will do

To swell a progress, start a scene or two,

Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,

Deferential, glad to be of use,

Politic, cautious, and meticulous;

Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;

At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—

Almost, at times, the Fool.

 

I grow old … I grow old …

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

 

Shall I part my hair behind?   Do I dare to eat a peach?

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

 

I do not think that they will sing to me.

 

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves

Combing the white hair of the waves blown back

When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea

By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown

Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

 

by T. S. Eliot


Fun Facts:

Like many of Eliot’s poems, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” makes numerous allusions to other works, which are often symbolic themselves.

  • In “Time for all the works and days of hands” (29) the phrase ‘works and days’ is the title of a long poem – a description of agricultural life and a call to toil – by the early Greek poet Hesiod.
  • “I know the voices dying with a dying fall” (52) echoes Orsino’s first lines in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.
  • The prophet of “Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter / I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter” (81–2) is John the Baptist, whose head was delivered to Salome by Herod as a reward for her dancing (Matthew 14:1–11, and Oscar Wilde’s play Salome).
  • “To have squeezed the universe into a ball” (92) and “indeed there will be time” (23) echo the closing lines of Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’. Other phrases such as, “there will be time” and “there is time” are reminiscent of the opening line of that poem: “Had we but world enough and time”. Marvell’s words in turn echo the General Prologue of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, “whil I have tyme and space”.
  • “‘I am Lazarus, come from the dead'” (94) may be either the beggar Lazarus (of Luke 16) returning for the rich man who was not permitted to return from the dead to warn the brothers of a rich man about Hell, or the Lazarus (of John 11) whom Christ raised from the dead, or both.
  • “Full of high sentence” (117) echoes Chaucer’s description of the Clerk of Oxford in the General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales.
  • “There will be time to murder and create” is a biblical allusion to Ecclesiastes 3.
  • In the final section of the poem, Prufrock rejects the idea that he is Prince Hamlet, suggesting that he is merely “an attendant lord” (112) whose purpose is to “advise the prince” (114), a likely allusion to Polonius — Polonius being also “almost, at times, the Fool.”
  • “Among some talk of you and me” may be a reference to Quatrain 32 of Edward FitzGerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (“There was a Door to which I found no Key / There was a Veil past which I could not see / Some little Talk awhile of Me and Thee / There seemed — and then no more of Thee and Me.”)