I have seen the child in the womb,
neither asking to be born
or not to be born, biding its time
without the knowledge of time,
model for the sulptor who would depict
the tranquility that inheres
before thought, or the purity of thought
without language. Its smile forgave
the anachronism of the nomenclature
that would keep it foetal. Its hand
opened delicately as flowers
in innocency's grave.
Was its part written? I have seen
it waiting breathlessly in the wings
to come forth on to a stage
of soil or concrete, where wings
are a memory only or an aspiration.
by R. S. Thomas
from Mass for Hard Times (1992)
I met a witch with amber eyes
Who slowly sang a scarlet rune,
Shifting to an icy laughter
Like the laughter of the moon.
Red as a wanton’s was her mouth.
And fair the breast she bade me take
With a word that clove and clung
Burning like a furnace-flake.
But from her bright and lifted bosom,
When I touched it with my hand,
Came the many-needled coldness
Of a glacier-taken land.
And, lo! The witch with eyes of amber
Vanished like a blown-out flame,
Leaving but the lichen-eaten
Stone that bore a blotted name.
by Clark Ashton Smith
The road unwinding under our wheels
New in the headlamps like a roll of foil.
The rain is a recorder writing tunes
In telegraph wires, kerbs and cats’ eyes,
Reflections and the lights of little towns.
He turns his head to look at me.
“Why are you quiet?” Shiny road rhythm,
Rain rhythm, beat of the windscreen wipers,
I push my knee against his in the warmth
And the car thrusts the dark and rain away.
The child sleeps, and I reflect, as I breathe
His brown hair, and watch the apple they gave him
Held in his hot hands, that a tree must ache
With the sweet weight of the round rosy fruit,
As I with Dylan’s head, nodding on its stalk.
by Gillian Clarke
from The Sundial, Gwasg Gomer, 1978)
Look, outside my window the vine is spreading so fast it
almost blocks out the light. Dark, picturesque green now
covers up half of the panes. And amidst the foliage a bunch of
seemingly carefully-placed grapes has started to turn
yellow… Hands off, sweetest! Why this rage for destruction?
If one plump little white hand should be seen to steal
into the yard for a bunch of grapes, the neighbours will waste no
time in declaring: she must have been in his room.
by Афанасий Афанасьевич Фет (Afanasy Afanasyevich Fet)
a.k.a. Шеншин (Shenshin)
translated by Robert Chandler
The jolt must come from far away:
the start of bread is in the grain.
A stream, although still underground,
aspires to reflect the sky.
A future Sunday’s distant light
reaches us early in the week.
The jolt must come from far away
to trigger earthquakes in the heart.
A shoulder alien to me
controls the movement of my hand.
In order to acquire such strength,
the jolt must come from far away.
by Анна Семёновна Присманова (Anna Semyonovna Prismanova)
a.k.a. Анна Симоновна Присман (Anna Simonovna Prisman)
(late 1930s or early 1940s)
translated by Boris Dralyuk
Fun fact: She is considered comparable to her contemporary, the American poet, Louise Bogan.
He who compared himself to the eye of a horse,
Peers, looks, sees, recognizes,
And instantly puddles shine, ice
Pines away, like a melting of diamonds.
Backyards drowse in lilac haze. Branch-
Line platforms, logs, clouds, leaves…
The engine’s whistle, watermelon’s crunch,
A timid hand in a fragrant kid glove. He’s
Ringing, thundering, grinding, up to his breast
In breakers… and suddenly is quiet… This means
He is tiptoeing over pine needles, feaful lest
He should startle space awake from its light sleep.
It means he counts the grains in the empty ears,
And it means he has come back
From another funeral, back to Darya’s
Gorge, the tombstone, cursed and black.
And burns again, the Moscow tedium,
In the distance death’s sleigh-bell rings…
Who has got lost two steps from home,
Where the snow is waist-deep, an end to everything?
Because he compared smoke with Laocoön,
Made songs out of graveyard thistles,
Because he filled the world with a sound no-one
Has heard before, in a new space of mirrored
Verses, he has been rewarded with a form
Of eternal childhood, with the stars’ vigilant love,
The whole earth has been passed down to him,
And he has shared it with everyone.
by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)
(19 January 1936)
from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)
translation by D. M. Thomas
Not the lyre of a lover
I’ll carry through my land
The rattle of a leper
Will sing in my hand.
– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova), 1940
– from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)
– translation by D. M. Thomas