That winter of our Island Fortress, the docks blacked-out and sirens wailing, the house closed its brittle silence around her. Rain drummed the windows behind her children’s dreams. Over the months she saved from her widow’s pay and the hours of cleaning at the manse seven silver coins, one from the abdication year with the head of the love-lost king.
Should the coastline be split by incoming shells, parachutes flower in the Vale and jackboots strut in King’s Square, then she would lay her six children to sleep, sealing the windows and doors with newspapers and blankets. Seven shillings’ worth of gas would deliver them out of occupation.
For months she has dreamt of his lost freighter, torpedoed six days out of New York, men overboard, gagging on salt and diesel. How the ship reared and plunged like a whale, her wash sweeping cold hands from flotsam. As he sank into the anonymous dark the final waves from her minting coins from the constant moon.
Tonight the City of London burns with St Paul’s untouched at the very centre. At the edge of night the Welsh ports sound no alarms. She opens the curtains to a moon-bright sky, counts out the coins in the tea-caddy and holds them cupped in her palms. OMN. Rex. Defender of the Faith. Emperor of India. The seven polished shillings sing in her hands.
by Tony Curtis
Additional information: Although it goes without saying Tony Curtis is a Welsh poet not to be confused with the American actor.
by Аполлон Николаевич Майков (Apollon Nikolayevich Maikov)
translated by Frances Cornford and Esther Polianowsky Salaman
Fun facts: Zhuchka means ‘Bug’, as in a small insect using diminutive terminology as жучка (zhuchka) is a diminutive of жук (Zhuk). In Russian, perhaps even more so than in English even due to it’s various tonal aspects and gendered form (which if you look at the original version below clearly has alternating hard and soft line endings (though only in the first and last stanzas does it have what might be considered Pushkin verse i.e. alternating masculine and feminine lines), diminutives are used within children’s works to create a gentler tone.
This used to be the first poem that Russian children would learn due to it’s simple words and easy rhyme scheme (when in the original Russian obviously though the above translation gives a good translation of it with a little necessary artistic license due to the differences in the language). Here is a recital of the poem in Russian.
Maikov was best known for his lyric verse showcasing images of Russian villages, nature, and history. His love for ancient Greece and Rome, which he studied for much of his life, is also reflected in his works. Maikov spent four years translating the epic The Tale of Igor’s Campaign (1870) into modern Russian. He translated the folklore of Belarus, Greece, Serbia and Spain, as well as works by Heine, Adam Mickiewicz and Goethe, among others. Several of Maykov’s poems were set to music by Russian composers, among them Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky.
Innokenty Annensky once wrote:
“a poet usually chooses their own, particular method of communication with nature, and often this sis sport. Poets of the future may be cyclists or aeronauts. Byron was a swimmer, Goethe a skater, Lermontov a rider, many others of our poets (Turgenev, both Tolstoys, Nekrasov, Fet, Yazykov) were hunters. Maikov was a passionate fisherman and this occupation was in perfect harmony with his contemplative nature, with his love for a fair, sunny day, all of which is so vividly expressed in his poetry.”
Here is the poem in it’s original form:
Пахнет сеном над лугами…
В песне душу веселя,
Бабы с граблями рядами
Ходят, сено шевеля.
Там – сухое убирают;
Мужички его кругом
На воз вилами кидают…
Воз растет, растет, как дом.
В ожиданьи конь убогий
Точно вкопанный стоит…
Уши врозь, дугою ноги
И как будто стоя спит…
Только жучка удалая
В рыхлом сене, как в волнах,
То взлетая, то ныряя,
Скачет, лая впопыхах.
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