Зимнее небо (Winter Sky) by Boris Pasternak

Out of the smoky air now are plucked down
Stars for the past week frozen in flight.
Head over heels reels the skaters' club,
Clinking its rink with the glass of the night.

Slower, slower, skater, step slow-er,
Cutting the curve as you swerve by.
Every turn a constellation
Scraped by the skate into Norway's sky.

Fetters of frozen iron shackle the air.
Hey, skaters! There it's all the same
That night is on earth with its ivory eyes
Snake-patterned like a domino game;

That the moon, like a numb retriever's tongue,
Is freezing to bars as tight as a vice;
That mouths, like forgers' mouths, are filled
Brim-full with lava of breathtaking ice.


By Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к
(Boris Leonidovich Pasternak)
(1914-1916 )
translated by Jon Stallworthy and Peter France

Below is the original Russin version in Cyrillic

 Зимнее небо

Цeльнoю льдинoй из дымнoсти вынутa
Стaвший с нeдeлю звeздный пoтoк.
Клуб кoнькoбeжцeв ввepxу oпpoкинут:
Чoкaeтся сo звoнкoю нoчью кaтoк.

Peжe-peжe-pe-жe ступaй, кoнькoбeжeц,
В бeгe ссeкaя шaг свысoкa.
Нa пoвopoтe сoзвeздьeм вpeжeтся
В нeбo нopвeгии скpeжeт кoнькa.

Вoздуx oкoвaн мepзлым жeлeзoм.
O кoнькoбeжцы! Тaм - всe paвнo,
Чтo, кaк глaзa сo змeиным paзpeзoм,
Нoчь нa зeмлe, и кaк кoсть дoминo;

Чтo языкoм oбoмлeвшeй лeгaвoй
Мeсяц к сeбe пpимepзaeт; чтo pты,
Кaк у фaльшивoмoнeтчикoв, - лaвoй
Дуx зaxвaтившeгo льдa нaлиты.

14-ое ДЕКАБРЯ 1825 (14 December 1825) [Excerpt] by Fyodor Tyutchev

O sacrifice to reckless thought,
it seems you must have hoped
your scanty blood had power enough
to melt the eternal Pole.
A puff of smoke, a silent flicker
upon the age-old ice -
and then a breath of iron winter
extinguished every trace.


by Фёдор Иванович Тютчев
(Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev)
(14 December, 1825)
translated by Robert Chandler

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.

A video of the full poem being recited in Russian.

The full original Russian Cyrillic version:

14-ое ДЕКАБРЯ 1825

Декабристам

Вас развратило Самовластье,
И меч его вас поразил,—
И в неподкупном беспристрастье
Сейприговор Закон скрепил.
Народ, чуждаясь вероломства,
Поносит ваши имена —
Иваша память от потомства,
Как труп вземле, схоронена.

О жертвы мысли безрассудной,
Вы уповали, можетбыть,
Что станет вашей крови скудной,
Чтобвечный полюс растопить!
Едва, дымясь,она сверкнула,
На вековой громаде льдов,
Зима железная дохнула —
И неосталось и следов.

‘Oh Don’t Look Back’ by Olga Berggolts

Oh don’t look back

at that ice

at that dark;

there, waiting greedily

for you is a look

that will demand an answer.

I looked back today. And suddenly,

I saw him – alive and with living eyes,

looking at me out of the ice,

my one and only, for all time.

I hadn’t known it was like that;

I’d thought I lived and breathed another.

But Oh, my joy, my dream, my death,

I only live beneath your gaze.

I have been faithful to him alone;

in that alone I have done right:

to all the living, I’m his wife;

to you and me – your widow.

by Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts)

a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz

(1947)

translated by Robert Chandler


A Soviet poet, writer, playwright and journalist. She is most famous for her work on the Leningrad radio during the city’s blockade, when she became the symbol of the city’s strength and determination.

Olga was married a number of times. In 1925 she joined a youth literature group ‘The Shift’ where she became acquainted with Boris Kornilov. In 1927 Boris and Olga entered the State Institute of Art History, and in 1928 they got married. In 1930 she graduated from the philological faculty and was sent to Kazakhstan to work as a journalist for the Soviet Steppe newspaper. During this period Olga divorced Kornilov and married her fellow student Nikolay Molchanov. Her former husband Boris Kornilov was arrested “for taking part in the anti-Soviet Trotskyist organization” and executed on February 1938. In January 1942 she survived another personal tragedy: her second husband Nikolay Molchanov died of hunger. Olga later dedicated a poem 29 January 1942 and her book The Knot (1965) to Nikolay. On March 1942 Olga, who suffered from a critical form of dystrophy, was forcefully sent by her friends to Moscow using the Road of Life, despite her protests. On 20 April she returned to Leningrad and continued her work at the Radio House. On her return she married Georgy Makogonenko, a literary critic, also a radio host during the siege.

‘Memory Has Veiled Much Evil…’ by Varlam Shalamov

Memory has veiled

much evil;

her long lies leave nothing

to believe.

 

There may be no cities

or green gardens;

only fields of ice

and salty oceans.

 

The world may be pure snow,

a starry road;

just northern forest

in the mind of God.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1952?)

translated by Robert Chandler

Tiger Bay by Idris Davies

I watched the coloured seamen in the morning mist,

Slouching along the damp brown street,

Cursing and laughing in the dismal dawn.

The sea had grumbled through the night,

Small yellow lights had flickered far and near,

Huge chains clattered on the ice-cold quays,

And daylight had seemed a hundred years away…

But slowly the long cold night retreated

Behind the cranes and masts and funnels,

The sea-signals wailed beyond the harbour

And seabirds came suddenly out of the mist.

And six coloured seamen came slouching along

With the laughter of the Levant in their eyes

And contempt in their tapering hands.

Their coffee was waiting in some smoke-laden den,

With smooth yellow dice on the unswept table,

And behind the dirty green window

No lazy dream of Africa or Arabia or India,

Nor any dreary dockland morning

Would mar one minute for them.

 

by Idris Davies


Fun fact: Tiger Bay (Welsh: Bae Teigr) was the local name for an area of Cardiff which covered Butetown and Cardiff Docks. It was rebranded as Cardiff Bay, following the building of the Cardiff Barrage, which dams the tidal rivers, Ely and Taff, to create a body of water. The development of the Cardiff Docks played a major part in Cardiff’s development by being the means of exporting coal from the South Wales Valleys to the rest of the world, helping to power the Industrial Age. The coal mining industry helped fund the growth of Cardiff to become the capital city of Wales and contributed towards making the docks owner, The 3rd Marquess of Bute, the richest man in the world at the time

Hireling by R. S. Thomas

Cars pass him by; he’ll never own one.

Men won’t believe in him for this.

Let them come into the hills

And meet him wandering a road,

Fenced with rain, as I have now;

The wind feathering his hair;

The sky’s ruins, gutted with fire

Of the late sun, smouldering still.

 

Nothing is his, neither the land

Nor the land’s flocks. Hired to live

On hills too lonely, sharing his hearth

With cats and hens, he has lost all

Property but the grey ice

Of a face splintered by life’s stone.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Tares (1961)

Our Meeting by Inna Lisnianskaya

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)

(2001)

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.

Воронеж (Voronzh) by Anna Akhmatova

for Osip Mandelstam

All the town’s gripped in an icy fist.

Trees and walls and snow are set in glass.

I pick my timid way across the crystal.

Unsteadily the painted sledges pass.

Flocks of crows above St Peter’s, wheeling.

The dome amongst the poplars, green and pale in

subdued and dusty winter sunlight, and

echoes of ancient battles that come stealing

out across the proud, victorious land.

All of a sudden, overhead, the poplars

rattle, like glasses ringing in a toast,

as if a thousand guests were raising tumblers

to celebrate the marriage of their host.

 

But in the exiled poet’s hideaway

the muse and terror fight their endless fight

throughout the night.

So dark a night will never see the day.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1936)

from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)

translation by Peter Oram


A different translation of the Воронеж (Voronzh) poem. The alternative on this site is translated by D. M Thomas and is also titled Воронеж (Voronzh).

The poet Osip Mandelstam who was living in the city of Voronezh when Akhmatova visited him in February 1936. Peter the Great built a flotilla here and the Field of Kulikovo, where the Tartars were defeated in 1380 isn’t far away.

Борис Пастернак [Boris Pasternak] by Anna Akhmatova

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

Red Nosed Frost [extract] by Nikolay Nekrasov

Not the autumn wind in the forest,

not streams hurtling down to the plains –

what we hear is Frost the Commander,

patrolling his far-flung domains.

 

Has snow been swept by the blizzards

over every pathway and track?

Is there any bare ground still showing,

any last brown fissure or crack?

 

Have the oak trees been handsomely dappled,

are the tops of the pines fluffed just right?

Have the ice floes been shackled together

so that every lake is gripped tight?

 

Frost comes striding over the treetops;

shards of ice crackle under his tread.

Lord Frost moves closer and closer;

beams of sunlight dance in his beard.

 

What pathway is closed to a wizard?

Ever nearer the widow he draws.

Now Frost is looming above her,

rehearsing his wintry laws.

 

There he stands in a pine tree,

beating time with his cane,

boasting of his own glory

and repeating his old refrain:

 

‘No need to be bashful, sweet maiden,

see how fine a Commander I am!

Speak truthfully now: have you ever

glimpsed a more handsome young man?

 

‘Blizzards, downpours and whirlwinds –

I can quieten them all in a trice;

I can stroll out over the ocean

and build myself chambers of ice.

 

‘One breath – and the greatest of rivers

lie silenced beneath my yoke,

transformed to the strongest of bridges,

broad roads for the merchant folk.

 

‘I love dropping down into graves

to scatter diamonds over the dead,

to freeze the blood in their veins

and ice the brains in their heads.

 

‘I love frightening a lonely robber

riding home with a purse he’s plundered:

in the depth of the forest silence

I make branches resound like thunder.

 

‘Old women go rushing back home,

their heads full of spirits and devils.

But there’s more pleasure still to be had

with drunkards returning from revels.

 

‘I don’t need chalk to whiten their faces!

I set their noses ablaze without fire!

I freeze beards to reins in a tangle

not even an axe can sever!

 

‘I’m rich, there’s no counting my treasure;

my fortune’s as great as the world.

Every day I bejewel my kingdom

anew with silver and pearls.

 

‘Dear Maiden, I bid you now enter

my empire. Let me make you my queen!

We shall reign in glory all winter,

then let summer slip by in a dream.

 

‘Come, maiden, and let me warm you

in a palace of pale blue ice!’

So Lord Frost sings out above her

as he swings his sparkling mace.

 

‘Are you warm enough there, dear maiden?’

he calls from high in the pine.

‘Oh yes,’ the young widow answers –

and icy shivers run down her spine.

 

Now Frost has dropped down lower,

his mace swinging ever so near,

and he whispers softly and tenderly:

‘Warm enough?’ ‘Oh yes, my dear!’

 

Warm enough – but what does she feel?

Frost’s breath has already numbed her

and needles of ice from his beard,

though colder and sharper than steel,

are lulling her into slumber.

 

‘Are you warm enough now?’ Frost whispers,

his arms now encircling her waist –

and she hears not Frost but Proklyusha

and all she sees is long past.

 

On her lips and her eyes and her shoulders

Darya feels the wizard’s long kisses –

and she sees not Frost but her husband

and she drinks in his honeyed whispers.

 

He’s talking to her of a wedding,

his words so caressing and sweet

that Darya’s eyes are now closing

and her axe lies still by her feet.

 

And the arc of a smile now parts

the poor lips of the wretched widow.

White flakes now cover her eyelids

and needles of ice her brow…

 

A lump of snow falls on Darya

as a squirrel takes a flying leap,

but Darya does not lift a finger;

she’s frozen, enchanted, asleep.

 

by Николай Алексеевич Некрасов (Nikolay Alexeyevich Nekrasov)

(1864)

translated by Robert Chandler and Boris Dralyuk