Now she’s ninety I walk through the local park
where, too cold, the usual peacocks do not screech
and neighbouring lights come on before it’s dark.
Dare I affirm to her, so agèd and so frail,
that from one pale dot of peacock’s sperm
spring forth all the colours of a peacock’s tail?
I do. But she like the sibyl says, ‘I would die’;
then complains. ‘This winter I’m half dead, son.’
And because it’s true I want to cry.
Yet must not (although only Nothing keeps)
for I inhabit a white coat not a black
even here – and am not qualified to weep.
So I speak of small approximate things,
of how I saw, in the park, four flamingoes
standing, one-legged on ice, heads beneath wings.
By Dannie Abse
from Welsh Retrospective
Interesting fact: Dannie Abse was born in Cardiff, Wales, to a Jewish family. He was the younger brother of politician and reformer Leo Abse and the eminent psychoanalyst, Wilfred Abse. Unusually for a middle-class Jewish boy, Dannie Abse attended St Illtyd’s College, a working-class Catholic school in Splott.
Every store keeps a book for complaints
And, if you ask for it, they have to give it to you!
It wouldn’t be a bad idea, I think,
If eternity had a book like that.
Then people wouldn’t have to keep silent about their sorrow.
…Timidly, cautious at first, they would all come, bringing
The griefs they endure, the wrongs they are made to suffer
To universal attention and judgement.
How we should then be struck, I know,
By one entry of half a line
By that woman who, slumped against its railings,
Was crying in the park last night…
by Евгений Михайлович Винокуров (Yevgeny Mikhailovich Vinokurov)
Translated by Albert C. Todd
Additional information: He served in the artillery during the Second World War, studied at the Gorky Literary Institute and published his first poems in 1948. As co-editor of the poetry section of the journal Октябрь (October) he published Boris Slutsky, Nikolai Zabolotsky and the young Bella Akhmadulina amongst many others.
Beneath is the original Russian version of the poem in Cyrillic.
Книга жалоб – в каждом магазине…
Книга жалоб – в каждом магазине,
Требуйте её, – должны подать!..
Предлагаю вечности: отныне
Завести подобную тетрадь,
Чтоб о боли люди не молчали,
И тогда-то на вселенский суд
Все свои обиды и печали
Люди осторожно понесут…
Как тогда б, я знаю, поразила
Надпись в полстроки из-под пера
Женщины, что павши на перила,
Ночью в парке плакала вчера.
The fifth act of the drama
Blows in the wind of autumn,
Each flower-bed in the park seems
A fresh grave, we have finished
The funeral-feast, and there’s nothing
To do. Why then do I linger
As if I am expecting
A miracle? It’s the way a feeble
Hand can hold fast to a heavy
Boat for a long time by the pier
As one is saying goodbye
To the person who’s left standing.
by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1921?)
from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)
translation by D. M. Thomas
Fun fact: Though the poem is dated as being written in the 1940s it is more likely it was written just after, her husband Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov‘s execution in 1921.