Observation Post: Forward Area by Alun Lewis

The thorns are bleached and brittle,
The empty folds decay,
Rooftrees creak in the silence
Of inarticulate dismay.

Drought denudes the planting;
In the dry red heat
Dawn spills its ghostly water,
Black heads on the wheat.

Some evil presence quenches
The vagrant drunken theme
Of the swart and skinny goatherd
And the black goats of his dream.

A darker beast than poverty
Transfixed the crouching peasants there,
And tore the votive tablets down
And filled the children with such fear.

The cowdung fires guttered out,
The wizened women cried,
The bridegroom lay trembling,
And rigid the bride.

Love could be had for nothing.
And where is love now?
Gone with the shambling oxen,
Gone with the broken plough,
Death lives here now.

by Alun Lewis

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Cирена (Siren) by Anna Prismanova

In that land we tried to speak
of thirst, unquenchable thirst,
of a mournful cry that pierced us in the dark
and was halted in mid-flight.

But in the silence there reaches out for us
a steamboat’s cry, the crying of its soul,
it pulls us in, inviting and in parting,
as it sails into the age-old twilight.

This high-flown, antediluvian howl,
that the head and insides both absorb,
that even soaks into the legs –
is the union of peace and anxiety.

The steamboat sails off into the darkness and the night.
But it’s as if the siren’s wail died long ago.
As in the time of crusades when knights
were blessed on their way by ringing church bells.

And we, my dear, will leave like this, exactly,
having spent our last small ounce of arrogance,
we’ll leave – moving restlessly into the night,
we’ll have taken little and won’t have weighed the consequences.

The siren awaits us at the end of the earth,
and I know already the torment that she bears:
she wants us all to follow in her footsteps,
and wishes too we’d leave her all alone.

And so the steamboat howls, and howls the darkness.
I’ve not the strength to counteract these howls.
It’s possible that I myself am howling
inside the funnel of just a boat as this.

by Анна Семёновна Присманова (Anna Semyonovna Prismanova)
a.k.a. Анна Симоновна Присман (Anna Simonovna Prisman)
(Date unknown – before 1953)
translated by Bradley Jordan
from the poetry collection Трубы (Trumpets/Tubes/Pipes)

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Additional information: There is a dedication in the Russian version, ‘В. Коpвин-Пиотpовcкому‘, omitted from the translation. This refers to Vladimir Lvovich Korvin-Piotrovsky (1891 -1966) who was a Russian poet, novelist and playwright.

I am unsure of the exact date of the poem but a Russian website listing the poetry collection it is from has an end note stating “The poem was included in the anthology In the West: An Anthology of Russian Foreign Poetry. Comp. Y.P.Ivask. New York. Ed. Chekhov. 1953. p. 226.” which refers to the book published in 1953, under the title Na zapade; antologiia russkoi zarubezhnoi poezii (In the West; an anthology of the Russian émigré poetry).

Prismanova is considered comparable to her contemporary, the American poet, Louise Bogan and challenged traditional ideas of femininity in her poetry.

Prismanova’s origins and early life are obscure. She appears in emigration in Paris in the mid-1920s, and her first published collection, Ten’ itelo (Shadow and Body) (1937), contains poems beginning in 1929. She and her poet husband, Aleksandr Ginger, remained in Paris during the Nazi occupation. Responding to the wave of patriotic feeling and longing for Russia that appeared among emigres after the war, they both accepted Soviet passports, though they continued to live in Paris.

Prismanova was best known in the emigre world for intimate lyrics that manifest her spiritual searching for real truth in herself, in language, and in literary form. Prismanova’s poem “Vera” (1960), about the heroic, revolutionary populist Vera Figner (1852-1942), amazed readers by its portrait of a figure so unlike the poet and her intimate lyrical themes. Overshadowed by the more vocal figures of emigration, she was nevertheless a highly intelligent, subtle, and sensitive poet.

Biographical information about Prismanova, p.342-343, ‘Twentieth Century Russian Poetry’ (1993), compiled by Yevgeny Yevtushenko (ed. Albert C. Todd and Max Hayward) , published by Fourth Estate Limited by arrangement with Doubleday of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc.

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Cирена

В. Коpвин-Пиотpовcкому
Cтаpалиcь мы cказать на cей земле
о жажде и ее неутоленьи,
о кpике cкоpби, pвущем наc во мгле
и оcтановленном в cвоем cтpемленьи.
Но нам навcтpечу тянетcя в тиши
влекущий наc, пpизывный и пpощальный,
кpик паpоxода, кpик его души,
уже плывущей в cумpак изначальный.
Вбираемый нутpом и головой,
пpоcачивающийcя даже в ноги,
cей выcпpенний и допотопный вой
cлияние покоя и тpевоги.
Во мглу и в ночь уxодит паpоxод.
Но cтон cиpены как бы замеp в оном.
Так pыцаpи в кpеcтовый шли поxод,
напутcтвуемые цеpковным звоном.
И мы, душа моя, вот так, точь-в-точь,
утpатив до конца оcтаток cпеcи,
уйдем – вдвигаяcь неотcтупно в ночь,
немного взяв и ничего не взвеcив.
Cиpена ждет наc на конце земли,
и знаю я – томленье в ней какое:
ей xочетcя и чтоб за нею шли,
и чтоб ее оcтавили в покое…
Так воет паpоxод, и воет тьма.
Пpотиводейcтвовать такому вою
не в cилаx я. Я, может быть, cама
в тpубе такого паpоxода вою.

The Houses of the Valleys by Ann Hughes

Reaching out in unending lines

Houses of the valleys, all the same

In their uniform of dereliction and decay

Clinging on to the hillside, like old people

Clinging on to the old way of life.

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Smoke rises from the chimneys

Catching the last fading sunlight

of the promising summer of plenty,

Falling soon to the sills in black sooty smuts

Where sometimes people sit and stare.

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The empty streets echo in the silence

of tack boots on the cobblestones,

Black windows stare at me with accusation

Betrayal screams at you with her evidence

in the houses of the valleys.

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By Ann Hughes (1992)

The Water-Diviner by Gillian Clarke

 His fingers tell water like prayer.
He hears its voice in the silence
through fifty feet of rock
on an afternoon dumb with drought.

Under an old tin bath, a stone,
an upturned can, his copper pipe
glints with discovery. We dip our hose
deep into the dark, sucking its dryness,

till suddenly the water answers,
not the little sound we know,
but a thorough bass too deep
for the naked ear, shouts through the hose

a word we could not say, or spell, or remember,
something like “dŵr... dŵr.”


by Gillian Clarke
from Letter from a Far Country (1982)
Dŵr means 'water' in the Welsh language.