Return to Cardiff by Dannie Abse

‘Hometown’; well, most admit an affection for a city:
grey, tangled streets I cycled on to school, my first cigarette
in the back lane, and fool, my first botched love affair.
First everything. Faded torments; self-indulgent pity.

The journey to Cardiff seemed less a return than a raid
on mislaid identities. Of course the whole locus smaller:
the mile-wide Taff now a stream, the castle not as in some black
gothic dream, but a decent sprawl, a joker’s toy facade.

Unfocused voices in the wind, associations, clues,
odds and ends, fringes caught, as when, after the doctor quit,
a door opened and I glimpsed the white, enormous face
of my grandfather, suddenly aghast with certain news.

Unable to define anything I can hardly speak,
and still I love the place for what I wanted it to be
as much as for what it unashamedly is
now for me, a city of strangers, alien and bleak.

Unable to communicate I’m easily betrayed,
uneasily diverted by mere sense reflections
like those anchored waterscapes that wander, alter, in the Taff,
hour by hour, as light slants down a different shade.

Illusory, too, that lost, dark playground after rain,
the noise of trams, gunshots in what they once called Tiger Bay.
Only real this smell of ripe, damp earth when the sun comes out,
a mixture of pungencies, half exquisite and half plain.

No sooner than I’d arrived the other Cardiff had gone,
smoke in the memory, these but tinned resemblances,
where the boy I was not and the man I am not
met, hesitated, left double footsteps, then walked on.

By Dannie Abse
from Poems, Golders Green
(1962)

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Additional information: 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.

The River Taff (‘Afon Taf’ in Welsh) is a river in Wales. It rises as two rivers in the Brecon Beacons; the Taf Fechan (little Taff) and the Taf Fawr (great Taff) before becoming one just north of Merthyr Tydfil. Its confluence with the River Severn estuary is in Cardiff. The river supports several species of migratory fish, including salmon, sewin (sea trout), and eel.

Tiger Bay (‘Bae Teigr’ in Welsh) was the local name for an area of Cardiff which covered Butetown and Cardiff Docks. Following the building of the Cardiff Barrage, which dams the tidal rivers, Ely and Taff, to create a body of water, it is referred to as Cardiff Bay. Tiger Bay is Wales’ oldest multi-ethnic community with sailors and workers from over 50 countries settling there in the 1950s.

Парус (The Sail) by Mikhail Lermontov

White sail out in the bay
billowing in the wind.
Why sail so far away?
Why leave so much behind?

Winds must play on the seas
and masts creak in the wind.
Fortune is not what he seeks,
nor what he's left behind.

A golden light still pours
down onto deep blue seas;
this rebel, alas, seeks storms,
as if in storms lies peace.


by Михаил Юрьевич Лермонтов
(Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov)
(1832)
translated by Robert Chandler
A recital of the poem in it’s original Russian form.

Beneath is the original Russian Cyrillic version of the poem.

Парус

Белеет парус одинокой
В тумане моря голубом!..
Что ищет он в стране далекой?
Что кинул он в краю родном?...
Играют волны — ветер свищет,
И мачта гнется и скрыпит...
Увы! Он счастия не ищет
И не от счастия бежит!
Под ним струя светлей лазури,
Над ним луч солнца золотой...
А он, мятежный, просит бури,
Как будто в бурях есть покой!

Additional notes: This is an alternative translation of Lermontov’s poem Парус compared to that made by Frances Cornford and Esther Polianowsky Salaman which closely reproduced the original’s external form while this version is more condensed.

The Sail was written when Mikhail Lermontov was only 17 years old in 1832. This was the year when he was forced to leave Moscow and his university studies. Recorded in a letter sent by Maria Lopukhina, whom he had sent the first version of the poem, upon his arrival in Saint Petersburg Lermontov immediately produced this poem’s outline while walking along the Gulf of Finland’s shoreline.

‘The Fifth Act Of The Drama…’ by Anna Akhmatova

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.