Предсказание (A Prophecy) by Mikhail Lermontov

A year will come – of Russia’s blackest dread;

then will the crown fall from the royal head,

the throne of tsars will perish in the mud,

the food of many will be death and blood;

both wife and babe will vainly seek the law:

it will not shield the victims any more;

the putrid, rotting plague will mow and cut

and boldly walk the road from hut to hut;

in people’s sight its pallid face will float,

and hunger’s hand will clutch them by the throat;

a scarlet sea will send its bloody surge;

a mighty man will suddenly emerge:

you’ll recognize the man, you’ll feel

that he has come to use a knife of steel;

oh, dreadful day! Your call, your groan, your prayer

will only make him laugh at your despair;

and everything in his forbidding sight –

his brow, his cloak – will fill the land with fright.

 

by Михаил Юрьевич Лермонтов (Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov)

(1830)

translated by Anatoly Liberman


Fun facts: He wrote this in 1830 and the irony hasn’t been lost on Russian people that less than a hundred years later Nikolai II would lose this throne and… well it’s hard not to immediately see Lermontov’s prophecy (though ‘prediction’ is the more direct translation of the Russian title) proved an all too accurate omen of events during the twentieth century during the Soviet era.

A recital of the poem in Russian:

Original Russian version:

Предсказание

Настанет год, России черный год,
Когда царей корона упадет;
Забудет чернь к ним прежнюю любовь,
И пища многих будет смерть и кровь;
Когда детей, когда невинных жен
Низвергнутый не защитит закон;
Когда чума от смрадных, мертвых тел
Начнет бродить среди печальных сел,
Чтобы платком из хижин вызывать,
И станет глад сей бедный край терзать;
И зарево окрасит волны рек:
В тот день явится мощный человек,
И ты его узнаешь — и поймешь,
Зачем в руке его булатный нож:
И горе для тебя! — твой плач, твой стон
Ему тогда покажется смешон;
И будет всё ужасно, мрачно в нем,
Как плащ его с возвышенным челом.

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Red Balloon by Dannie Abse

It sailed across the startled town,

over chapels, over chimney-pots,

wind-blown above a block of flats

before it floated down.

 

Oddly, it landed where I stood,

and finding’s keeping, as you know.

I breathed on it, I polished it,

till it shone like living blood.

 

It was my shame, it was my joy,

it brought me notoriety.

From all of Wales the rude boy came,

it ceased to be a toy.

 

I heard the girls of Cardiff sigh

When my balloon, my red balloon,

soared higher like a happiness

towards the dark blue sky.

 

Nine months since, have I boasted of

my unique, my only precious;

but to no one dare I show it now

however long they swear their love.

 

‘It’s a Jew’s balloon,’ my best friend cried,

‘stained with our dear Lord’s blood.’

‘That I’m a Jew is true,’ I said,

said I, ‘that cannot be denied.’

 

‘What relevance?’ I asked, surprised,

‘what’s religion to do with this?’

‘Your red balloon’s a Jew’s balloon,

let’s get it circumcised.’

 

Then some boys laughed and some boys cursed,

some unsheathed their dirty knives:

some lunged, some clawed at my balloon,

but still it would not burst.

 

They bled my nose, they cut my eye,

half conscious in the street I heard,

‘Give up, give up your red balloon.’

I don’t know exactly why.

 

Father, bolt the door, turn the key,

lest those sad, brash boys return

to insult my faith and steal

my red balloon from me.

 

by Dannie Abse

from Poems, Golders Green (1962)


Fun facts: 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.

Заклятие смехом (Laugh Chant) by Velimir Khlebnikov

after Khlebnikov

Laugh away, laughing boys!

Laugh along, laughmen!

So they laugh their large laughter, they laugh aloud laughishly.

Laugh and be laughed at!

O the laughs of the overlaughed, laughfest of laughingstocks!

Laugh out uplaughingly the laugh of laughed laughterers!

Laughingly laughterize laughteroids, laughtereens, laughpots and laughlings…

Laugh away, laugh boys!

Laugh along, laughmen!

 

by Велимир Хлебников (Velimir Khlebnikov)

a.k.a. Виктор Владимирович Хлебников

(Viktor Vladimirovich Khlebnikov)

(1908)

translated by Christopher Reid


Fun fact: By playing with the word ‘смех‘ (smekh i.e. laughter) that Khlebnikov made his name. By adding different prefixes and suffixes, which are numerous in the Russian language, he created many neologisms such as смехач (smekhach i.e. ‘laugher’) which entered the Russian language.

Recital in the original Russian:

 

Original Russian Cyrillic text:

О, рассмейтесь, смехачи!
О, засмейтесь, смехачи!
Что смеются смехами, что смеянствуют смеяльно,
О, засмейтесь усмеяльно!
О, рассмешищ надсмеяльных — смех усмейных смехачей!
О, иссмейся рассмеяльно, смех надсмейных смеячей!
Смейево, смейево!
Усмей, осмей, смешики, смешики!
Смеюнчики, смеюнчики.
О, рассмейтесь, смехачи!
О, засмейтесь, смехачи!

O Make Me A Mask by Dylan Thomas

O make me a mask and a wall to shut from your spies

Of the sharp, enamelled eyes and the spectacled claws

Rape and rebellion in the nurseries of the face,

Gag of a dumbstruck tree to block from bare enemies

The bayonet tongue in this undefended prayerpiece,

The present mouth, and the sweetly blown trumpet of lies,

Shaped in old armour and oak the counternance of a dunce

To shield the glistening brain and blunt the examiners,

And a tear-stained widower grief drooped from the lashes

To veil belladonna and let the dry eyes perceive

Others betray the lamenting lies of their losses

By the curve of the nude mouth or the laugh up the sleeve.

 

by Dylan Thomas

(Notebook version March 1933; rephrased and severely shortened November 1937)


 

He seeks to defend his inner privacy against the sharp examination of strangers and critics.

Hywel and Blodwen by Idris Davies

Where are you going to, Hywel and Blodwen,

With your eyes as sad as your shoes?

We are going to learn a nimble language

By the waters of the Ouse.

 

We are trampling through Gloucester and through Leicester,

We hope we shall not drop,

And we talk as we go of the Merthyr streets

And a house at Dowlais Top.

 

We have triads and englyns from pagan Dyfed

To brace us in the fight,

And three or four hundred Methodist hymns

To sing on a starless night.

 

We shall grumble and laugh and trudge together

Till we reach the stark North Sea

And talk till we die of Pantycelyn

And the eighteenth century.

 

We shall try to forget the Sunday squabbles,

And the foreign magistrate,

And the stupid head of the preacher’s wife,

And the broken iron gate.

 

So here we say farewell and wish you

Less trouble and less pain,

And we trust you to breed a happier people

Ere our blood flows back again.

 

by Idris Davies


There was a Welsh language opera based on the same Welsh story as this poem. Blodwen is an opera in three acts composed in 1878 by Dr Joseph Parry to a Welsh libretto by Richard Davies. It was the first opera written in the Welsh language. I just mention it as I doubt many people know of it.