The Fisherman by R. S. Thomas

A simple man,
He liked the crease on the water
His cast made, but had no pity
For the broken backbone
Of water or fish.

One of his pleasures, thirsty,
Was to ask a drink
At the hot farms;
Leaving with a casual thank you,
As though they owed it him.

I could have told of the living water
That springs pure.
He would have smiled then,
Dancing his speckled fly in the shallows,
Not understanding.

by R. S. Thomas
from Not That He Brought Flowers (1968)
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Роландов рог (Roland’s Horn) by Marina Tsvetaeva

Like a jester complaining of the cruel weight

of his hump – let me tell about my orphaned state.

 

Behind the devil there’s his horde, behind the thief there’s his band,

behind everyone there’s someone to understand

 

and support him – the assurance of a living wall

of thousands just like him should he stumble and fall;

 

the soldier has his comrades, the emperor has his throne,

but the jester has nothing but his hump to call his own.

 

And so: tired of holding to the knowledge that I’m quite

alone and that my destiny is always to fight

 

beneath the jeers of the fool and the philistine’s derision,

abandoned – by the world – with the world – in collision,

 

I blow with all my strength on my horn and send

its cry into the distance in search of a friend.

 

And this fire in my breast assures me I’m not all

alone, but that some Charlemagne will answer my call!

 

by Марина Ивановна Цветаева (Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)

(March 1921)

translated by Stephen Capus


Fun facts: This poem was a favourite of Varlam Shalamov, according to Irina Sirotinskaya (she was a close friend of his and the holder of his works’ publication rights). It’s very likely he may have referenced this work in his poem Roncesvalles.

Tsvetaeva is referencing the romanticised tale of the historical figure Roland‘s death as retold in the eleventh-century poem The Song of Roland, where he is equipped with the olifant (a signalling horn) and an unbreakable sword, enchanted by various Christian relics, named Durendal. The Song contains a highly romanticized account of the Battle of Roncevaux Pass and Roland’s death, setting the tone for later fantastical depiction of Charlemagne’s court.

And, yes, he is ‘that’ Roland – the one who Stephen King references in his Dark Tower series though it was chiefly inspired by him via the poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” by Robert Browning.

 

Original Russian cyrillic version:

 

Роландов рог

Как нежный шут о злом своем уродстве,
Я повествую о своем сиротстве…

За князем — род, за серафимом — сонм,
За каждым — тысячи таких, как он,

Чтоб, пошатнувшись,— на живую стену
Упал и знал, что — тысячи на смену!

Солдат — полком, бес — легионом горд.
За вором — сброд, а за шутом — все горб.

Так, наконец, усталая держаться
Сознаньем: перст и назначением: драться,

Под свист глупца и мещанина смех —
Одна из всех — за всех — противу всех! —

Стою и шлю, закаменев от взлету,
Сей громкий зов в небесные пустоты.

И сей пожар в груди тому залог,
Что некий Карл тебя услышит, рог!

 

A recital of the original Russian language version

‘Gotta keep living, though I’ve died twice’ Osip Mandelstam

Gotta keep living, though I’ve died twice,

and water’s driving the city crazy:

how beautiful, what high cheekbones, how happy,

how sweet the fat earth to the plough,

how the steppe extends in an April upheaval,

and the sky, the sky – pure Michelangelo…

 

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)

(1935)

translated by Andrew Davis

At The Memorial by Emyr Humphreys

We remember wartime

Wartime

The leaves were red

Columns

Backs

Silences

Were broken

And skies were tight.

 

Singers in uniform

Were frozen

Stony men

Were children

Nights

Flesh

Steel

Cracked burst buckled

Nothing was

The Target

Nowhere

The Retreat.

 

We managed

The living the key workers

The throats of loyal trumpets

The minds of washed out cockpits

Our prayers were pistons

We managed

Our leaders in bunkers

 

As indestructable as rats

The tongues and necks

Of true survivors

 

In one cold wood

A headless boy

Still walks

A thin man prays

In his own blood

The dead

On every side

Wait to be counted

 

Catalogues

Printed

In old blood

 

Old wars

Are not doors

They are the walls

Of empty tombs

Bowed to

At stated times

By true survivors

Only dreams

Have hinges.

 

by Emyr Humphreys


Fun fact: He registered as a conscientious objector in the Second World War, working on a farm, and later doing relief work in Egypt and Italy. After the war he worked as a teacher, as a radio producer at the BBC and later became a lecturer in drama at Bangor University.

Living in the Moment by Piet Hein

To live in the moment’s a well-worn routine

that most of the world has perfected;

for some, it’s the moment that’s already been,

for others, the one that’s expected.

 

Yet no sort of magic can kindle anew

a past that is over forever,

nor summon the future before it is due:

our moment is now – or it’s never.

 

So brief is the moment in which we may live,

and future or past it isn’t.

Whoever would know of what life hast to give

must gratefully welcome the present.

 

by Piet Hein a.k.a Kumbel (1905-1996), Denmark

‘And You, My Friends…’ by Anna Akhmatova

And you, my friends who have been called away,

I have been spared to mourn for you and weep,

Not as a frozen willow over your memory,

But to cry to the world the names of those who sleep.

What names are those!

I slam shut the calender,

Down on your knees all!

Blood of my heart,

The people of Leningrad march out in even rows,

The living, the dead: fame can’t tell them apart.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1942)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

Landscapes II. Virginia by T. S. Eliot

Red river, red river,

Slow flow heat is silence

No will is still as a river

Still. Will heat move

Only through the mocking-bird

Heard once? Still hills

Wait. Gates wait. Purple trees,

White trees, wait, wait,

Delay, decay. Living, living,

Never moving. Ever moving

Iron thoughts came with me

And go with me:

Red river, river, river.

 

by T. S. Eliot

from Minor Poems