Ravens by R. S. Thomas

It was the time of the election.

The ravens loitered above the hill

In slow circles; they had all air

To themselves. No eyes heard

Them exulting, recalling their long

History, presidents of the battles

of flesh, the sly connoisseurs

Of carrion; desultory flags

Of darkness, saddening the sky

At Catraeth and further back,

When two, who should have been friends,

Contended in the innocent light

For the woman in her downpour of hair.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Pietà (1966)


Fun Fact: The poem refers to the Battle of Catraeth and the medieval Welsh poem Y Gododdin.

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Сенокос (The Hay Harvest) by Apollon Maikov

The smell of hay is on the field,

and singing as they go

the women toss the heavy yield

and spread it row by row.

 

And yonder where the hay is dry

each man his forkful throws,

until the wagon loaded high

is like a house that grows.

 

The poor old horse who draws the cart

stands rooted in the heat,

with sagging knees and ears apart,

asleep upon his feet.

 

But little zhuchka speeds away

in barking brave commotion,

to dip and flounder in the hay

as in a grassy ocean.

 

by Аполлон Николаевич Майков (Apollon Nikolayevich Maikov)

(1856)

translated by Frances Cornford and Esther Polianowsky Salaman


Fun facts: Zhuchka means ‘Bug’, as in a small insect using diminutive terminology as жучка (zhuchka) is a diminutive of жук (Zhuk). In Russian, perhaps even more so than in English even due to it’s various tonal aspects and gendered form (which if you look at the original version below clearly has alternating hard and soft line endings (though only in the first and last stanzas does it have what might be considered Pushkin verse i.e. alternating masculine and feminine lines), diminutives are used within children’s works to create a gentler tone.

This used to be the first poem that Russian children would learn due to it’s simple words and easy rhyme scheme (when in the original Russian obviously though the above translation gives a good translation of it with a little necessary artistic license due to the differences in the language). Here is a recital of the poem in Russian.

Maikov was best known for his lyric verse showcasing images of Russian villages, nature, and history. His love for ancient Greece and Rome, which he studied for much of his life, is also reflected in his works. Maikov spent four years translating the epic The Tale of Igor’s Campaign (1870) into modern Russian. He translated the folklore of Belarus, Greece, Serbia and Spain, as well as works by Heine, Adam Mickiewicz and Goethe, among others. Several of Maykov’s poems were set to music by Russian composers, among them Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky.

Innokenty Annensky once wrote:

“a poet usually chooses their own, particular method of communication with nature, and often this sis sport. Poets of the future may be cyclists or aeronauts. Byron was a swimmer, Goethe a skater, Lermontov a rider, many others of our poets (Turgenev, both Tolstoys, Nekrasov, Fet, Yazykov) were hunters. Maikov was a passionate fisherman and this occupation was in perfect harmony with his contemplative nature, with his love for a fair, sunny day, all of which is so vividly expressed in his poetry.”

Here is the poem in it’s original form:

СЕНОКОС

Пахнет сеном над лугами…
В песне душу веселя,
Бабы с граблями рядами
Ходят, сено шевеля.

Там – сухое убирают;
Мужички его кругом
На воз вилами кидают…
Воз растет, растет, как дом.

В ожиданьи конь убогий
Точно вкопанный стоит…
Уши врозь, дугою ноги
И как будто стоя спит…

Только жучка удалая
В рыхлом сене, как в волнах,
То взлетая, то ныряя,
Скачет, лая впопыхах.

Последняя любовь (Last Love) by Fyodor Tyutchev

Towards our end, as life runs out,

love is more troubled and more tender.

Fade not, fade not, departing light

of our last love, our farewell splendour.

 

Shadow overshadows half the sky;

far to the west the last rays wander.

Shine on, shine on, last light of day;

allow us still to watch and wonder.

 

What if our blood runs thinner, cooler?

This does not make the heart less tender.

Last love, last love, what can I call you?

Joy and despair, mortal surrender.

 

by Фёдор Иванович Тютчев (Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev)

(1851-4)

translated by Robert Chandler


A reading of the poem in Russian:

Fun facts: Counted amongst the admirers of Tyutchev’s works were Dostoevsky and Tolstoy along with Nekrasov and Fet. Then later Osip Mandelstam who, in a passage approved of by Shalamov, believed that a Russian poet should not have copy of Tyutchev in his personal library – he should know all of Tyutchev off by heart.

 

‘Look, Outside My Window The Vine Is Spreading So Fast…’ by Afanasy Fet

Look, outside my window the vine is spreading so fast it

almost blocks out the light. Dark, picturesque green now

covers up half of the panes. And amidst the foliage a bunch of

seemingly carefully-placed grapes has started to turn

yellow… Hands off, sweetest! Why this rage for destruction?

If one plump little white hand should be seen to steal

into the yard for a bunch of grapes, the neighbours will waste no

time in declaring: she must have been in his room.

by Афанасий Афанасьевич Фет (Afanasy Afanasyevich Fet)

a.k.a. Шеншин (Shenshin)

(1847)

translated by Robert Chandler

In Memory of Sergey Yesenin by Anna Akhmatova

There are such easy ways

to leave this life,

to burn to an end

without pain or thought,

but a Russian poet

has no such luck.

A bullet is more likely

to show his winged soul

the way to Heaven;

or else the shaggy paw

of voiceless terror will squeeze

the life out of his heart

as if it were a sponge.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1925)

translation by Robert Chandler


Not so fun facts about the poem’s subject: On 28 of December in 1925 Yesenin was found dead in the room in the Hotel Angleterre in St Petersburg. His last poem Goodbye my friend, goodbye (До свиданья, друг мой, до свиданья) according to Wolf Ehrlich was written by him the day before he died. Yesenin complained that there was no ink in the room, and he was forced to write with his blood. According to the consensus among academic researchers of Yesenin’s life, the poet was in a state of depression a week after he escaped from a mental clinic and committed suicide by hanging. A theory exists that Yesenin’s death was actually a murder by OGPU agents who staged it to look like suicide.

Шепот, робкое дыханье (Whispers) by Afanasy Fet

Whispers, timid breathing,

trills of a nightingale,

the silver and the shiver

of a sleepy rill.

 

Pale light and nighttime shadows,

shadows without end,

all the magic transformations

of eyes and lips and brows.

 

In smoky clouds, a rose’s purple,

the shine of amber beads,

and the kisses, and the tears,

and the dawn, the dawn!

 

by Афанасий Афанасьевич Фет (Afanasy Afanasyevich Fet)

a.k.a. Шеншин (Shenshin)

(1850)

translated by Boris Dralyuk

Воздушный город (The Aerial City) by Afanasy Fet a.k.a. Shenshin

At daybreak there spread through the heavens

Pale clouds like a turreted town:

The cupolas golden, fantastic,

White roofs and white walls shining down.

 

This citadel is my white city,

My city familiar and dear,

Above the dark earth as it slumbers,

Upon the pink sky builded clear.

 

And all that aerial city

Sails northward, sails softly, sails high;

And there on the height, some one beckons,—

But proffers no pinions to fly.

 

by Афанасий Афанасьевич Фет (Afanasy Afanasyevich Fet)

a.k.a. Шеншин (Shenshin)

(1846)

translated by ???


 

Fun fact: A more straight forward English translation of the poem compared to the Scottish version posted previously Воздушный город (The Aerial City) by Afanasy Fet