Looking Glass by R.S. Thomas

 There is a game I play
with a mirror, approaching
it when I am not there,
as though to take by surprise.

the self that is my familiar. It
is in vain. Like one eternally
in ambush, fast or slow
as I may raise my head, it raises

its own, catching me in the act,
disarming me by acquaintance,
looking full into my face as often
as I try looking at it askance.


by R. S. Thomas
from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)
Advertisements

Pause by R.S. Thomas

 'Rest a while,'
says the muse,
but I press on
losing myself between
the dictionary and the blank
page. Wisdom advises,
'Call ber bluff and
she'll come cringing.'
But I am all nerves,
running vocabulary
through my fingers, faster
and faster. And somewhere
before me is
the great poem, wrapped
in its stillness, that
I fool myself into
thinking I will overtake soon
by putting on speed.


by R. S. Thomas
from Unpublished Poems

‘She came in out of the frost’ by Alexander Blok

 She came in out of the frost,
her cheeks glowing,
and filled my whole room
with the scent of fresh air
and perfume
and resonent chatter
that did away with my last chance
of getting anywhere in my work.

Straightaway
she dropped a hefty art journal
onto the floor
and at once
there was no room any more
in my large room

All this
was somewhat annoying,
if not absurd.
Next, she wanted Macbeth
read aloud to her.

Barely had I reached
the earth's bubbles
which never failed to entrance me
when I realized that she,
no less entranced,
was staring out of the window.

A large tabby cat
was creeping along the edge of the roof
towards some amorous pigeons.
What angered me most
was that it should be pigeons,
not she and I,
who were necking,
and that the days of Paolo and Francesca
were long gone.


by Александр Александрович Блок
(Alexander Alexandrovich Blok)
(1908)
translated by Robert Chandler

‘The earth’s bubbles’ in this poem references a line from Act I, scene 3 of Shakespeare’s play Macbeth “The earth hath bubbles, as the water has, / And these are of them.” which Banquo says to Macbeth when the witches disappear after their encounter. Between 1904 and 1905 Blok wrote a poem cycle he titled ‘Bubbles of the Earth’, incorporating motifs from folk magic. In 1907 he wrote of Shakespeare, ‘ I love him deeply; and perhaps, most deely of all – in the whole of world literature – Macbeth’.

Paolo and Francesca refers to the affair between Francesca and her brother-in-law Paolo Malatesta, both of who were married, but fell in love nonetheless. Their tragic adulterous story was told by Dante in his Divine Comedy, Canto V of the Inferno, and was a popular subject with Victorian artists and sculptors, especially with followers of the Pre-Raphaelite ideology, and with other writers.

To the Muse [Exerpt] by Alexander Blok

And I knew a destructive pleasure

in trampling what's sacred and good,

a delirium exceeding all measure -

this absinthe that poisons my blood!



by Александр Александрович Блок
(Alexander Alexandrovich Blok)
(19??)
translated by Stephen Capus

14-ое ДЕКАБРЯ 1825 (14 December 1825) [Excerpt] by Fyodor Tyutchev

O sacrifice to reckless thought,
it seems you must have hoped
your scanty blood had power enough
to melt the eternal Pole.
A puff of smoke, a silent flicker
upon the age-old ice -
and then a breath of iron winter
extinguished every trace.


by Фёдор Иванович Тютчев
(Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev)
(14 December, 1825)
translated by Robert Chandler

Fun fact: 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.

A video of the full poem being recited in Russian.

The full original Russian Cyrillic version:

14-ое ДЕКАБРЯ 1825

Декабристам

Вас развратило Самовластье,
И меч его вас поразил,—
И в неподкупном беспристрастье
Сейприговор Закон скрепил.
Народ, чуждаясь вероломства,
Поносит ваши имена —
Иваша память от потомства,
Как труп вземле, схоронена.

О жертвы мысли безрассудной,
Вы уповали, можетбыть,
Что станет вашей крови скудной,
Чтобвечный полюс растопить!
Едва, дымясь,она сверкнула,
На вековой громаде льдов,
Зима железная дохнула —
И неосталось и следов.

На берегу (On the Bank) by Arseny Tarkovsky

He was sitting by the river, among reeds

that peasants had been scything for their thatch.

And it was quiet there, and in his soul

it was quieter and stiller still.

He kicked off his boots and put

his feet into the water, and the water

began talking to him, not knowing

he didn't know its language.

He had thought that water is deaf-mute,

that the home of sleepy fish is without words,

that blue dragonflies hover over water

and catch mosquitoes or horseflies,

that you wash if you want to wash, and drink

if you want to drink, and that's all there is

to water. But in all truth

the water's language was a wonder,

a story of some kind about some thing,

some unchanging thing that seemed

like starlight, like the swift flash of mica,

like a divination of disaster.

And in it was something from childhood,

from not being used to counting life in years,

from what is nameless

and comes at night before you dream,

from the terrible, vegetable

sense of self

of your first season.


That's how the water was that day,

and its speech was without rhyme or reason.


by Арсений Александрович Тарковский
(Arseny Alexandrovich Tarkovsky)
(1954)
translated by Robert Chandler

Arseny was the father of the famous and highly influential film director Andrei Tarkovsky. His poetry was often quoted in his son’s films.

Beneath is the original version of the poem.

На берегу

Он у реки сидел на камыше,
Накошенном крестьянами на крыши,
И тихо было там, а на душе
Еще того спокойнее и тише.
И сапоги он скинул. И когда
Он в воду ноги опустил, вода
Заговорила с ним, не понимая,
Что он не знает языка ее.
Он думал, что вода - глухонемая
И бессловесно сонных рыб жилье,
Что реют над водою коромысла
И ловят комаров или слепней,
Что хочешь мыться - мойся, хочешь -
пей,
И что в воде другого нету смысла.

И вправду чуден был язык воды,
Рассказ какой-то про одно и то же,
На свет звезды, на беглый блеск слюды,
На предсказание беды похожий.
И что-то было в ней от детских лет,
От непривычки мерить жизнь годами,
И от того, чему названья нет,
Что по ночам приходит перед снами,
От грозного, как в ранние года,
Растительного самоощущенья.

Вот какова была в тот день вода
И речь ее - без смысла и значенья.

‘The last trolleybus glides along the city’ [Excerpt] by Bulat Okudzhava

The last trolleybus glides along the city.

Moscow grows dim and, like a river, fades.

And the pain that thrashed at my temple

slowly abates.



by ბულატ ოკუჯავა
a.k.a. Булат Шалвович Окуджава
a.k.a. Bulat Shalvovich Okudzhava
(1957 – 1959)
translated by Maria Bloshteyn and Boris Dralyuk

This is an excerpt from a song about the night’s last trolleybus, which is blue and rescues the lost and lonely granting them a sense of wordless communion. Some consider Okudzhava’s gentle and welcoming songs to be this symbolic bluetrolleybus as his songs brought an intimacy into a world that had been ruled by intimidation.

Bulat Shalvovich Okudzhava (Russian: Булат Шалвович Окуджава; Georgian: ბულატ ოკუჯავა) (May 9, 1924 – June 12, 1997) was a Soviet and Russian poet, writer, musician, novelist, and singer-songwriter of Georgian-Armenian ancestry. He was one of the founders of the Soviet genre called “author song” (авторская песня), or “guitar song”, and the author of about 200 songs, set to his own poetry. His songs are a mixture of Russian poetic and folksong traditions and the French chansonnier style represented by such contemporaries of Okudzhava as Georges Brassens. Though his songs were never overtly political (in contrast to those of some of his fellow Soviet bards), the freshness and independence of Okudzhava‘s artistic voice presented a subtle challenge to Soviet cultural authorities, who were thus hesitant for many years to give official recognition to Okudzhava