‘Разрывы круглых бухт, и хрящ, и синева’ a.k.a. ‘Breaks in round bays, and shingle, and blue’ by Osip Mandelstam

Breaks in round bays, and shingle, and blue,
and a slow sail continued by a cloud -
I hardly knew you; I've been torn from you:
longer than organ fugues – the sea's bitter grasses,
fake tresses – and their long lie stinks,
my head swims with iron tenderness,
the rust gnaws bit by bit the sloping bank...
On what new sands does my head sink?
You, guttural Urals, broad-shouldered Volga lands,
or this dead-flat plain – here are all my rights,
and, full-lunged, gotta go on breathing them.


by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам
(Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam.)
His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
(4 February 1937)
translated by Andrew Davis

Below is the original Russian Cyrillic version:

Разрывы круглых бухт, и хрящ, и синева,
И парус медленный, что облаком продолжен,-
Я с вами разлучен, вас оценив едва:
Длинней органных фуг - горька морей трава,
Ложноволосая,- и пахнет долгой ложью,
Железной нежностью хмелеет голова,
И ржавчина чуть-чуть отлогий берег гложет...
Что ж мне под голову другой песок подложен?
Ты, горловой Урал, плечистое Поволжье
Иль этот ровный край - вот все мои права,
И полной грудью их вдыхать еще я должен.

Additional information:

The Volga (Во́лга) is the longest river in Europe with a catchment area of 1,350,000 square kilometres. It is also Europe’s largest river in terms of discharge and drainage basin. The river flows through central Russia and into the Caspian Sea, and is widely regarded as the national river of Russia. Eleven of the twenty largest cities of Russia, including the capital, Moscow, are located in the Volga’s drainage basin. Some of the largest reservoirs in the world are located along the Volga.

The river has a symbolic meaning in Russian culture and is often referred to as Волга-матушка Volga-Matushka (Mother Volga) in Russian literature and folklore.

The Ural Mountains ( Ура́льские го́ры), or simply the Urals, are a mountain range that runs approximately from north to south through western Russia, from the coast of the Arctic Ocean to the Ural River and northwestern Kazakhstan. The mountain range forms part of the conventional boundary between the continents of Europe and Asia. Vaygach Island and the islands of Novaya Zemlya form a further continuation of the chain to the north into the Arctic Ocean.

The Urals have been viewed by Russians as a “treasure box” of mineral resources, which were the basis for its extensive industrial development. In addition to iron and copper the Urals were a source of gold, malachite, alexandrite, and other gems such as those used by the court jeweller Fabergé. As Russians in other regions gather mushrooms or berries, Uralians gather mineral specimens and gems. Dmitry Mamin-Sibiryak (1852–1912) Pavel Bazhov (1879–1950), as well as Aleksey Ivanov and Olga Slavnikova, post-Soviet writers, have written of the region.

The region served as a military stronghold during Peter the Great’s Great Northern War with Sweden, during Stalin’s rule when the Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Complex was built and Russian industry relocated to the Urals during the Nazi advance at the beginning of World War II, and as the center of the Soviet nuclear industry during the Cold War. Extreme levels of air, water, and radiological contamination and pollution by industrial wastes resulted. Population exodus resulted, and economic depression at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, but in post-Soviet times additional mineral exploration, particularly in the northern Urals, has been productive and the region has attracted industrial investment.

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Easter by R.S. Thomas

Easter. I go to church
to proclaim with my fellows
I believe in the Ressurection -
of what? Here everything
is electric and automatic.
In April a myriad bulbs
are switched on as flowers
incandesce; a new generation
of creatures rehearses
its genetic code. All this is easy.
Earth is a self-regulating
machine; everything happens
because it must. My faith
is in the inevitability
of creation. There will come a day -
dust under a dry sun,
ashes under its incineration...
is there somewhere in all
the emptiness of the universe
a fertile star where the old
metaphors wil apply, where
the bugling daffodil will sound
abroad not the last post, but
a gush of music out of an empty tomb?

by R.S. Thomas
from Unpublished Poems

Внутри горы бездействует кумир… (Deep in the mountain the idol rests) by Osip Mandelstam

Deep in the mountain the idol rests
in sweet repose, infinite and blest,
the fat of necklaces dripping from his neck
protects his dreams of flood tide and of slack.

As a boy, he buddied with a peacock,
they gave him rainbow of India to eat
and milk in a pink clay dish,
and didn't stint the cochineal.

Bone put to bed, locked in a knot,
shoulders, arms and knees made flesh,
he smiles with his own dead-silent lips,
thinks with his bone, feels with his brow,
and struggles to recall his human countenance...


by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam.)
His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
from the first of the Voronezh Notebooks
(10-26 December 1936)
translated by Andrew Davis

Interesting information: The poem recounts certain Buddhist imagery, such as the peacock, from accounts of the life of Siddhartha Gautama a.k.a. Gautama Buddha.The female of the cochineal insect species is crushed to make red pigment for food colouring amongst other uses.

Beneath is the original Russian Cyrillic verison of the poem. I couldn’t find a recital of it on Youtube but feel free to add one in the comments please if you know of one:

Внутри горы бездействует кумир…  

Внутри горы бездействует кумир
В покоях бережных, безбрежных и счастливых,
А с шеи каплет ожерелий жир,
Оберегая сна приливы и отливы.

Когда он мальчик был и с ним играл павлин,
Его индийской радугой кормили,
Давали молока из розоватых глин
И не жалели кошенили.

Кость усыпленная завязана узлом,
Очеловечены колени, руки, плечи,
Он улыбается своим тишайшим ртом,
Он мыслит костию и чувствует челом
И вспомнить силится свой облик человечий.

Мой щегол, я голову закину (Goldfinch, friend, I’ll cock my head) by Osip Mandelstam

Goldfinch, friend, I'll cock my head -
let's check the world out, just me and you:
this winter's day pricks like chaff;
does it sting your eyes too?

Boat-tailed, feathers yellow-black,
sopped in colour beneath your beak,
do you get, you goldfinch you,
just how you flaunt it?

What's he thinking, little airhead? -
white and yellow, black and red!
Both eyes check both ways – both! -
will check no more – he's bolted!


by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam.) His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
(9-27 December 1936)
translated by Andrew Davis
A recital of the poem by Mikhail Kozakov
The original Russian Cyrillic version of the poem


Мой щегол, я голову закину —
Поглядим на мир вдвоем:
Зимний день, колючий, как мякина,
Так ли жестк в зрачке твоем?

Хвостик лодкой, перья черно-желты,
Ниже клюва в краску влит,
Сознаешь ли — до чего щегол ты,
До чего ты щегловит?

Что за воздух у него в надлобье —
Черн и красен, желт и бел!
В обе стороны он в оба смотрит — в обе!—
Не посмотрит — улетел!

Extra information: The RSPB website has information, a bird identifying ‘questionnaire’ if you’ve seen any you don’t recognise, sound clips of bird calls, videos and more about goldfinches and many other species of birds. It might be an interesting distraction if you haven’t looked at it before.

The image of a goldfinch or starling is a repeated motif in the poetry of Mandelstam. (if you can’t read Russian then just put the text of the linked page, or it’s page address, into GoogleTranslate which gives a surprisingly eloquent translation).

The Film of God by R.S. Thomas

Sound, too? The recorder
that picks up everything picked
up nothing but the natural
background. What language
does the god speak? And the camera's
lens, as sensitive to
an absence as to a presence,
saw what? What is the colour
of his thought?
It was blank, then,
the screen, as far as he
was concerned? It was a bare
landscape and harsh, and geological
its time. But the rock was
bright, the illuminated manuscript
of the lichen. And a shadow,
as we watched, fell, as though
of an unseen writer bending over
his work.
It was not cloud
because it was not cold,
and dark only from the candlepower
behind it. And we waited
for it to move, silently
as the spool turned, waited
for the figure that cast it
to come into view for us to
identify it, and it
didn't and we are still waiting.


By R.S. Thomas
from Frequencies (1978)

Бог (God) by Boris Slutsky

 Once we all used to abide
together with God, side by side,
He didn't dwell in the sky,
we'd see him from time to time
alive, on the mausoleum.
He was much more clever and evil
than that other God, the old one,
known to the world as Jehovah,
whom he overthrew with a crash
and reduced to a heap of ash,
then subsequently restored
and recruited to serve the cause.
For once we all used to abide
together with God, side by side.

One day as I wandered around in
the Arbat, I met God on parade
with five limousines and surrounded
by guards wearing mousy grey
overcoats, hunched in dread.
It was early and late – overhead
the grey light of morning was showing
as he grazed with his cruel, all-knowing
eyes through the hearts of men,
unmasking deviants and traitors.

For we lived in an era when
God himself was our neighbour.


by Борис Абрамович Слуцкий (Boris Abramovich Slutsky)
(1955)
translated by Stephen Capus
A recital of the poem in Russian by Alla Demidova (from 1:11 onwards after she briefly introduces it).

Here is the poem in the original Cyrillic Russian.

 Бог


Мы все ходили под богом.
У бога под самым боком.
Он жил не в небесной дали,
Его иногда видали
Живого. На мавзолее.
Он был умнее и злее
Того — иного, другого,
По имени Иегова,
Которого он низринул,
Извел, пережег на уголь,
А после из бездны вынул
И дал ему стол и угол.

Мы все ходили под богом.
У бога под самым боком.
Однажды я шел Арбатом.
Бог ехал в пяти машинах.
От страха почти горбата,
В своих пальтишках мышиных
Рядом дрожала охрана.
Было поздно и рано.
Серело. Брезжило утро.
Он глянул жестоко, мудро
Своим всевидящим оком,
Всепроницающим взглядом.

Мы все ходили под богом.
С богом почти что рядом.

Additional information: Slutsky was an atheist but he didn’t forget his Jewish cultural roots regarding not only Yiddish but also the Hebrew he had learned as a child which remained important to him even if only as deeply felt absences. This poem can be read as Slutsky reflecting on how the cult of persona arose in the Soviet era. Communist iconography of Lenin replaced Imperial Russia’s religious iconography in the day to day lives of Russian citizens in Moscow’s historical Arbat street and the surrounding area. Then he reflects, in the second part of the poem, how imagery of Stalin eventually replaced Lenin’s image and he was even worse than him.

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)