Getting up early on a Sunday morning leaving them sleep for the sake of peace, the lunch pungent, windows open for a blackbird singing in Cyncoed. Starlings glistening in the gutter come for seed. I let the cats in from the night, their fur already glossed and warm with March. I bring the milk, newspaper, settle here in the bay of the window to watch people walking to church for Mothering Sunday. A choirboy holds his robes over his shoulder. The cats jump up on windowsills to wash and tremble at the starlings. Like peaty water sun slowly fills the long brown room. Opening the paper I admit to this the water-shriek and starved stare of a warning I can't name.
By Gillian Clarke from Letter from a Far Country (1982)
Cyncoed is a community in the north of the city of Cardiff, capital of Wales. Located to the north east of the city, Cyncoed is one of the most affluent suburbs of Cardiff. It has some of the highest property prices in Wales. Cyncoed is a short distance from the city centre and boasts beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. It is also just a short walk from the well known Roath Park.
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)
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.
‘There suck my breast: there, grow and take our bread,
and learn to bear your cross and bow your head.’
Time passes. War returns. Rebellion rages.
The farms and villages go up in flame,
and Russia in her ancient tear-stained beauty,
is yet the same,
unchanged through all the ages. How long will
the mother grieve and the kite circle still?
by Александр Александрович Блок (Alexander Alexandrovich Blok)
(22 March 1916)
translated by Frances Cornford and Esther Polianowsky Salaman
Fun fact: As you can tell from the date this was written into the lead up to the Russian Revolution. To be more exact, during the early months of 1916, there were increasing food and fuel shortages and increasingly high prices. Thus the Progressive Bloc was formed. Despite successes in the Brusilov offensive, the Russian war effort was still characterised by shortages, poor command, death and desertion. Away from the front, the conflict caused starvation, inflation and a torrent of refugees. Both soldiers and civilians blamed the incompetence of the Tsar and his government. This lead, later in the year, to increasing strikes which are supported by the military who declare they won’t protect the Tsar from a revolution – which would be successful in October 1917 after many further events and internal conflicts.
A recital of the poem in Russian:
The original Russian text in Cyrillic:
Чертя за кругом плавный круг,
Над сонным лугом коршун кружит
И смотрит на пустынный луг. —
В избушке мать над сыном тужит:
«На́ хлеба, на́, на́ грудь, соси,
Расти, покорствуй, крест неси».
Идут века, шумит война,
Встаёт мятеж, горят деревни,
А ты всё та ж, моя страна,
В красе заплаканной и древней. —
Доколе матери тужить?
Доколе коршуну кружить?
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