Roots by Dannie Abse

A man with no roots is lost

like the darkness in the forest.

Heart, my heart, what red voices cry

centuries of suffering in my flowing hands?

 

Love lasts as long as there are

two people, however silent the word.

Love, my love, how may I meet your eyes,

how may I meet the eyes that I will close?

 

Future, my future, on whose arms

will my hands be planted?

Love, my love, be assured your eyes

will live after you like children.

 

by Dannie Abse

from Early Poems

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‘I Spent All Day At The Meeting’ by Olga Berggolts

I spent all day at the meeting,

either lying or voting.

I’m surprised I didn’t go grey

or die of shame.

I wandered about the streets,

where I could be myself again.

I had a smoke with a yardman –

then a drink in a cheap kiosk

along with two amputees,

who had fought at Krasny Bor.

Their complaints were something else –

their conversation was real.

One memory led to abother,

as we stirred the ash in our hearts:

penal battalions sent on reconnaissance

straight across minefields.

One man would return bemedalled;

others would lie down for ever,

their trumped-up sins now redeemed

with daredevil blood.

And I said in a drunken rage,

barely able to string thoughts together,

‘Oh how I hate our righteous ones,

Oh how I love our sinners!’

 

by Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts)

a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz

(1948-9)

translated by Robert Chandler


Fun fact: The reference to Kransy Bor refers to the military action during the Seige of Leningrad of the Second World War (or ‘Great Patriotic War’ to Russians): “The Battle of Krasny Bor was part of the Soviet offensive Operation Polyarnaya Zvezda. It called for a pincer attack near Leningrad, to build on the success of Operation Iskra and completely lift the Siege of Leningrad, encircling a substantial part of the German 18th Army. The offensive near Krasny Bor, formed the western arm of the pincer. The Soviet offensive began on Wednesday, 10 February 1943. It produced noticeable gains on the first day, but rapidly turned into a stalemate. The strong defense of the 250th (Spanish) Infantry Division led by General Emilio Esteban Infantes and the 4th SS Police Division gave the German forces time to reinforce their positions. By February 13, the Soviet forces had stopped their offensive in this sector. In Spain, February 10 became known as “Black Wednesday”, due to the heavy losses of the Spanish Division, which lost over 70% of the men engaged in the action. It was the most costly battle for the Spanish volunteers during their time on the Eastern Front.”

To put the poem in context: remember that the men served in a penal battallion during the Stalinist era and therefore were probably falsely accussed of something or other by the authorities of the time. As the two men were in a penal battallion they were made to take part in more risky military manoeuvres in, what we would call, a suicide squad. Hence Olga’s reaction, after attending a Party meeting, where she had to lie about her real opinions or voted the entire time, drunkenly decrying the ‘righteous’, who were corrupt bureaucrats and staunch members of the Party, abusing their authoritive power to crush anything but complete compliance to their will, instead of practising any humanity towards their fellow man and those left behind broken by their leadership.

Meet The Family by R. S. Thomas

John One takes his place at the table,

He is the first part of the fable;

His eyes are dry as a dead leaf.

Look on him and learn grief.

 

John Two stands in the door

Dumb;  you have seen that face before

Leaning out of the dark past,

Tortured in thought’s bitter blast.

 

John Three is still outside

Drooling where the daylight died

On the wet stones; his hands are crossed

In mourning for a playmate lost.

 

John All and his lean wife,

Whose forced complicity gave life

To each loathed foetus, stare from the wall,

Dead not absent. The night falls.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Poetry for Supper (1958)

The Season’s Last Flowers Yield by Alexander Pushkin

The season’s last flowers yield

more than those first in the field.

The thoughts they rouse, sharp, sweet,

have an incomparable power.

Likewise the parting hour

as against when we merely meet.

 

by Александр Сергеевич Пушкин (Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin)

(1825)

translated by Christopher Reid