Русский ум (The Russian Mind) by Vyacheslav Ivanov

A capricious, avaricious mind –
Like fire, the Russian mind is dire:
Irrepressible, lucidity for hire,
So gay – and gloom will always find.

Like an undeviating needle,
It sees the pole in ripples and murky still;
From abstract daydreams in life’s cradle
It shows the course for timorous will.

The way an eagle sees through fog
It examines all the valley’s dust,
I will reflect sensibly about the earth
While bathing in dark mystical must.

by Вячеслав Иванович Иванов
(Vyacheslav Ivanovich Ivanov)
(1890)
translated by Albert C. Todd

Русский ум

Своеначальный, жадный ум,-
Как пламень, русский ум опасен
Так он неудержим, так ясен,
Так весел он — и так угрюм.

Подобный стрелке неуклонной,
Он видит полюс в зыбь и муть,
Он в жизнь от грезы отвлеченной
Пугливой воле кажет путь.

Как чрез туманы взор орлиный
Обслеживает прах долины,
Он здраво мыслит о земле,
В мистической купаясь мгле.

A recital of the poem by Pavel Besedin which requires you to go to YouTube to hear.

Additional information: Vyacheslav Ivanovich Ivanov (Вячесла́в Ива́нович Ива́нов) who was born 28 February [O.S. 16 February] 1866 and died 16 July 1949 was a Russian poet and playwright associated with the Russian Symbolist movement. He was also a philosopher, translator, and literary critic.

Akhmatova had a dim view of him as, aside from trying to persuade her to leave her husband Nikolay Gumilyov, “…Akhmatova indignantly recalled that Ivanov would often weep as she recited her verse at the turreted house, but would later, “vehemently criticize,” the same poems at literary salons. Akhmatova would never forgive him for this. Her ultimate evaluation of her former patron was as follows, “Vyacheslav was neither grand nor magnificent (he thought this up himself) but a ‘catcher of men.'”

Extraordinarily erudite, Ivanov was educated in philology and history at the universities of Moscow, Berlin, and Paris. He wrote poems beginning in childhood and was first published in 1898. His first two collections, Kormchie zviozdy (Pilot Stars) (1903) and Prozrachnost’ (Transparence) (1904), were published while he was traveling in Greece, Egypt, and Palestine. He was immediately recognized as a leading Symbolist poet.

Ivanov’s poetry was majestic, solemn, and declamatory, more like the odes of the eighteenth century studded with erudite references to the classics. All of his writing was about art, whose purpose he saw as the creation of spiritual myths in a religious-mystical, collective activity.

Beginning in 1905 his apartment in St. Petersburg, known as “The Tower,” was the center of communication for poets, artists, scholars, and scientists, who met every Wednesday for their celebrated gathering. An insight into his worldview can be gained by realizing that during the worst times of the terrible upheaval of the Civil War he could be found working on his dissertation about the cult of Dionysus, which he defended in Baku in 1921.

In 1924 Ivanov emigrated to Rome, where he remained for the rest of his life, aloof and disengaged from émigré life and politics.

Biographical information about Ivanov, p.14, ‘Twentieth Century Russian Poetry’ (1993), compiled by Yevgeny Yevtushenko (ed. Albert C. Todd and Max Hayward) , published by Fourth Estate Limited by arrangement with Doubleday of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc. (transcribed as found in the original text).

Eschatology by R. S. Thomas

It was our last inter-glacial:
the flies, people,
the one as numerous
as the other. We talked
peace, and brought our arms up to date.
The young ones professed
love, embarassing themselves
with their language. As though
coming round on a new
gyre, we approached God
from the far side, an extinct concept.
no one returned from our space
probes, yet still there were
volunteers, believing that as
gravity slackened its hold
on the body, so would time
on the mind. Our scientists,
immaculately dressed not
conceived, preached to us
from their space-stations, calling us
to consider the clockwork birds
and fabricated lilies, how they
also, as they were conditioned to
do, were neither toiling nor spinning.


by R. S. Thomas
from Mass for Hard Times (1992)E

Christian eschatology is a major branch of study within Christian theology dealing with the “last things.” Eschatology, from two Greek words meaning “last” (ἔσχατος) and “study” (-λογία), is the study of ‘end things’, whether the end of an individual life, the end of the age, the end of the world and the nature of the Kingdom of God. Broadly speaking, Christian eschatology is the study concerned with the ultimate destiny of the individual soul and the entire created order, based primarily upon biblical texts within the Old and New Testament. The part of theology concerned with death, judgement, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.

Thomas approaches this with a cynical mindset having lived through the threat of a nuclear winter during the Cold War, hippies during the Summer of Love and diminishing church attendance as people favour logic over faith. He bitterly reflects that science is no closer to answering the great questions of existence, posed by eschatology, than theology yet one is dismissed while the other embraced.

Throughout the poem he plays with Christian terminology and imagery to indicate the substitution of Christ with scientists, everlasting life after death with an effort to achieve immortality during this life instead and how to him it is, in comparison, an artificial form of true enlightenment and surpassing our mortal bonds.

Hallowe’en by R.S. Thomas

Outside a surfeit of planes.

Inside the hunger of the departed

to come back. ‘Ah, erstwhile humans,

would you make your mistakes

over again? In life, as in love,

the second time around is

no better.’

I confront their expressions

in the embers, on grey walls:

faces among the stones watching

me to see if this night

of all nights I will make sacrifice

to the spirits of hearth and of

roof-tree, pouring a libation.

 

‘Stay where you are,’ I implore.

‘This is no world for escaped beings

to make their way back into.

The well that you took your pails

to is polluted. At the centre

of the mind’s labyrinth to machine howls

for the sacrifice of the affections;

vocabulary has on a soft collar

but the tamed words are not to be trusted.

As long as the flames hum, making

their honey, better to look in

upon truth’s comb than to

take off as we do on fixed wings

for depollinated horizons.’

 

by R. S Thomas

from No Truce with the Furies (1995)

Amen by R. S. Thomas

It was all arranged:

the virgin with child, the birth

in Bethlehem, the arid journey uphill

to Jerusalem. The prophets foretold

it, the scriptures conditioned him

to accept it. Judas went to his work

with his sour kiss; what else

could he do?

A wise old age,

the honours awarded for lasting,

are not for a saviour. He had

to be killed; salvation acquired

by an increased guilt. The tree,

with its roots in the mind’s dark,

was divinely planted, the original fork

in existence. There is no meaning in life,

unless men can be found to reject

love. God needs his martyrdom.

The mild eyes stare from the Cross

in perverse triumph. What does he care

that the people’s offerings are so small?

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)

‘Russia Is Baffling To The Mind’ by Fyodor Tyutchev

Russia is baffling to the mind,

not subject to the common measure;

her ways – of a peculiar kind…

One only can have faith in Russia.

 

by Фёдор Иванович Тютчев (Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev)

(1869)

translated by Avril Pyman


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 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.