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)
He who compared himself to the eye of a horse,
Peers, looks, sees, recognizes,
And instantly puddles shine, ice
Pines away, like a melting of diamonds.
Backyards drowse in lilac haze. Branch-
Line platforms, logs, clouds, leaves…
The engine’s whistle, watermelon’s crunch,
A timid hand in a fragrant kid glove. He’s
Ringing, thundering, grinding, up to his breast
In breakers… and suddenly is quiet… This means
He is tiptoeing over pine needles, feaful lest
He should startle space awake from its light sleep.
It means he counts the grains in the empty ears,
And it means he has come back
From another funeral, back to Darya’s
Gorge, the tombstone, cursed and black.
And burns again, the Moscow tedium,
In the distance death’s sleigh-bell rings…
Who has got lost two steps from home,
Where the snow is waist-deep, an end to everything?
Because he compared smoke with Laocoön,
Made songs out of graveyard thistles,
Because he filled the world with a sound no-one
Has heard before, in a new space of mirrored
Verses, he has been rewarded with a form
Of eternal childhood, with the stars’ vigilant love,
The whole earth has been passed down to him,
And he has shared it with everyone.
by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)
(19 January 1936)
from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)
translation by D. M. Thomas