I didn't know him,
the man who jumped from the bridge.
But I saw the parabola
of long-drawn-out falling in the brown
eyes of his wife week after week
at the supermarket cash-out.
We would quietly ask "How is he?"
hear of the hospital's white
care, the corridors between her
and the broken man in the bed,
and the doctors who had no words,
no common supermarket women's talk.
Only after the funeral
I knew how he'd risen, wild
from his chair and told her
he was going out to die.
Very slowly from the first leap
he fell through winter, through the cold
of Christmas, wifely silences,
the blue scare of ambulance,
from his grave on the motorway
to the hospital, two bridges down.
A season later in a slow cortège
he has reached the ground.
by Gillian Clarke
from Letter from a Far Country (1982)
Pentwyn is a district, community and electoral ward in the east of Cardiff, Wales, located northeast of the city centre. Llanedeyrn is immediately to the south, Cyncoed to the west, Pontprennau to the north and the Rhymney River forms the eastern border.
This story of this poem is true albeit half heard from people talking about it and half learned from the local newspaper. The Pentwyn Bridge of the title carries a road over a dual carriageway in Cardiff. Asthe peom narrates a man told his terrified wife he was going out to kill himself. He jumped from the bridge and was severely injured then taken to hospital. Many months later, having never left hospital in the meantime, he finally died.
One might suppose that I shall not forget you,
but that won't be because I loved you so,
rather because you chanced to be the fire
which I myself employed to hew my soul.
by Анна Семёновна Присманова (Anna Semyonovna Prismanova)
a.k.a. Анна Симоновна Присман (Anna Simonovna Prisman)
(late 1930s or early 1940s?)
translated by Robert Chandler
Interesting info: She is considered comparable to her contemporary, the American poet, Louise Bogan and challenged traditional ideas of femiinity in her poetry as seen in this closing stanza of the poem Granite
Just as I once learned one ancient tongue
enough to read its texts,
and I forgot the aphabet –
I’ve forgotten solitude.
This all must be recalled, recovered, and relearned.
I remember how once I met
a compiler of words
in the ancient tongue that I had learned
Turned out, I knew two words: ‘heavens’ and ‘apple’.
I might have recalled the rest –
All beneath the heavens and beside the apples –
But the need wasn’t there.
by Борис Абрамович Слуцкий (Boris Abramovich Slutsky)
translated by Marat Grinberg and Judith Pulman
Interesting information: Slutsky was a atheist but he didn’t forget his 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. He had to ‘relearn solitude’ due to the death of his wife Tanya in 1977. For the following three months, before he fell into a depressed silence for the last nine years of his life during which he wrote nothing, he produced some of the most highly regarded poems on the themes of love and mourning in the Russian language.
The unrepeatable voice won’t speak again,
Died yesterday and quit us, the talker with groves.
Or into gentlest rain of which he sang.
And all the flowers that grew only in this world
Came into bloom to meet his death.
And straightway it’s grown quiet on the planet
That bears a name so modest… Earth.
by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)
from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)
translation by D. M. Thomas
Fun fact: The poem refers to the death of Boris Pasternak (29 January 1890 – 30 May 1960).
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)