Alive by R. S. Thomas

It is alive. It is you,

God. Looking out I can see,

no death. The earth moves, the

sea moves, the wind goes

on its exuberant

journeys. Many creatures

reflect you, the flowers

your colour, the tides the precision

of your calculations. There

is nothing too ample

for you to overflow, nothing

so small that your workmanship

is not revealed. I listen

and it is you speaking.

I find the place where you lay

warm. At night, if I waken,

there are the sleepless conurbations

of the stars. The darkness

is the deepening shadow

of your presence; the silence a

process in the metabolism

of the being of love.

.

.

by R. S. Thomas

from Laboratories of the Spirit

(1975)

На пороге ночи (Fall of Night) by Novella Matveyeva

In the evening the path

Is violet-grey,

A sulphuric, lilac shade.

And, like a nut

That ripens and

Comes loose from its own walls,

The moon comes away from the walls of the sky,

And from the moisture-filled clouds,

And sets out for the weightless firmament,

Lonely and cast adrift…

.

The gypsy shadows of the trees

Sweep the road with their curls…

Far off, aside, a desolate

Pond smokes and glitters,

Like the drowsy fire in a pipe,

Dull, quenched, half-dead,

Stuffed into the sleeve, under the damp fur

Of a sheepskin-coat.

.

From there, from that damp, sad place,

Into the dry-leafed coppice an owl bowls, head over heels,

Its wings bulky yet nimble –

Fluttering millstones.

It flies shaggily,

Ridiculously;

It flies like something sewn up in a grey sack,

With oblique slits for eyes.

Its clumsy dance in the fresh air

Is like a rudderless, compassless boat’s…

Be off, absurd creature, be off!

Beyond the ditch, black as an abyss,

Bushes shine glassily, like vessels filled with some

Medicinal infusion.

.

It is the prelude to night…

.

Night.

Like uprights and arcs,

Above the warm,

Lonely expanse

Are motionless sounds…

.

by Новелла Николаевна Матвеева

(Novella Nikolayevna Matveyeva)

(1965?)

translated by Daniel Weissbort

.

Beneath is the original Russian version of the poem in Cyrillic.

.

На пороге ночи

У тропки вечерней сиренево-серный
И серо-лиловый оттенок.
И, словно орех, который, созрев,
Отходит от собственных стенок,
Отходит луна от небес волокна,
От облачного потока,
И к легкому своду уходит она
Отколото, одиноко...

Деревьев цыганские тени кудрями дорогу метут...
Вдали, в запустенье, дымится и светится пруд,
Как жар, потухающий в трубке цыгана,
Мечтательно замерший наполовину,
Попав под рукав, под сырую овчину
Тумана...

Оттуда, из сырости грустной,
В лесок сухокудрый летит, кувыркаясь, сова:
Я слышу, я слышу крыла ее грузные,
О, эти порхающие жернова!
Летит она прозорливо и слепо, -
Движением тяжким и скорым, как шок.
Летит клочковато, летит нелепо,
Летит, как зашитая в серый мешок
С косыми прорезями для глаз...

Как пляска ладьи, где отшибло и руль и компас,
В воздухе свежем танец ее корявый...
Прочь, абсурдная,
Прочь!

...За черной, как пропасть, канавой
Стеклянно блистают кусты, как сосуды с целебным настоем, -
Это вступление в ночь...
Ночь.

Как столбики и как дуги,
Над теплым,
Над сиротливым простором
Стоят неподвижные звуки.

Night Sky by R.S. Thomas

What they are saying is
that there is life there, too;
that the universe is the size it is
to enable us to catch up.

They have gone on from the human;
that shining is a reflection
of their intelligence. Godhead
is the colonisation by mind

of untenanted space. It is its own
light, a statement beyond language
of conceptual truth. Every night
is a rinsing myself of the darkness

that is in my veins. I let the stars inject me
with fire, silent as it is far,
but certain in its cauterising
of my despair. I am a slow

traveller. But there is more than time
to arrive. Resting in the intervals
of my breathing, I pick up the signals
relayed to me from a periphery I comprehend.

by R. S. Thomas
from Frequencies (1978)

Зимнее небо (Winter Sky) by Boris Pasternak

Out of the smoky air now are plucked down
Stars for the past week frozen in flight.
Head over heels reels the skaters' club,
Clinking its rink with the glass of the night.

Slower, slower, skater, step slow-er,
Cutting the curve as you swerve by.
Every turn a constellation
Scraped by the skate into Norway's sky.

Fetters of frozen iron shackle the air.
Hey, skaters! There it's all the same
That night is on earth with its ivory eyes
Snake-patterned like a domino game;

That the moon, like a numb retriever's tongue,
Is freezing to bars as tight as a vice;
That mouths, like forgers' mouths, are filled
Brim-full with lava of breathtaking ice.


By Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к
(Boris Leonidovich Pasternak)
(1914-1916 )
translated by Jon Stallworthy and Peter France

Below is the original Russin version in Cyrillic

 Зимнее небо

Цeльнoю льдинoй из дымнoсти вынутa
Стaвший с нeдeлю звeздный пoтoк.
Клуб кoнькoбeжцeв ввepxу oпpoкинут:
Чoкaeтся сo звoнкoю нoчью кaтoк.

Peжe-peжe-pe-жe ступaй, кoнькoбeжeц,
В бeгe ссeкaя шaг свысoкa.
Нa пoвopoтe сoзвeздьeм вpeжeтся
В нeбo нopвeгии скpeжeт кoнькa.

Вoздуx oкoвaн мepзлым жeлeзoм.
O кoнькoбeжцы! Тaм - всe paвнo,
Чтo, кaк глaзa сo змeиным paзpeзoм,
Нoчь нa зeмлe, и кaк кoсть дoминo;

Чтo языкoм oбoмлeвшeй лeгaвoй
Мeсяц к сeбe пpимepзaeт; чтo pты,
Кaк у фaльшивoмoнeтчикoв, - лaвoй
Дуx зaxвaтившeгo льдa нaлиты.

На берегу (On the Bank) by Arseny Tarkovsky

He was sitting by the river, among reeds

that peasants had been scything for their thatch.

And it was quiet there, and in his soul

it was quieter and stiller still.

He kicked off his boots and put

his feet into the water, and the water

began talking to him, not knowing

he didn't know its language.

He had thought that water is deaf-mute,

that the home of sleepy fish is without words,

that blue dragonflies hover over water

and catch mosquitoes or horseflies,

that you wash if you want to wash, and drink

if you want to drink, and that's all there is

to water. But in all truth

the water's language was a wonder,

a story of some kind about some thing,

some unchanging thing that seemed

like starlight, like the swift flash of mica,

like a divination of disaster.

And in it was something from childhood,

from not being used to counting life in years,

from what is nameless

and comes at night before you dream,

from the terrible, vegetable

sense of self

of your first season.


That's how the water was that day,

and its speech was without rhyme or reason.


by Арсений Александрович Тарковский
(Arseny Alexandrovich Tarkovsky)
(1954)
translated by Robert Chandler

Arseny was the father of the famous and highly influential film director Andrei Tarkovsky. His poetry was often quoted in his son’s films.

Beneath is the original version of the poem.

На берегу

Он у реки сидел на камыше,
Накошенном крестьянами на крыши,
И тихо было там, а на душе
Еще того спокойнее и тише.
И сапоги он скинул. И когда
Он в воду ноги опустил, вода
Заговорила с ним, не понимая,
Что он не знает языка ее.
Он думал, что вода - глухонемая
И бессловесно сонных рыб жилье,
Что реют над водою коромысла
И ловят комаров или слепней,
Что хочешь мыться - мойся, хочешь -
пей,
И что в воде другого нету смысла.

И вправду чуден был язык воды,
Рассказ какой-то про одно и то же,
На свет звезды, на беглый блеск слюды,
На предсказание беды похожий.
И что-то было в ней от детских лет,
От непривычки мерить жизнь годами,
И от того, чему названья нет,
Что по ночам приходит перед снами,
От грозного, как в ранние года,
Растительного самоощущенья.

Вот какова была в тот день вода
И речь ее - без смысла и значенья.

Paramilitary Lover by Samantha Wynne Rhydderch

He strokes my neck like the barrel of a rifle

he might have killed that German with,

his boots by the door, susceptible to the cold.

I glow by the fire in tandem with

the rosewood dresser, impartial to flames,

me with a passion for granite, him

with his head shaved against the night,

shedding his armour plate by plate.

I sleep under his shield, enfolded

in an English flag I think will

become my shroud. While I thrill

among the lilies, placing a chestnut

on the grate like a move in chess,

I see the incentive of lace

defeat artillery hands down.


by Samantha Wynne Rhydderch

Interesting info: Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch, sometimes referred to as S. W. Rhydderch, has published two collections, Rockclimbing in Silk (Seren, 2001), and Not in These Shoes (Picador, 2008), which was shortlisted for Wales Book of the Year 2009.

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)

Friesian Bull by Gillian Clarke

He blunders through the last dream

of the night. I hear him, waking.

A brick and concrete stall, narrow

as a heifer’s haunches. Steel bars

between her trap and his small yard.

A froth of slobbered hay droops

from the stippled muzzle. In the slow

rolling mass of his skull his eyes

surface like fish bellies.

 

He is chained while they swill his floor.

His stall narrows to rage. He knows

the sweet smell of a heifer’s fear.

Remembered summer haysmells reach him,

a trace of the herd’s freedom, clover-

loaded winds. The thundering seed

blows up the Dee breathing of plains,

of cattle wading in shallows.

His crazy eyes churn with their vision.

 

By Gillian Clarke

from Letters from a Far Country (1982)


Fun fact: The River Dee (Welsh: Afon Dyfrdwy, Latin: Deva Fluvius) is a river in the United Kingdom. It flows through parts of both Wales and England, forming part of the border between the two countries.

Bronze Poet by Innokenty Annensky

Clouds that whiten in a dome of blue

and twisted trees sharply delineated,

the dust aglow, each shadow elongated

and phantoms that pass through the heart anew.

Why was the tale so brief? I cannot say.

Was there a second half I didn’t know?

In pale skies the clouds dissolve away

and night roams through the blackened tree below.

That man, the bench he sits on in the dusk

are growing heavier and more grotesque…

Don’t move! For as carnations start to shine

and leafy bushes melt and intertwine,

the poet shakes away his uniform

of tired bronze and prings on the lawn.

 

by Иннокентий Фёдорович Анненский (Innokenty Fyodorovich Annensky)

(date unknown)

translated by Peter Oram


Fun fact: Annensky is thinking of a statue of Pushkin in the Lycee Garden in Tsarkoye Selo.

‘Tears of humanity, tears of humanity’ by Fyodor Tyutchev

Tears of humanity, tears of humanity,

flowing eternally early and late…

Flowing invisibly, flowing in secrecy,

ever abundantly, ever unceasingly –

flowing as rain flows with autumn finality

all through the night like a river in spate.

 

by Фёдор Иванович Тютчев (Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev)

(Autumn 1849)

translated by Peter Tempest


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 of 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.