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)
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)
translated by Jon Stallworthy and Peter France
Below is the original Russin version in Cyrillic
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.
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)
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.
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 -
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,
Вот какова была в тот день вода
И речь ее - без смысла и значенья.
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.
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
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)
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.
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)
translated by Peter Oram
Fun fact: Annensky is thinking of a statue of Pushkin in the Lycee Garden in Tsarkoye Selo.