You're not alone. You haven't died,
while you still,beggar-woman at your side,
take pleasure in the grandeur of the plain,
the gloom, the cold,the whirlwinds of snow.
In sumptuous penury, in mighty poverty
live comforted and at rest -
your days and nights are blest,
your sweet-voiced labour without sin.
Unhappy he, a shadow of himself,
whom a bark astounds and the wind mows down,
and to be pitied he, more dead than alive,
who begs handouts from a ghost.
by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam.)
His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
translated by Andrew Davis
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)
Drawing the youthful Goethe to their breast,
those Roman nights took on the weight of gold…
I’ve much to answer for, yet still am graced;
an outlawed life has depths yet to be told.
by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
translated by Robert Chandler
A certain engineer made up his mind to build a giant brick wall across all of Petersburg. He thinks over how this is to be accomplished, he doesn’t sleep nights reasoning it out. Gradually a club of thinker-engineers forms and a plan for building the wall is produced. It is decided that the wall will be built during the night and in such a way that the whole thing is put up in one night, so that it would appear as a surprise to all. Workers are rounded up. The job is divided up. The city authorities are lured away, and finally the night comes when the wall is to be built. Only four people know of the building of the wall. The engineers and workers are given exact orders as to where each should go and what each should do there. Thanks to exacting calculations, they’re able to build the wall in one night. The next day Petersburg is all commotion. The inventor of the wall himself is dispondent. What this wall was good for, he himself never knew.
by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)
a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)
translated by Matvei Yankelevich
I want to visit the roses
In that lonely
Park where the statues remember me young
And I remember them under the water
Of the Neva. In the fragrant quiet
Between the limes of Tsarskoye I hear
A creak of masts. And the swan swims
Still, admiring its lovely
Double. And a hundred thousand steps,
Friend and enemy, enemy and friend,
Sleep. Endless is the procession of shades
Between granite vase and palace door.
There my white nights
Whisper of someone’s discreet exalted
Love. And everything is mother-
Of-pearl and jasper,
But the light’s source is a secret.
by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)
(July, 1959, Leningrad)
from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)
translation by D. M. Thomas
Fun facts: The Summer Garden (Летний сад) occupies an island between the Fontanka, Moika, and the Swan Canal in Saint Petersburg (a.k.a. Leningrad), Russia and shares its name with the adjacent Summer Palace of Peter the Great.
Akhmatova recites her poem:
The text in the original Russian Cyrillic:
Я к розам хочу, в тот единственный сад,
Где лучшая в мире стоит из оград,
Где статуи помнят меня молодой,
А я их под невскою помню водой.
В душистой тиши между царственных лип
Мне мачт корабельных мерещится скрип.
И лебедь, как прежде, плывет сквозь века,
Любуясь красой своего двойника.
И замертво спят сотни тысяч шагов
Врагов и друзей, друзей и врагов.
А шествию теней не видно конца
От вазы гранитной до двери дворца.
Там шепчутся белые ночи мои
О чьей-то высокой и тайной любви.
И все перламутром и яшмой горит,
Но света источник таинственно скрыт.
We remember wartime
The leaves were red
And skies were tight.
Singers in uniform
Cracked burst buckled
The living the key workers
The throats of loyal trumpets
The minds of washed out cockpits
Our prayers were pistons
Our leaders in bunkers
As indestructable as rats
The tongues and necks
Of true survivors
In one cold wood
A headless boy
A thin man prays
In his own blood
On every side
Wait to be counted
In old blood
Are not doors
They are the walls
Of empty tombs
At stated times
By true survivors
by Emyr Humphreys
Fun fact: He registered as a conscientious objector in the Second World War, working on a farm, and later doing relief work in Egypt and Italy. After the war he worked as a teacher, as a radio producer at the BBC and later became a lecturer in drama at Bangor University.
We have scratched our names in the London dust,
Sung sometimes like the Jews of Babylon
Under the dusty trees of Hyde Park Corner,
Almost believing in a Jesus of Cardigan
Or a Moses on the mountains of Merioneth;
We have dreamed by the Thames of Towy and Dee,
And whistled in dairy shops in the morning,
Whistled of Harlech and Aberdovey.
We have grown sentimental in London
Over things that we smiled at in Wales.
Sometimes in Woolwich we have seen the mining valleys
More beautiful than we ever saw them with our eyes.
We have carried our accents into Westminster
As soldiers carry rifles into the wars;
We have carried our idioms into Piccadilly,
Food for the critics on Saturday night.
We have played dominoes in Lambeth with Alfred the Great,
And lifted a glass with Henry VIII
In the tavern under the railway bridge
On Friday nights in winter;
And we have argued with Chaucer down the Old Kent Road
On the englynion of the Eisteddfod.
We have also shivered by the Thames in the night
And know that the frost has no racial distinctions.
by Idris Davies