Three Robinson Crusoes
in an abandoned shack,
we found a real find -
a single, battered book.
We three were friends
and we quickly agreed
to share out this treasure
as Solomon decreed.
The foreword for cigarette paper:
one friend was delighted
with a gift so unlikely
he feared he was dreaming.
The second made playing cards
from the notes at the back.
May his play bring him pleasure,
every page bring him luck.
As for my own cut -
those precious jottings,
the dreams of a poet
now long forgotten -
it was all that I wanted.
How wisely we'd judged.
What a joy to set foot in
a forgotten hut.
by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)
translated by Robert Chandler
Additional Information: The poem refers to Yevgeny Abramovich Baratynsky (Евге́ний Абра́мович Бараты́нский ) who was lauded by Alexander Pushkin as the finest Russian elegiac poet. After a long period, where his reputation was on the wane, Baratynsky was rediscovered by the Russian Symbolism poets as a supreme poet of thought.
My hero bares his nerves along my wrist
That rules from wrist to shoulder,
Unpacks the head that, like a sleepy ghost,
Leans on my mortal ruler,
The proud spine spurning turn and twist.
And these poor nerves so wired to the skull
Ache on the lovelorn paper
I hug to love with my unruly scrawl
That utters all love hunger
And tells the page the empty ill.
My hero bares my side and sees his heart
Tread; like a naked Venus,
The beach of flesh, and wind her bloodred plait;
Stripping my loin of promise,
He promises a secret heat.
He holds the wire from this box of nerves
Praising the mortal error
Of birth and death, the two sad knaves of thieves,
And the hunger’s emperor;
He pulls that chain, the cistern moves.
by Dylan Thomas
from 18 Poems
Fun fact: People speculate that this poem is about teenage mastrubation in the solitude of the toilet ever on the verge of being discovered. Meanwhile others think it’s about his writing pen… well up until the latter half.
In black memory you’ll find, fumbling,
A glove to the elbow that unlocks
A Petersburg night. And a crumbling
Air of sweetness in the murky box.
A wind from the gulf. And, there, between
The lines of a stormy page,
Blok, smiling scornfully, holds the scene,
The tragic tenor of the age.
by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)
from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)
translation by D. M. Thomas
Fun fact: ‘Blok’ here of course refers to the Russian lyrical poet Alexander Blok who had died in 1921.
I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.
Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:
Cold, delicately as the dark snow,
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now
Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come
Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Coming about its own business
Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.
by Ted Hughes (1930-1998)
from The Hawk In The Rain