There was Dai Puw. He was no good.
They put him in the fields to dock swedes,
And took the knife from him, when he came home
At late evening with a grin
Like the slash of a knife on his face.
There was Llew Puw, and he was no good.
Every evening after the ploughing
With the big tractor he would sit in his chair,
And stare into the tangled fire garden,
Opening his slow lips like a snail.
There was Huw Puw, too. What shall I say?
I have heard him whistling in the hedges
On and on, as though winter
Would never again leave those fields,
And all the trees were deformed.
And lastly there was the girl:
Beauty under some spell of the beast.
Her pale face was the lantern
By which they read in life's dark book
The shrill sentence: God is love.
by R. S. Thomas
from The Bread of Truth (1963)
The smell of hay is on the field,
and singing as they go
the women toss the heavy yield
and spread it row by row.
And yonder where the hay is dry
each man his forkful throws,
until the wagon loaded high
is like a house that grows.
The poor old horse who draws the cart
stands rooted in the heat,
with sagging knees and ears apart,
asleep upon his feet.
But little zhuchka speeds away
in barking brave commotion,
to dip and flounder in the hay
as in a grassy ocean.
by Аполлон Николаевич Майков (Apollon Nikolayevich Maikov)
translated by Frances Cornford and Esther Polianowsky Salaman
Fun facts: Zhuchka means ‘Bug’, as in a small insect using diminutive terminology as жучка (zhuchka) is a diminutive of жук (Zhuk). In Russian, perhaps even more so than in English even due to it’s various tonal aspects and gendered form (which if you look at the original version below clearly has alternating hard and soft line endings (though only in the first and last stanzas does it have what might be considered Pushkin verse i.e. alternating masculine and feminine lines), diminutives are used within children’s works to create a gentler tone.
This used to be the first poem that Russian children would learn due to it’s simple words and easy rhyme scheme (when in the original Russian obviously though the above translation gives a good translation of it with a little necessary artistic license due to the differences in the language). Here is a recital of the poem in Russian.
Maikov was best known for his lyric verse showcasing images of Russian villages, nature, and history. His love for ancient Greece and Rome, which he studied for much of his life, is also reflected in his works. Maikov spent four years translating the epic The Tale of Igor’s Campaign (1870) into modern Russian. He translated the folklore of Belarus, Greece, Serbia and Spain, as well as works by Heine, Adam Mickiewicz and Goethe, among others. Several of Maykov’s poems were set to music by Russian composers, among them Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky.
Innokenty Annensky once wrote:
“a poet usually chooses their own, particular method of communication with nature, and often this sis sport. Poets of the future may be cyclists or aeronauts. Byron was a swimmer, Goethe a skater, Lermontov a rider, many others of our poets (Turgenev, both Tolstoys, Nekrasov, Fet, Yazykov) were hunters. Maikov was a passionate fisherman and this occupation was in perfect harmony with his contemplative nature, with his love for a fair, sunny day, all of which is so vividly expressed in his poetry.”
Here is the poem in it’s original form:
Пахнет сеном над лугами…
В песне душу веселя,
Бабы с граблями рядами
Ходят, сено шевеля.
Там – сухое убирают;
Мужички его кругом
На воз вилами кидают…
Воз растет, растет, как дом.
В ожиданьи конь убогий
Точно вкопанный стоит…
Уши врозь, дугою ноги
И как будто стоя спит…
Только жучка удалая
В рыхлом сене, как в волнах,
То взлетая, то ныряя,
Скачет, лая впопыхах.
Plain song of owl
moonlight between cruciform
shadows of hunting.
She sings again
in the sycamore,
her coming quieter
than the wash
behind the wave,
her absence darker
in the leaves’ tabernacle.
Stations of the dark.
A flame floats on oil
in her amber eye.
by Gillian Clarke
from New Poems
The gay day flames. The grass is still.
Like greedy impotence, poppies rise,
like lips that lust and poison fill,
like wings of scarlet butteflies.
The gay day flames… The garden now
is empty. Lust and feast are done.
Like heads of hags, the poppies bow
beneath the bright cup of the sun.
by Иннокентий Фёдорович Анненский (Innokenty Fyodorovich Annensky)
translated by C. M. Bowra
Fun extra: Here is the poem performed in Russian.
The sower walks down the even furrows;
his fathers all furrowed the path he follows.
The young seed glitters gold in his hand,
but it must fall into the black ground.
There, amid the tunnels of the blind worm,
it will die on its due day – and grow again.
So now my soul treads the path of the grain –
down into darkness – and spring’s return.
And you, my people, and you, my native land,
you will die and live, when the dark months end,
for we have been granted only this one truth:
whatever lives must follow the grain’s path.
by Владислав Фелицианович Ходасевич (Vladislav Felitsianovich Khodasevich)
translated by Robert Chandler
Cars pass him by; he’ll never own one.
Men won’t believe in him for this.
Let them come into the hills
And meet him wandering a road,
Fenced with rain, as I have now;
The wind feathering his hair;
The sky’s ruins, gutted with fire
Of the late sun, smouldering still.
Nothing is his, neither the land
Nor the land’s flocks. Hired to live
On hills too lonely, sharing his hearth
With cats and hens, he has lost all
Property but the grey ice
Of a face splintered by life’s stone.
by R. S. Thomas
from Tares (1961)
Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove,
That Valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.
And we will sit upon the Rocks,
Seeing the Shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow Rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing Madrigals.
And I will make thee beds of Roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of Myrtle;
A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty Lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;
A belt of straw and Ivy buds,
With Coral clasps and Amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.
The Shepherds’ Swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May-morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me, and be my love.
by Christopher ‘Kit’ Marlowe
Fun fact: This was posted on the day of the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on 19 May 2018 which took place at Windsor Castle in England.
The poem was published six years after the poet’s death by stabbing. A warrant was issued for Marlowe’s arrest on 18 May 1593. No reason was given for it, though it was thought to be connected to allegations of blasphemy—a manuscript believed to have been written by Marlowe was said to contain “vile heretical conceipts”. On 20 May, he was brought to the court to attend upon the Privy Council for questioning. There is no record of their having met that day, however, and he was commanded to attend upon them each day thereafter until “licensed to the contrary”. Ten days later, he was stabbed to death by Ingram Frizer. Whether or not the stabbing was connected to his arrest remains unknown.
The poem was the subject of a well-known “reply” by Walter Raleigh, called “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd”. The interplay between the two poems reflects the relationship that Marlowe had with Raleigh. Marlowe was young, his poetry romantic and rhythmic, and in the Passionate Shepherd he idealises the love object (the Nymph). Raleigh was an old courtier and an accomplished poet himself. His attitude is more jaded, and in writing “The Nymph’s Reply,” it is clear that he is rebuking Marlowe for being naive and juvenile in both his writing style and the Shepherd’s thoughts about love. Subsequent responses to Marlowe have come from John Donne, C. Day Lewis, William Carlos Williams, Ogden Nash, W. D. Snodgrass, Douglas Crase and Greg Delanty, and Robert Herrick.