How bare the countryside! What dearth
How stark the hamlets’ desolation…
Long-suffering country of my birth,
poor homeland of the Russian nation.
Never will the stranger’s gaze
look deeper to perceive or guess
what hidden light there is that plays
and shimmers through your nakedness.
In servant’s guise the King of Heaven,
beneath the cross in anguish bent,
has walked the length and breadth of Russia,
blessing her people as he went.
by Фёдор Иванович Тютчев (Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev)
translated by Avril Pyman
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.
No, not the moon – the bright face of a clock
glimmers to me. How is it my fault
that I perceive the feeble stars as milky?
And I hate Batyushkov’s unbounding arrogance:
What time is it? Someone simply asked –
and he replied to them: eternity!
by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
translated by Boris Dralyuk
Fun fact: Such an exchange did occur between Konstanin Batyushkov and his doctor and in his poem ‘For The Tombstone of a Little Girl’ he imagined a dead baby saying to her parents ‘Dear ones, don’t cry! / Envy my ephemerality; / I did not know this life, / And know eternity’ (translation by Peter France).
O make me a mask and a wall to shut from your spies
Of the sharp, enamelled eyes and the spectacled claws
Rape and rebellion in the nurseries of the face,
Gag of a dumbstruck tree to block from bare enemies
The bayonet tongue in this undefended prayerpiece,
The present mouth, and the sweetly blown trumpet of lies,
Shaped in old armour and oak the counternance of a dunce
To shield the glistening brain and blunt the examiners,
And a tear-stained widower grief drooped from the lashes
To veil belladonna and let the dry eyes perceive
Others betray the lamenting lies of their losses
By the curve of the nude mouth or the laugh up the sleeve.
by Dylan Thomas
(Notebook version March 1933; rephrased and severely shortened November 1937)
He seeks to defend his inner privacy against the sharp examination of strangers and critics.