A Winter Convalescence by Dannie Abse

The coast shrugs, when the camera clicks,

deliberately. The cliffs blur,

and the sun’s mashed in the west.

.

It’s sac broken, its egg-mess sticks

on the winter sea, smears it.

The air develops ghosts of soot

that become more evident, minute by minute.

They’re clever. They have no shape.

Things hum.

.

Very few oblongs blaze

in the Grand Hotel.

God, how the promenade’s empty.

The pier’s empty too

but for the figure at the far end, shadowy,

hunched with a bending rod.

That one no taller than a thumb.

.

It’s strange the way people go smaller

the further they are away. Most of the time

you even forget who died.

But supposing things did not get smaller?

Best to go inside. Best to push

revolving doors to where it’s warmer,

where only a carpet makes you dizzy.

.

Inside, things hum.

Inside the insides the corridors wait.

A door opens, a hand comes out,

It’s cut off at the elbow,

it holds a pair of shoes

cut off at the ankles.

.

Walk faster. God, someone is breathing,

walk faster. Humankind

cannot bear very much unreality.

.

That’s right – lock this door, you clumsy…

Yet things still hum, things still hum.

Who blinks?

Who spies with his little eye

what no-one else has spied?

Best to pull the curtains on the night,

but then certain objects focus near:

the wardrobe with its narrow door,

the bible by the bedside.

.

Lie down, easy; lie down.

Who masturbated here?

Who whipped the ceiling? Cracked them?

Things hum.

Two blue, astringent eyes drag down their lids.

The dark comes from the lift-shaft.

.

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By Dannie Abse

from A Small Desperation (1968)

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Fun for readers: Which Grand Hotel is Abse speaking of in the poem? Answers in the comments.

Зимняя ночь (Winter Night) by Boris Pasternak

Snow, snow, all the world over,

Snow to the world’s end swirling,

A candle was burning on the table,

A candle burning.

.

As midges swarming in summer

Fly to the candle flame,

The snowflakes swarming outside

Flew at the window frame.

.

The blizzard etched on the window

Frosty patterning.

A candle was burning on the table,

A candle burning.

.

The lighted ceiling carried

A shadow frieze:

Entwining hands, entwining feet,

Entwining destinies.

.

And two little shoes dropped,

Thud, from the mattress.

And candle wax like tears dropped

On an empty dress.

.

And all was lost in a tunnel

Of grey snow churning.

A candle was burning on the table,

A candle burning.

.

And when a draught flattened the flame,

Temptation blazed

And like a fiery angel raised

Two cross-shaped wings.

.

All February the snow fell

And sometimes till morning

A candle was burning on the table,

A candle burning.

.

.

By Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к

(Boris Leonidovich Pasternak)

(Poem from Dr Zhivago)

(1948)

translated by Jon Stallworthy and Peter France

A recital of Pasternak’s poem set to music by Boris Vetrov and accompanied by photos of sculptural works by Auguste Rodin. The recital begins at 1:30.

Beneath is the original Cyrillic version of the poem.

Зимняя ночь

Мело, мело по всей земле
Во все пределы.
Свеча горела на столе,
Свеча горела.

Как летом роем мошкара
Летит на пламя,
Слетались хлопья со двора
К оконной раме.

Метель лепила на стекле
Кружки и стрелы.
Свеча горела на столе,
Свеча горела.

На озаренный потолок
Ложились тени,
Скрещенья рук, скрещенья ног,
Судьбы скрещенья.

И падали два башмачка
Со стуком на пол.
И воск слезами с ночника
На платье капал.

И все терялось в снежной мгле
Седой и белой.
Свеча горела на столе,
Свеча горела.

На свечку дуло из угла,
И жар соблазна
Вздымал, как ангел, два крыла
Крестообразно.

Мело весь месяц в феврале,
И то и дело
Свеча горела на столе,
Свеча горела.

Robin by R. S. Thomas

Dawn. The robin

crumbles his song

into a few pieces

for our Communion.

And humbly we accept;

we need the sacrament

of the Real Presence

if we are to continue

to believe. Pure

spirit is a refraction

only. It is the rainbow

in life’s spray that,

when we put our starved hand

into, lets our hand through.

.

But this wafer of song

we touch with the tip

of our belief, is it not

the pearl without price

we were told of and

have come upon that

we must give up all

our payments on a hire-purchase

happiness to make our own?

.

.

By R. S. Thomas

from Unpublished Poems

Осень (Autumn) by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Within me is an autumn season.

There is transparency and coolness

Sadness, but not desolation,

And I am humble, full of goodness.

.

And if sometimes I storm aloud

Then I storm, to shed my leaves:

And the thought comes, simply, sadly,

That to storm is not what is needed.

.

The main thing is to learn to see

Myself and the world of toil and torment

In autumnal nakedness

When you and the world become transparent.

.

Insight is the child of silence.

No matter if we make no tumult:

We must calmly shed all noise

In the name of the new leaves.

.

Something, certainly, has happened:

Only on silence I rely

Where the leaves, piling on each other,

Are silently becoming soil.

.

And you see all, as from some height,

When you dare cast your leaves in time

And inner autumn, without passion,

Touches your brow with airy fingers.

.

.

by Евгений Александрович Евтушенко

Yevgeny Aleksandrovich Yevtushenko

(1965)

translation by J R Rowland

Alexei Simonov, the son of the poet Konstantin Simonov, recites the poem.

Beneath is the original version the poem in Cyrillic.

.

Осень

Внутри меня осенняя пора.

Внутри меня прозрачно прохладно,

и мне печально и, но не безотрадно,

и полон я смиренья и добра.

.

А если я бушую иногда.

то это я бушую, облетая,

и мысль приходит, грустная, простая,

что бушевать – не главная нужда.

.

А главная нужда – чтоб удалось

себя и мир борьбы и потрясений

увидеть в обнаженности осенней,

когда и ты и мир видны насквозь.

.

Прозренья – это дети тишины.

Не страшно, если шумно не бушуем.

Спокойно сбросить все, что было шумом,

во имя новых листьев мы должны.

.

Случилось что-то, видимо, со мной,

и лишь на тишину я полагаюсь,

где листья, друг на друга налагаясь,

неслышимо становятся землей.

.

И видишь все, как с некой высоты,

когда сумеешь к сроку листья сбросить,

когда бесстрастно внутренняя осень

кладет на лоб воздушные персты.

I was born in Rhymney by Idris Davies

I was born in Rhymney

To a miner and his wife –

On a January morning

I was pulled into this Life.

.

Among Anglicans and Baptists

And Methodists I grew,

And my childhood had to chew and chance

The creed of such a crew.

.

I went to church and chapel

Ere I could understand

That Apollo rules the heavens

And Mammon rules the land.

.

And I woke on many mornings

In a little oblong room,

And saw the frown of Spurgeon:

‘Beware, my boy, of doom.’

.

And there was the family Bible

Beneath a vase of flowers,

With pictures of the Holy Land

That enchanted me for hours.

.

And there was my Uncle Edward,

Solemn and stern and grey,

A Calvinistic Methodist

Who made me kneel and pray.

.

He would carry me on his shoulders

When I was six or seven

And tell me of the golden days

When chariots flew to heaven.

.

He was furious against Pharaoh

And scornful about Eve,

But his pathos about Joseph

Could always make me grieve.

.

He knew the tribes and custom

And the apt geography

Of Jerusalem and Jericho

And the hills of Galilee.

.

And Moses was his hero

And Jehovah was his God.

And his stories were as magical

As Aaron’s magic rod.

.

But sometimes from the Bible

He would turn to politics

And tell of Gladstone’s glory

And Disraeli’s little tricks.

.

But even William Ewart Gladstone

Of beloved memory

Would fade and be forgotten

When it came to D.L.G.

.

The little Celt from Criccieth,

The Liberal on fire,

He was the modern Merlin

And Moses and Isaiah!

.

The ghost of Uncle Edward

In a solemn bowler hat,

Does it haunt the plains of Moab

Or the slopes of Ararat?

.

Or lurks it in the Gateway,

Where Peter holds the key,

To welcome on the harp strings

The ghost of D. L. G.

.

I lost my native language

For the one the Saxon spake

By going to school by order

For education’s sake.

.

I learnt the use of decimals,

And where to place the dot,

Four or five lines from Shakespeare

And twelve from Walter Scott.

.

I learnt a little grammar,

And some geography,

Was frightened of perspective,

And detested poetry.

.

In a land of narrow valleys,

And solemn Sabbath Days,

And collieries and choirs,

I learnt my people’s ways.

.

I looked on local deacons

With not a little awe,

I waved a penny Union Jack

When Asquith went to war.

.

I pinned my faith in Kitchener

And later in Haig and Foch,

And pitied little Belgium

And cursed the bloody Boche.

.

We warred along the hillsides

And volleyed sticks and stones,

And sometimes smashed the windows

Of Mrs Hughes and Jones.

.

We stood in queues for apples,

For paraffin, and jam,

And were told to spit on Lenin,

And honour Uncle Sam.

.

But often in the evenings

When all the stars were out

We played beneath the lamp-post

And did not stop to doubt

.

That the world was made for children

Early on Christmas Day

By a jolly old whiskered Josser

In a mansion far away.

.

And there were the hours for Chaplin,

Pearl White, and Buffalo Bill,

And the hours for nests and whinberries

High on the summer hill.

.

And O the hour of lilac

And a leopard in the sky,

And the heart of childhood singing

A song that cannot die!

.

I learnt of Saul and Jesus

In the little Sunday School,

And later learnt to muse and doubt

By some lonely mountain pool.

.

I saw that creeds could comfort

And hypocrisy console

But in my blood were battles

No Bible could control.

.

And I praised the unknown Artist

Of crag and fern and stream

For the sunshine on the mountains

And the wonder of a dream.

.

On one February morning,

Unwillingly I went

To crawl in moleskin trousers

Beneath the rocks of Gwent.

.

And a chubby little collier

Grew fat on sweat and dust,

And listened to heated arguments

On God and Marx and lust.

.

For seven years among the colliers

I learnt to laugh and curse,

When times were fairly prosperous

And when they were ten times worse.

.

And I loved and loved the mountains

Against the cloudy sky,

The sidings, and the slag-heaps

That sometimes hurt the eye.

.

MacDonald was my hero,

The man who seemed inspired,

The leader with a vision,

Whose soul could not be hired!

.

I quoted from his speeches

In the coalface to my friends –

But I lived to see him selling

Great dreams for little ends.

.

And there were strikes and lock-outs

And meetings in the Square,

When Cook and Smith and Bevan

Electrified the air.

.

But the greatest of our battles

We lost in ’26

Through treachery and lying,

And Baldwin’s box of tricks.

.

I began to read from Shelley

In afternoons in May,

And to muse upon the misery

Of unemployment pay.

.

I stood in queues for hours

Outside the drab Exchange,

With my hands deep in my pockets

In a suit I could not change.

.

I stood before Tribunals

And smothered all my pride,

And bowed to my inferiors,

And raged with my soul outside.

.

And I walked my native hillsides

In sunshine and in rain,

And learnt the poet’s language

To ease me of my pain.

.

With Wordsworth and with Shelley

I scribbled out my dreams,

Sometimes among the slag-heaps,

Sometimes by mountain streams.

.

O I shook hands with Shelley

Among the moonlit fern,

And he smiled, and slowly pointed

To the heart that would not burn.

.

And I discovered Milton

In a shabby little room

Where I spent six summer evenings

In most luxurious gloom.

.

I met Macbeth and Lear,

And Falstaff full of wine,

And I went one day to Stratford

To tread on ground divine.

.

And I toiled through dismal evenings

With algebraical signs,

With Euclid and Pythagoras

And all their points and lines.

.

Sometimes there came triumph

But sometimes came despair,

And I would fling all books aside

And drink the midnight air.

.

And there were dark and bitter mornings

When the streets like coffins lay

Between the winter mountains,

Long and bleak and grey.

.

But season followed season

And beauty never died

And there were days and hours

Of hope and faith and pride.

.

In springtime I went roaming

Along the Severn Sea,

Rejoicing in the tempest

And its savage ecstasy.

.

And there were summer evenings

By Taf, and Usk, and Wye,

When the land was bright with colour

Beneath a quiet sky.

.

But always home to Rhymney

From wandering I came,

Back to the long and lonely

Self-tuition game,

.

Back to Euclid’s problems,

And algebraical signs,

And the route of trade and commerce,

And Caesar’s battle line,

.

Back to the lonely evenings

Of triumph and despair

In a little room in Rhymney

With a hint of mountain air.

.

O days I shall remember

Until I drop and die! –

Youth’s bitter sweet progression

Beneath a Rhymney sky.

.

At last I went to college,

To the city on the Trent,

In the land of D. H. Lawrence

And his savage Testament.

.

And history and poetry

Filled all my days and nights,

And in the streets of Nottingham

I harnessed my delights.

.

I loved the leafy villages

Along the winding Trent,

And sometimes sighed at sunset

For the darker hills of Gwent.

.

And the churches of East Anglia

Delighted heart and eye,

The little steepled churches

Against the boundless sky.

.

And lecture followed lecture

in the college by the lake,

And some were sweet to swallow

And some were hard to take.

.

I read from Keats and Lawrence,

And Eliot, Shaw, and Yeats,

And the ‘History of Europe

With diagrams and dates’.

.

I went to Sherwood Forest

To look for Robin Hood,

But little tawdry villas

Were where the oaks once stood.

.

And I heard the ghost of Lawrence

Raging in the night

Against the thumbs of Progress

That botched the land with blight.

.

And season followed season

And beauty never died,

And I left the land of Trent again

To roam by Rhymney’s side,

.

By the narrow Rhymney River

That erratically flows

Among the furnace ruins

Where the sullen thistle blows.

.

Then I tried for posts in Yorkshire,

In Staffordshire and Kent,

For hopeless was the striving

For any post in Gwent.

.

I wrote out testimonials

Till my hands began to cry

That the world was full of jackals

And beasts of smaller fry.

.

At last, at last, in London,

On one November day,

I began to earn my living,

To weave my words for pay.

.

At last I walked in London,

In park and square and street,

In bright and shady London

Where all the nations meet.

.

At last I lived in London

And saw the sun go down

Behind the mists of Richmond

And the smoke of Camden Town.

.

I watched the Kings of England

Go riding with his queen,

I watched the cats steal sausage

From stalls in Bethnal Green.

.

I tried the air of Hampstead,

I tried the brew of Bow,

I tried the cake of Kensington

And the supper of Soho.

.

I rode in trams and taxis

And tried the social round

And hurried home to Highgate

On the London Underground.

.

In little rooms in London

The poetry of Yeats

Was my fire and my fountain –

And the fury of my mates.

.

I found cherries in Jane Austen

And grapes in Hemingway,

And truth more strange than fiction

In the streets of Holloway.

.

And da Vinci and El Greco

And Turner and Cézanne,

They proved to me the splendour

And divinity of man.

.

I gazed at stones from Hellas,

And heard imagined trees

Echo across the ages

The words of Sophocles.

.

And often of a Sunday

I hailed the highest art,

The cataracts and gardens

Of Wagner and Mozart.

.

I studied Marx and Engels,

And put Berkeley’s theme aside,

And listened to the orators

Who yelled and cooed and cried

.

O the orators, the orators,

On boxes in the parks,

They judge the Day of Judgement

And award Jehovah marks.

.

O the orators, the orators,

When shall their voices die?

When London is a soap-box

With its bottom to the sky.

.

In many a public library

I watched the strong men sleep,

And virgins reading volumes

Which made their blushes deep.

.

Sometimes I watched the Commons

From the narrow galleries,

My left eye on the Premier,

My right on the Welsh MPs.

.

In Christopher Wren’s Cathedral

I heard Dean Inge lament

The lack of care in breeding

From Caithness down to Kent.

.

And once in the ancient Abbey

I heard Thomas Hardy sigh:

‘O why must a Wessex pagan

Here uneasily lie?’

.

To Castle Street Baptist Chapel

Like the prodigal son I went

To hear the hymns of childhood

And dream of a boy in Gwent,

.

To dream of far-off Sundays

When for me the sun would shine

On the broken hills of Rhymney

And the palms of Palestine.

.

With Tory and with Communist,

With atheist and priest,

I talked and laughed and quarrelled

Till light lit up the east.

.

The colonel and his nonsense,

The busman and his cheek,

I liked them all in London

For seven days a week.

.

O sometimes I was merry

In Bloomsbury and Kew,

When fools denied their folly

And swore that pink was blue.

.

And sometimes I lounged sadly

By the River in the night

And watched a body diving

And passed out of sight.

.

When the stars were over London

And lights lit up the Town,

I banished melancholy

And kept the critic down.

.

When the moon was bright on Eros

And the cars went round and round,

The whore arrived from Babylon

By the London Underground.

.

O I stood in Piccadilly

And sat in Leicester Square,

And mused on satin and sewerage

And lice and laissez-faire.

.

I saw some royal weddings

And a Silver Jubilee,

And a coloured Coronation,

And a King who crossed the sea.

.

In springtime to the shires

I went happy and alone,

And entered great cathedrals

To worship glass and stone.

.

I had holidays in Eire

Where the angels drink and dance,

And with a Tam from Ayrshire

I roamed the South of France.

.

For week-ends in the winter

When cash was pretty free,

I went to stay in Hastings

To argue by the sea.

.

For Sussex in the winter

Was dearer to me

Than Sussex full of trippers

Beside the summer sea.

.

In the wreck of Epping Forest

I listened as I lay

To the language of the Ghetto

Behind a hedge of May

.

And in the outer suburbs

I heard in the evening rain

The cry of Freud the prophet

On love and guilt and pain.

.

And on the roads arterial,

When London died away,

The poets of the Thirties

Were singing of decay.

.

I saw the placards screaming

About Hitler and his crimes,

Especially on Saturdays –

That happened many times.

.

And I saw folk digging trenches

In 1938,

In the dismal autumn drizzle

When all things seemed too late.

.

And Chamberlain went to Munich,

An umbrella at his side,

And London lost her laughter

And almost lost her pride.

.

I saw the crowds parading

And heard the angry cries

Around the dusty monuments

That gazed with frozen eyes.

.

The lands were full of fear,

And Hitler full of scorn,

And London full of critics

Whose nerves were badly torn.

.

And crisis followed crisis

Until at last the line

Of battle roared to fire

in 1939.

.

And then evacuation,

And London under fire,

And London in the distance,

The city of desire.

.

And the world is black with battle

in 1943,

And the hymn of hate triumphant

And loud from sea to sea.

.

And in this time of tumult

I can only hope and cry

That season shall follow season

And beauty shall not die.

.

.

By Idris Davies

(6 January 1905 – 6 April 1953)