‘The Cuckoo I Asked…’ by Anna Akhmatova

The cuckoo I asked

How many years I would live… The

Pine tops shivered,

A yellow shaft fell to the grass.

In the fresh forest depths, no sound…

I am going

Home, and the cool wind

Caresses my hot brow.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1 June, 1919)

– from Подорожник (Plantain/Wayside Grass, 1921) translation by D. M. Thomas

The Ring by Gwyn Parry

See that field,

in ’39 a Heinkel crashed,

 

the bodies

scattered amongst the turnips

 

their uniforms

grey as morning.

 

I was the first there,

was just 29.

 

I looked through bits of wing and wire,

the Germans all dead.

 

I knelt down on my knees

and see this ring,

 

I wiggled it

from the pilot’s finger,

 

took it home

in my hankerchief,

 

cleaned off

the mud and the blood,

 

put it on

my little finger,

 

where late at night

it burned

 

my tongue a knot

of strange language,

 

shame

winking

 

from all corners

of the room.

 

by Gwyn Parry

‘Now No-one Will Be Listening To Songs…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Now no-one will be listening to songs.

The days long prophesied have come to pass.

The world has no more miracles. Don’t break

My heart, song, but be still: you are the last.

 

Not long ago you took your morning flight

With all a swallow’s free accomplishment.

Now that you are a hungry beggar-woman,

Don’t go knocking at the stranger’s gate.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1917)

– from Подорожник (Plantain/Wayside Grass, 1921) translation by D. M. Thomas

That Summer by Emyr Humphreys

There was nothing to help us

Trapped in that ornamental summer

By sunlight and ubiquitous foreboding; the tides

The pebbles indifferent to our sore feet

Told us nothing: banner headlines

Congealed those lukewarm fish and chips.

 

From where we stood to the horizon

The future stretched like a brooding canvas

Awaiting a blood stained brush. There were rocks

and groundsheets to sleep on, nowhere to go.

Only the tanks knew where to assemble.

 

Who would win who would lose

Whose corpse would hang on the wire

Would come later. The seagulls knew

More than we did as they wheeled above us

Like fighter bombers, their droppings

Illegible leafets, mobilising their screeches

As they crossed and recrossed concrete

Frontiers reinforced in the Underworld.

 

It didn’t need to happen. It shouldn’t

But it would. Limbs still free

Twitched with the urge to run: the sea

Was a threat not a refuge: the sky

Was closing in. We could only turn and face

The mouth of the tunnel: only wait

For the machine to emerge and howl

On our behalf as it ran us down.

 

by Emyr Humphreys

Gurnos Shops by Mike Jenkins

An emaciated tree

clinging to its blackened leaves,

the wind snuffles chip-cartons.

 

The road’s an aerial view

of dirt-dragging streams,

its scabs peeled off by tyres.

 

Clouds collect exhaust-fumes.

A man takes his beer-gut for a walk,

his wife follows on a lead unseen.

 

They won’t climb up on plinths

where benches ought to be

and pose like shop-dummies.

 

Lamp-posts droop their nightly heads,

strays will do the watering.

Graffiti yells, but nobody’s listening.

 

by Mike Jenkins

‘I Hear The Oriole’s Always Grieving Voice…’ by Anna Akhmatova

I hear the oriole’s always grieving voice,

And the rich summer’s welcome loss I hear

In the sickle’s serpentine hiss

Cutting the corn’s ear tightly pressed to ear.

 

And the short skirts on the slim reapers

Fly in the wind like holiday pennants,

The clash of joyful cymbals, and creeping

From under dusty lashes, the long glance.

 

I don’t expect love’s tender flatteries,

In premonition of some dark event,

But come, come and see this paradise

Where together we were blessed and innocent.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (Summer, 1917)

– from Подорожник (Plantain/Wayside Grass, 1921) translation by D. M. Thomas

‘Now Farewell , Capital…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Now farewell, capital,

Farewell, my spring,

Already I can hear

Karelia yearning.

 

Fields and kitchen-gardens

Are green and peaceful,

The waters are still deep,

And the skies still pale.

 

And the marsh rusalka,

Mistress of those parts,

Gazes, sighing, up at

The bell-tower cross.

 

And the oriole, friend

Of my innocent days,

Has flown back from the south

And cries among the branches

 

That it’s shameful to stay

Until May in the cities,

To stifle in theatres,

Grow bored on the islands.

 

But the oriole doesn’t know,

Rusalka won’t understand,

How lovely it is

Kissing him!

 

All the same, right now,

On the day’s quiet slope,

I’m going. God’s land,

Take me to you!

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1917)

– from Подорожник (Plantain, 1921) translation by D. M. Thomas