‘Gotta keep living, though I’ve died twice’ Osip Mandelstam

Gotta keep living, though I’ve died twice,

and water’s driving the city crazy:

how beautiful, what high cheekbones, how happy,

how sweet the fat earth to the plough,

how the steppe extends in an April upheaval,

and the sky, the sky – pure Michelangelo…

 

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)

(1935)

translated by Andrew Davis

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Shrine at Cape Clear by R.S. Thomas

She is more white than the sea’s

Purest spray, and colder

To touch. She is nourished

By salt winds, and the prayers

Of the drowned break on her. She smiles

At the stone angels, who have turned

From the sea’s truth to worship

The mystery of her dumb child.

The bay brings her the tribute

Of its silences. The ocean has left

An offering of the small flowers

Of its springs; but the men read,

Beyond the harbour on the horizon,

The fury of its obituaries

by R. S. Thomas

from Not That He Brought Flowers (1968)


Fun fact: The poem refers to Cape Clear Island off the coast of Ireland. Clear Island or Cape Clear Island (officially known by its Irish name: Cléire, and sometimes also called Oileán Chléire) lies south-west of County Cork in Ireland. It is the southernmost inhabited part of the island of Ireland and has a population of over 100 people. Officially it is a Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking area), and most inhabitants speak Irish and English. Archaeological sites on the island include a prehistoric cup-marked stone (moved to the island’s museum), a fulacht fiadh at Gort na Lobhar, a neolithic passage tomb at Cill Leire Forabhain, several standing stones around the island, a promontory fort at Dún an Óir, and a signal tower dating from the Napoleonic Wars. The island also has a number of early Christian sites, and is reputed to be the birthplace of Saint Ciarán of Saigir. The ruins of 12th century church are close to the main pier.

What Are We To Do? by Daniil Kharms

While the dolphin and the sea-horse

Played silly games together,

The ocean beat against the cliffs

And washed the cliffs with its water.

The scary water moaned and cried.

The stars shone. Years went by.

Then the horrid hour came:

I am no more, and so are you,

The sea is gone, the cliffs, the mountains,

And the stars gone, too;

Only the choir sounds out of the dead void.

And for simplicity’s sake, our wrathful God

Sprung up and blew away the dust of centuries,

And now, freed from the shackles of time

He flies alone, his own and only dearest friend.

Cold everywhere, and darkness blind.

 

by ‘Dandan‘ a pseudonym used by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)

(15 October 1934)

translated by Matvei Yankelevich


Fun fact: A dandan or dendan is a mythical sea creature that appears in volume 9 of ‘The Book of One Thousand and One Nights’ (or more commonly ‘Arabian Nights’). It appears in the tale “Abdullah the Fisherman and Abdullah the Merman”, where the merman tells the fisherman that the dandan is the largest fish in the sea and is the enemy of the mermen. A dendan is capable of swallowing a ship and all its crew in a single gulp. Kharms was probably aware of this and thus played on it for one of his pseudonyms.

‘Perechin sat on a thumbtack…’ by Daniil Kharms

Perechin sat on a thumbtack, and from that moment his life changed drastically. Ordinarily a thoughtful, quiet person, Perechin transformed into a typical scoundrel. He grew out his mustache and from that point onwards trimmed them with exceptional clumsiness, so that one of his mustaches was always longer than the other. And, generally speaking, his mustache grew a bit crooked. It became impossible to even look at Perechin. Adding to that, he got in the habit of winking and jerking his jowl in the most loathsome manner. For a while, Perechin limited himself to petty baseness: he gossiped, he ratted, and he cheated tram conductors by paying them in the smallest bronze coins and always underpaying by two or even three kopecks.

 

by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)

(Wednesday, 14 October 1940)

translated by Matvei Yankelevich

‘How bare the countryside! What dearth’ by Fyodor Tyutchev

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)

(1855)

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.

Предсказание (A Prophecy) by Mikhail Lermontov

A year will come – of Russia’s blackest dread;

then will the crown fall from the royal head,

the throne of tsars will perish in the mud,

the food of many will be death and blood;

both wife and babe will vainly seek the law:

it will not shield the victims any more;

the putrid, rotting plague will mow and cut

and boldly walk the road from hut to hut;

in people’s sight its pallid face will float,

and hunger’s hand will clutch them by the throat;

a scarlet sea will send its bloody surge;

a mighty man will suddenly emerge:

you’ll recognize the man, you’ll feel

that he has come to use a knife of steel;

oh, dreadful day! Your call, your groan, your prayer

will only make him laugh at your despair;

and everything in his forbidding sight –

his brow, his cloak – will fill the land with fright.

 

by Михаил Юрьевич Лермонтов (Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov)

(1830)

translated by Anatoly Liberman


Fun facts: He wrote this in 1830 and the irony hasn’t been lost on Russian people that less than a hundred years later Nikolai II would lose this throne and… well it’s hard not to immediately see Lermontov’s prophecy (though ‘prediction’ is the more direct translation of the Russian title) proved an all too accurate omen of events during the twentieth century during the Soviet era.

A recital of the poem in Russian:

Original Russian version:

Предсказание

Настанет год, России черный год,
Когда царей корона упадет;
Забудет чернь к ним прежнюю любовь,
И пища многих будет смерть и кровь;
Когда детей, когда невинных жен
Низвергнутый не защитит закон;
Когда чума от смрадных, мертвых тел
Начнет бродить среди печальных сел,
Чтобы платком из хижин вызывать,
И станет глад сей бедный край терзать;
И зарево окрасит волны рек:
В тот день явится мощный человек,
И ты его узнаешь — и поймешь,
Зачем в руке его булатный нож:
И горе для тебя! — твой плач, твой стон
Ему тогда покажется смешон;
И будет всё ужасно, мрачно в нем,
Как плащ его с возвышенным челом.