There by R.S. Thomas

They are those that life happens to.

They didn’t ask to be born

In those bleak farmsteads, but neither

Did they ask not. Life took the seed

And broadcast it upon the poor,

Rush-stricken soil, an experiment

In patience.

What is a man’s

Price? For promises of a break

In the clouds; for harvests that are not all

Wasted; for one animal born

Healthy, where seven have died,

He will kneel down and give thanks

In a chapel whose stones are wrenched

From the moorland.

I have watched them bent

For hours over their trade,

Speechless, and have held my tongue

From its question. It was not my part

To show them, like a meddler from the town,

their picture, nor the audiences

That look at them in pity or pride.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Pietà (1966)

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‘City of splendour, city of poor’ by Alexander Pushkin

City of splendour, city of poor,

spirit of grace and servitude,

heaven’s vault of palest lime,

boredom, granite, bitter cold –

still I miss you rather, for

down your streets from time to time

one may spy a tiny foot,

one may glimpse a lock of gold.

 

by Александр Сергеевич Пушкин (Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin)

a.k.a. Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin

(1828)

translated by Anthony Wood


Fun fact: Pushkin is most likely alluding to St Petersburg prior to his exile.

‘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.

My Hero Bares His Nerves by Dylan Thomas

My hero bares his nerves along my wrist
That rules from wrist to shoulder,
Unpacks the head that, like a sleepy ghost,
Leans on my mortal ruler,
The proud spine spurning turn and twist.

And these poor nerves so wired to the skull
Ache on the lovelorn paper
I hug to love with my unruly scrawl
That utters all love hunger
And tells the page the empty ill.

My hero bares my side and sees his heart
Tread; like a naked Venus,
The beach of flesh, and wind her bloodred plait;
Stripping my loin of promise,
He promises a secret heat.

He holds the wire from this box of nerves
Praising the mortal error
Of birth and death, the two sad knaves of thieves,
And the hunger’s emperor;
He pulls that chain, the cistern moves.

 

by Dylan Thomas

from 18 Poems


Fun fact: People speculate that this poem is about teenage mastrubation in the solitude of the toilet ever on the verge of being discovered. Meanwhile others think it’s about his writing pen… well up until the latter half.

The Moor by R. S. Thomas

It was like a church to me.

I entered it on soft foot,

Breath held like a cap in the hand.

It was quiet.

What God was there made himself felt,

Not listened to, in clean colours

That brought a moistening of the eye,

In movement of the wind over grass.

 

There were no prayers said. But stillness

Of the heart’s passions – that was praise

Enough; and the mind’s cession

Of its kingdom. I walked on,

Simple and poor, while the air crumbled

And broke on me generously as bread.

 

by R. S Thomas

from Pietà (1966)

‘To read only children’s tales…’ by Osip Mandelstam

To read only children’s tales

and look through a child’s eye;

to rise from grief and wave

big things goodbye.

 

Life has tired me to death;

life has no more to offer.

But I love my poor earth

since I know no other.

 

I swung in a faraway garden

on a plain plank swing;

I remember tall dark firs

in a feverish blur.

 

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

(1908)

translated by Robert Chandler

Сенокос (The Hay Harvest) by Apollon Maikov

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)

(1856)

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:

СЕНОКОС

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.