If this were a film… Long shot of approaching train. Martial music. Cut to faces.
But it is only another planet, and Poland’s Most successful tourist attraction.
Poplars screen the furnances But the view is mostly what our parents might have seen: Blank horizons, scrub struggling into leaf Pools of scum reflect a coffin-lid sky. Wind from the steppes moans round the crumbling brick.
If this were a novel It would be cathartic recollection In a hotel bedroom or smoky fifties café Pages of blocked monologue Somewhere towards the middle.
A youth stands guard over a small fire of litter. Curling headlines, chocolate wrappers, a child’s red glove. Flames here burn thin and cold. If this were a nightmare We could hope to understand ourselves through it. We flock here to look and shudder and walk away Stunned by embers.
But the rows of bunks are rough as cattle stalls, Limewash homely as the barns of childhood. (Even in the interests of authenticity You could not expect them to expect us to endure The smells of fear.) Wire at the windows. Clenching cold.
Cleaners’ brooms and buckets rattle. There’s an irritation in the eyes like ash. Sulphur from the smelters in Katowice: Dusk thickens early in this poisoned air.
If this were the history of a civilisation It might be a footnote, towards the end.
Warm the light, with colour, the tourist buses Are pulling out. This is only one stop On a crowded schedule.
Yevtushenko later said he wrote the song in response to conversations he had with foreigners while travelling in western Europe and the United States. The lyrics evoke the peaceful Russian countryside, the memory of the millions of lives lost in the Second World War, and the friendly meeting of U.S. and Soviet soldiers on Elbe Day.
On Thursday 24 February 2022 Russian citizens were heard singing the song at protests held in St Petersburg and Moscow. After these protests were broken up, by authorities in riot gear, it was apparently remarked by civilians “в России запрещено говорить, что русские не хотят войны…” (“In Russia it is forbidden to say Russians do not want war…”)
Wind in the poplars and a broken branch, a dead arm in the bright trees. Five poplars tremble gradually to gold. The stone face of the lion darkens in a sharp shower, his dreadlocks of lobelia grown long, tangled, more brown now than blue-eyed.
My friend dead and the graveyard at Orcop – her short ride to the hawthorn hedge, lighter than hare-bones on men’s shoulders, our faces stony, rain, weeping in the air. The grave deep as a well takes the earth’s thud, the slow fall of flowers.
Over the page the pen runs faster than wind’s white steps over the grass. For a while health feels like pain. Then panic running the fields, the grass, the racing leaves ahead of light, holding that robin’s eye in the laurel, hydrangeas’ faded green. I must write like the wind, year after year passing my death-day, winning ground.
By Gillian Clarke from Selected Poems (in the New Poems section of the 1996 edition)
Spring, I come in from the street, where the poplar is shaken, Where distance is frightened, the house afraid it will fall, Where the air is blue as the laundry bag Of a patient released from hospital.
Where evening is empty, an unfinished tale Left in the air by a star with no sequel, Bewildering thousands of noisy eyes, Expressionless, unfathomable.
by Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к (Boris Leonidovich Pasternak) (1918) from Темы и вариации (Themes and Variations) translated by Jon Stallworthy and Peter France
Below is the original Russian Cyrillic version of the poem.
Весна, я с улицы, где тополь удивлен, Где даль пугается, где дом упасть боится, Где воздух синь, как узелок с бельем У выписавшегося из больницы.
Где вечер пуст, как прерванный рассказ, Оставленный звездой без продолженья К недоуменью тысяч шумных глаз, Бездонных и лишенных выраженья.
Additional information: This should not be confused with the other Весна (Spring) poem by Boris Pasternak from the collection Over the Barriers.