The Willow by Vladimir Soloukhin

The willow

Over past the potato patch

Is the least lucky

Of all the trees of our village –

The spot has been turned into a rubbish dump.

Yes. In the first place, no one knows whose it was,

Who planted it there, or why –

We don’t know.

If it’s always clean and tidy as a peasant’s hut

Round other

Perfectly ordinary, pleasant willows,

Round that godforsaken one

All manner of trash is piled.

People bring scrap iron,

Galoshes, boots,

Not fit for anything now, of course,

(If they were any good at all, they wouldn’t be there),

And when the cat dies, it’s dumped by the tree.

So encircled is the poor willow

With old boots, rags and rotting cats

That it’s advisable to give it a wide berth.

.

But still, when May comes,

The willow, up to its knees in muck,

Suddenly begins gently to gild itself.

It doesn’t give a damn about the torn galoshes,

The jars and tins, the old clothes.

It blossoms as do all its earthly sisters.

Shyly it blossoms

With innocent flowers, so pure,

Turned towards the sun, for the first time opening.

And the sun shines. And the whole tree smells of honey.

.

And, incidentally, bees fly to it,

In spite of the rubbish lying at its foot,

And bears away the translucent honey of its flowers

To people who abuse trees.

.

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by Владимир Алексеевич Солоухин

(Vladimir Alexeyevich Soloukhin)

translated by Daniel Weissbort

Additional information: Soloukhin lived from 1924 to 1997.

At the Moscow meeting of writers on October 31, 1958, he took part in the condemnation of the novel Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. Soloukhin noted about the Nobel Prize laureate that Pasternak should become an emigrant:

“He will not be able to tell anything interesting there. And in a month he will be thrown out like an eaten egg, like a squeezed lemon. And then it will be a real execution for the betrayal that he committed ”

[Apologies for the rough translation – the original version of the quote, in Cyrillic, can be found on the Soloukhin’s Russian Wikipedia page].

In his journalism of the late 1950s and early 1960s, Soloukhin spoke out as a Russian patriot, pointed out the need to preserve national traditions, and reflected on the development of Russian art.

The main theme of Soloukhin’s poetic and literary work is the Russian countryside, its present and future. His works strive to demonstrate the necessity of preserving Russia’s national traditions, and pondering the ways to further develop ethnic Russian art.

Vladimir Soloukhin is considered to be a leading figure of the “village prose” group of writers. His journalistic expressions of opinion during the later years of perestroika idealized pre-revolutionary Russia. So it is interesting to note that while other groups had their works censored or suppressed the ‘village writers’ works were passed with such criticism due to their idealising of the manual laborer contributing to society.

In the early 1960s he became interested in Russian icons, eventually becoming a respected advocate of them, as well as a collector and specialist in the interpretation and technique of icon painting. His publications on this subject – “Letters from the Russian Museum” (1966) and “Black Boards” (1968) received a wide public response.

Soloukhin’s book “Searching for Icons in Russia” describes his hobby of collecting icons. He traveled throughout the countryside in the 1950s and 1960s searching for icons. In some instances he discovered beautiful 16th century icons underneath layers of grime and over-painting yet he also finds ancient icons chopped into bits and rotting away.

He was known for his campaign to preserve pre-revolutionary Russian art and architecture. Ilya Glazunov painted a portrait of him. He died on 4 April 1997 in Moscow and was buried in his native village.

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If you are able to find the Russian Cyrillic version of the above poem and direct me to it I would very much appreciated it.

Foghorns by Gillian Clarke

When Catrin was a small child

She thought the foghorn moaning

Far out at sea was the sad

Solitary voice of the moon

Journeying to England.

She heard it warn “Moon, Moon”,

As it worked the Channel, trading

Weather like rags and bones.

 

Tonight, after the still sun

And the silent heat, as haze

Became rain and weighed glistening

In brimful leaves, and the last bus

Splashes and fades with a soft

Wave-sound, the foghorns moan, moon –

Lonely and the dry lawns drink.

This dimmed moon, calling still,

Hauls sea-rags through the streets.

 

by Gillian Clarke

from The Sundial (Gwasg Gomer, 1978)