Ravens by R. S. Thomas

It was the time of the election.

The ravens loitered above the hill

In slow circles; they had all air

To themselves. No eyes heard

Them exulting, recalling their long

History, presidents of the battles

of flesh, the sly connoisseurs

Of carrion; desultory flags

Of darkness, saddening the sky

At Catraeth and further back,

When two, who should have been friends,

Contended in the innocent light

For the woman in her downpour of hair.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Pietà (1966)


Fun Fact: The poem refers to the Battle of Catraeth and the medieval Welsh poem Y Gododdin.

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The Sugar Angel by Alexander Blok

Through the closed nursery doors, the sugar angel

stares through the chink to see

the children playing at the Christmas party,

the brightly candled tree.

 

Nana is making up the crackling fire,

a blaze for Christmas Day.

Only the sugar angel – he is German –

wastes, warm and sweet, away.

 

First comes the softening of his little feathers,

the melting of his feet,

the tiny head falls back, he makes a puddle,

minute and warm and sweet.

 

And then the puddle dries away. The mistress

looks everywhere in vain,

while old deaf Nana, who remembers nothing,

grumbles and looks again.

 

You fragile creatures of our dearest daydreams!

Break, melt and vanish away

in the bright-burning blaze of hourly happenings,

the clatter of everyday.

 

Only a little mischevious girl, recalling

the breath of days departed,

will weep for you in secret for a moment.

A child is tender-hearted.

 

by Александр Александрович Блок (Alexander Alexandrovich Blok)

(1909)

translated by Frances Cornford and Esther Polianowsky Salaman

In Memory Of Mikhail Bulgakov by Anna Akhmatova

This, not graveyard roses, is my gift;

And I won’t burn sticks of incense:

You died as unflinchingly as you lived,

With magnificent defiance.

Drank wine, and joked – were still the wittiest,

Choked on the stifling air.

You yourself let in the terrible guest

 

And stayed alone with her.

Now you’re no more. And at your funeral feast

We can expect no comment from the mutes

On your high, stricken life. One voice at least

Must break the silence, like a flute.

O, who would have believed that I who have been tossed

On a slow fire to smoulder, I, the buried days’

Orphan and weeping mother, I who have lost

Everything, and forgotten everyone, half-crazed –

Would be recalling one so full of evergy

And will, and touched by that creative flame,

Who only yesterday, it seems, chatted to me,

Hiding the illness crucifying him.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(House on the Fontanka, 1940)

from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas