The Way Of It by R. S. Thomas

With her fingers she turns paint

into flowers, with her body

flowers into a rememberance

of herself. She is at work

always, mending the garment

of our marriage, foraging

like a bird for something

for us to eat. If there are thorns

in my life, it is she who

will press her breast to them and sing.

 

Her words, when she would scold,

are too sharp. She is busy

after for hours rubbing smiles

into the wounds. I saw her,

when young, and spread the panoply

of my feathers instinctively

to engage her. She was not deceived,

but accepted me as a girl

will under a thin moon

in love’s absence as someone

she could build a home with

for her imagined child.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from  The Way of It (1977)

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Jealousy by Inna Lisnianskaya

I look out the window at the retreating back.

Your jealousy is both touching and comical.

Can’t you see I am old and scary, a witch,

and apart from you no one needs me at all!

 

Well, what’s so touching and funny in that?

Jealous, you’re keen to send all of them packing

away from our home, with it’s roof’s mossy coat,

and our life which consists entirely of sacking.

 

But they do not desist, out of kindness of sorts –

from scraping away the moss, checking a rafter,

and they bring flowers as well, to thank me

for your still being alive and so well looked after.

 

And they stay away with something else, a notion

of how to survive as the years advance

and still be loved, and, with time running out,

to listen to eulogies, fresher than the news.

 

And my attachment, the truth of my love, no less,

they envy. So keep your jealousy buttoned up!

In this world, with its surfeit of painful loss,

let me open the door with a smile on my lips.

 

by Инна Львовна Лиснянская (Inna Lvovna Lisnyanskaya)

(2001)

translated by Daniel Weissbort


She was the wife of Semyon Lipkin. The above poem was written shortly before his death.

There isn’t much about her in English so if you want to know more you may have to research her husband intially and work from there for biographical details. However one collection of her poetic works titled ‘Far from Sodom‘ is available in English should you wish to read more of her writing.

She was born in Baku and published her first collection in 1957 then moved to Moscow three years later. In 1979 she and her husband resigned from the Union of Soviet Writers in protest to the expulsion of Viktor Yerofeyev and Yevgeny Popov from it. The following seven years her works were only published abroad though from 1986 she was able to publish regularly and was awarded several important prizes.

‘Freshness Of Words…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Freshness of words, simplicity of emotions,

If we lost these, would it not be as though

Blindness had stricken Fra Angelico,

Or an actor lost his power of voice and motion?

 

But don’t behave as if you own

What has been given you by the Saviour:

We ourselves know, we are condemned to squander

Our wealth, and not to save. Alone

 

Go out and heal the cataract,

And later, witness your own disciples’

Malice and jeers, and see the people’s

Stolid indifference to the act.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1915)

– from Белая стая (White Flock, 1917) translation by D. M. Thomas

‘The Road Is Black…’ by Anna Akhmatova

The road is black by the beach –

Garden. Lamps yellow and fresh.

I’m very calm.

I’d rather not talk about him.

 

I’ve a lot of feelings for you. You’re kind.

We’ll kiss, grow old, walk around.

Light months will fly over us.

Like snowy stars.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1914)

– from Белая стая (White Flock, 1917) translation by D. M. Thomas

Love (III) by George Herbert

Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack’d any thing.

‘A guest’, I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.’
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
‘Who made the eyes but I?’

‘Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
So I did sit and eat.

 

by George Herbert (1593 – 1633)

‘I Won’t Beg For Your Love…’ by Anna Akhmatova

I won’t beg for you love: it’s laid

Safely to rest, let the earth settle…

Don’t expect my jealous letters

Pouring in to plague your bride.

But let me, nevertheless, advise you:

Give her my poems to read in bed,

Give her my portraits to keep – it’s wise to

Be kind like that when newly-wed.

For it’s more needful to such geese

To know that they have won completely

Than to have converse light and sweet or

Honeymoons of remembered bliss…

When you have spent your kopeck’s worth

Of happiness with your new friend,

And like a taste that sates the mouth

Your soul has recognized the end –

Don’t come crawling like a whelp

Into my bed of lonliness.

I don’t know you. Nor could I help.

I’m not yet cured of happiness.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1914)

– from Четки (Rosary, 1914), translation by D. M. Thomas

‘So Many Requests, Always, From A Lover…’ by Anna Akmatova

So many requests, always, from a lover!

None when they fall out of love.

I’m glad the water does not move

Under the colourless ice of the river.

 

And I’ll stand – God help me! – on this ice,

However light and brittle it is,

And you… take care of our letters,

That our descendants not misjudge us,

 

That they may read and understand

More clearly what you are, wise, brave.

In your glorious biography

No row of dots should stand.

 

Earth’s drink is much too sweet,

Love’s nets too close together.

May my name be in the textbooks

Of children playing in the street.

 

When they’ve read my grievous story,

May they smile behind their desklids…

If I can’t have love, if I can’t find peace,

Give me a bitter glory.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1913)

– from Четки (Rosary, 1914), translation by D. M. Thomas