Outside the green velvet sitting room
white roses bloom after rain.
They hold water and sunlight
like cups of fine white china.
Within the boy who sleeps in my care
in the big chair the cold bloom
opens at terrible speed
and the splinter of ice moves
in his blood as he stirs in the chair.
Remembering me he smiles
politely, gritting his teeth
in silence on pain's red blaze.
A stick man in the ashes, his fires
die back. He is spars and springs.
He can talk again, gather
his cat to his bones. She springs
with a small cry in her throat, kneading
with diamond paws his dry
as tinder flesh. The least spark
of pain will burn him like straw.
The sun carelessly shines after rain.
The cat tracks thrushes in sweet
dark soil. And without concern
the rose outlives the child.
by Gillian Clarke
from Letter from a Far Country (1982)
I know the colour rose, and it is lovely,
but not when it ripens in a tumour;
and healing greens, leaves and grass, so springlike,
in limbs that fester are not springlike.
I have seen red-blue tinged with hirsute mauve
in the plum-skin face of a suicide.
I have seen white, china white almost, stare
from behind the smashed windscreen of a car.
And the criminal, multi-coloured flash
of an H-bomb is no more beautiful
than an autopsy when the belly’s opened –
to show cathedral windows never opened.
So in the simple blessing of a rainbow,
in the bevelled edge of a sunlit mirror,
I have seen, visible, Death’s artifact
like a soldier’s ribbon on a tunic tacked.
by Dannie Abse
from a small desperation (1968)
I want to visit the roses
In that lonely
Park where the statues remember me young
And I remember them under the water
Of the Neva. In the fragrant quiet
Between the limes of Tsarskoye I hear
A creak of masts. And the swan swims
Still, admiring its lovely
Double. And a hundred thousand steps,
Friend and enemy, enemy and friend,
Sleep. Endless is the procession of shades
Between granite vase and palace door.
There my white nights
Whisper of someone’s discreet exalted
Love. And everything is mother-
Of-pearl and jasper,
But the light’s source is a secret.
by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)
(July, 1959, Leningrad)
from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)
translation by D. M. Thomas
Fun facts: The Summer Garden (Летний сад) occupies an island between the Fontanka, Moika, and the Swan Canal in Saint Petersburg (a.k.a. Leningrad), Russia and shares its name with the adjacent Summer Palace of Peter the Great.
Akhmatova recites her poem:
The text in the original Russian Cyrillic:
Я к розам хочу, в тот единственный сад,
Где лучшая в мире стоит из оград,
Где статуи помнят меня молодой,
А я их под невскою помню водой.
В душистой тиши между царственных лип
Мне мачт корабельных мерещится скрип.
И лебедь, как прежде, плывет сквозь века,
Любуясь красой своего двойника.
И замертво спят сотни тысяч шагов
Врагов и друзей, друзей и врагов.
А шествию теней не видно конца
От вазы гранитной до двери дворца.
Там шепчутся белые ночи мои
О чьей-то высокой и тайной любви.
И все перламутром и яшмой горит,
Но света источник таинственно скрыт.
Until this summer
throught the open roof of the car
their lace was as light as rain
against the burning sun.
On a rose-coloured road
they laid their inks,
knew exactly, in the seed,
where in the sky they would reach
Traffic-jammed under a square
of perfect blue I thirst
for their lake’s fingering
shadow, trunk by trunk arching
a cloister between the parks
and pillars of a civic architecture,
older and taller than all of it.
Heat is a salt encrustation.
Walls square up to the sky
without the company of leaves
or the town life of birds.
At the roadside this enormous
firewood, elmwood, the start
of some terrible undoing.
by Gillian Clarke
from Letters from a Far Country (1982)
Whispers, timid breathing,
trills of a nightingale,
the silver and the shiver
of a sleepy rill.
Pale light and nighttime shadows,
shadows without end,
all the magic transformations
of eyes and lips and brows.
In smoky clouds, a rose’s purple,
the shine of amber beads,
and the kisses, and the tears,
and the dawn, the dawn!
by Афанасий Афанасьевич Фет (Afanasy Afanasyevich Fet)
a.k.a. Шеншин (Shenshin)
translated by Boris Dralyuk
Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove,
That Valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.
And we will sit upon the Rocks,
Seeing the Shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow Rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing Madrigals.
And I will make thee beds of Roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of Myrtle;
A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty Lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;
A belt of straw and Ivy buds,
With Coral clasps and Amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.
The Shepherds’ Swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May-morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me, and be my love.
by Christopher ‘Kit’ Marlowe
Fun fact: This was posted on the day of the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on 19 May 2018 which took place at Windsor Castle in England.
The poem was published six years after the poet’s death by stabbing. A warrant was issued for Marlowe’s arrest on 18 May 1593. No reason was given for it, though it was thought to be connected to allegations of blasphemy—a manuscript believed to have been written by Marlowe was said to contain “vile heretical conceipts”. On 20 May, he was brought to the court to attend upon the Privy Council for questioning. There is no record of their having met that day, however, and he was commanded to attend upon them each day thereafter until “licensed to the contrary”. Ten days later, he was stabbed to death by Ingram Frizer. Whether or not the stabbing was connected to his arrest remains unknown.
The poem was the subject of a well-known “reply” by Walter Raleigh, called “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd”. The interplay between the two poems reflects the relationship that Marlowe had with Raleigh. Marlowe was young, his poetry romantic and rhythmic, and in the Passionate Shepherd he idealises the love object (the Nymph). Raleigh was an old courtier and an accomplished poet himself. His attitude is more jaded, and in writing “The Nymph’s Reply,” it is clear that he is rebuking Marlowe for being naive and juvenile in both his writing style and the Shepherd’s thoughts about love. Subsequent responses to Marlowe have come from John Donne, C. Day Lewis, William Carlos Williams, Ogden Nash, W. D. Snodgrass, Douglas Crase and Greg Delanty, and Robert Herrick.
The woodpecker chips at the bark – easy route to the worm?
I take my time waking you, though I rose at dawn.
Your war is over – to each his own frost.
You skated on the Volga, iced Ladoga kissed,
but my frost was the morgue: from orphan to orderly,
so as not to starve, I pulled funeral trolleys.
There’s a sacred meaning in this meeting of fate and fate –
it was to unfreeze life that you and I met.
by Инна Львовна Лиснянская (Inna Lvovna Lisnyanskaya)
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.