Пауль Клее (Paul Klee) by Arseny Tarkovsky

Over the meadows, beyond the mountains,
there once lived a painter called Klee,
and he sat on his own on a path
with various bright-coloured crayons.

He drew rectangles and he drew hooks,
an imp in a light-blue shirt,
Africa, stars, a child on a platform,
wild beasts where Sky meets Earth.

He never intended his sketches
to be like passport photos,
with people, horses, cities and lakes
standing up straight like robots.

He wanted these lines and these spots
to converse with one another
as clearly as cicadas in summer,
but then one morning a feather

materialized as he sketched.
A wing, the crown of ahead -
the Angel of Death. It was time
for Klee to part from his friends

and his Muse. He did.He died.
Can anything be more cruel?
Though had Paul Klee been any less wise,
his angel might have touched us all

and we too, along with the artist,
might have left the world behind
while that angel shook up our bones,
but – what help would that have been?

Me, I'd much rather walk through a gallery
than lie in some sad cemetery.
I like to loiter with friends by paintings -
yellow-blue wildlings, follies most serious.


by Арсений Александрович Тарковский
(Arseny Alexandrovich Tarkovsky)
(1957)
translated by Robert Chandler

Arseny was the father of the famous and highly influential film director Andrei Tarkovsky. His poetry was often quoted in his son’s films.

Paul Klee (18 December 1879 – 29 June 1940) was a Swiss German artist. His highly individual style was influenced by movements in art that included Expressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism. Klee was a natural draftsman who experimented with and eventually deeply explored color theory, writing about it extensively; his lectures Writings on Form and Design Theory (Schriften zur Form und Gestaltungslehre), published in English as the Paul Klee Notebooks, are held to be as important for modern art as Leonardo da Vinci’s A Treatise on Painting for the Renaissance. He and his colleague, Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, both taught at the Bauhaus school of art, design and architecture. His works reflect his dry humor and his sometimes childlike perspective, his personal moods and beliefs, and his musicality.

Here is a reading of the poem in Russian set to music featuring one of Klee’s artworks.

Beneath is the original Russian version of the poem.

Пауль Клее

Жил да был художник Пауль Клее
Где-то за горами, над лугами.
Он сидел себе один в аллее
С разноцветными карандашами,

Рисовал квадраты и крючочки,
Африку, ребенка на перроне,
Дьяволенка в голубой сорочке,
Звезды и зверей на небосклоне.

Не хотел он, чтоб его рисунки
Были честным паспортом природы,
Где послушно строятся по струнке
Люди, кони, города и воды.

Он хотел, чтоб линии и пятна,
Как кузнечики в июльском звоне,
Говорили слитно и понятно.
И однажды утром на картоне

Проступили крылышко и темя:
Ангел смерти стал обозначаться.
Понял Клее, что настало время
С Музой и знакомыми прощаться.

Попрощался и скончался Клее.
Ничего не может быть печальней.
Если б Клее был немного злее,
Ангел смерти был бы натуральней.

И тогда с художником все вместе
Мы бы тоже сгинули со света,
Порастряс бы ангел наши кости.
Но скажите мне: на что нам это?

На погосте хуже, чем в музее,
Где порой слоняются живые,
И висят рядком картины Клее -
Голубые, желтые, блажные…

Баллада о немецком цензоре (The Ballad of a German Censor) by David Samoylov

In Germany once lived a censor

of lowly rank and title.

He blotted, struck and cancelled

and knew no other no other calling.

 

He sniffed out harmful diction

and smeared it with Indian ink.

He guarded minds from infection

and his bosses valued his work.

 

On a winter day in forty-three

he was dispatched ‘nach Osten’.

And he stared from the train car’s window

at fields, graveyards, snowstorms.

 

It was cold without a fur coat.

He saw hamlets without homes or people.

Only charred chimneys were left,

creeping by, like lizards or camels.

 

And it seemed to him that Russia

was all steppe, Mongoloid, bare.

And he thought he was feeling ‘nostalgia’,

but it was really just the chill and fear.

 

He arrived at his field post office:

such-and-such region and number.

Table, chair, iron cot and mattress,

three walls – in the fourth, a window.

 

Russia’s short on Gemütlichkeit!

He had to climb over snowdrifts.

And the work? No shortage of that:

cutting, deleting, smearing.

 

Before him lay piles of letters,

lines and lines – some straight, some wavy.

Generals wrote to their comrades,

soldiers wrote to their families.

 

There were letters, messages, queries

from the living, from those who’d been killed.

There were words he judged ‘non-Aryan’,

but it was really just fear and chill.

 

He would read nearly all day round,

forgetting to eat or shave.

And inside his tired mind

something strange began to take place.

 

Words he’d blotted and excised

would come and torment him at night,

and, like some eerie circus,

would parade there before his eyes…

 

Lines, killed by black ink,

turned tyrannical, like a tirade:

‘In the East, the East, the East,

we will not, will not be spared…’

 

The text was composed of black mosaics;

each word clung fast to the next.

Not the greatest master of prose

could have come up with such a text.

 

Long thoughts, like wagon trains,

shook the joints and ridges

of his tired and weakened brain;

battered its fragile bridges.

 

He turned unfriendly to all his friends

and grew brusque, unsociable, sad.

He was brilliant for a few days

and then broke down and went bad.

 

He awoke, from the fear and chill…

with a wild, choking feeling.

The dark was impenetrable –

the window blacked out with ink.

 

He realised that bravado leads nowhere,

that existence is fragile,

and the black truth invaded his soul

and wiped away the white lie.

 

The poor censor was born a pedant.

He reached for a small notebook

and truthfully – that is, with talent –

set everything down, in order.

 

The next morning he took up, with seal,

his… No – a different task:

he underlined all that was real

and crossed out everything else.

 

Poor censor, he’d lost his mind!

Little man, like a grain of millet!

He informed on himself in a day

and was taken away that minute…

 

There once lived a censor in Germany.

His rank and title were low.

He died and was promptly buried,

and his grave fell under the plough.

 

by Давид Самойлов (David Samoylov)

pseudonym of Давид Самуилович Кауфман (David Samuilovich Kaufman)

(1961)

translated by Boris Dralyuk


Additional information: David Samoylov (Давид Самойлов), pseudonym of David Samuilovich Kaufman ( Давид Самуилович Кауфман; 1 June 1920 in Moscow — 23 February 1990 in Tallinn) was a notable poet of the War generation of Russian poets, considered one of the most important Russian poets of the post-World War II era as well.

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)

Death of a Poet by Anna Akhmatova

The unrepeatable voice won’t speak again,

Died yesterday and quit us, the talker with groves.

Or into gentlest rain of which he sang.

And all the flowers that grew only in this world

Came into bloom to meet his death.

And straightway it’s grown quiet on the planet

That bears a name so modest… Earth.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1960)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas


Fun fact: The poem refers to the death of Boris Pasternak (29 January 1890 – 30 May 1960).

‘I, A Butterfly That Has Flown’ by Velimir Khlebnikov

I, a butterfly that has flown

into the room of human life,

must leave the handwriting of my dust

like a prisoner’s signature

over the stern windows,

across fate’s strict panes.

The wallpaper of human life

is grey and sad.

And there is the windows’

transparent ‘No’.

 

I have worn away my deep-blue morning glow,

my patterns of dots,

my wing’s light-blue storm, first freshness.

The powder’s gone, the wings have faded

and turned transparent and hard.

Jaded, I beat

against the window of mankind.

From the other side knock eternal numbers,

summoning me to the motherland,

asking one single number

to return to all numbers.

 

by Велимир Хлебников (Velimir Khlebnikov)

a.k.a. Виктор Владимирович Хлебников (Viktor Vladimirovich Khlebnikov)

(1921)

translated by Robert Chandler


 

Fun fact: Khlebnikov possibly reflecting on Zhuangzi’s famous quote:

  • Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things.
    • As translated by Lin Yutang

 

 

Remember by Christina Rossetti

Remember me when I am gone away,

Gone far away into the silent land;

When you can no more hold me by the hand,

Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.

Remember me when no more day by day

You tell me of our future that you planned:

Only remember me; you understand

It will be late to counsel then or pray.

Yet if you should forget me for a while

And afterwards remember, do not grieve:

For if the darkness and corruption leave

A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,

Better by far you should forget and smile

Than that you should remember and be sad.

 

by Christina Rossetti (1830 – 1894)


 

Fun facts: She wrote the words of the Christmas carols “In the Bleak Midwinter”, set to a tune by Gustav Holst, and “Love Came Down at Christmas”. Also if you’re thinking ‘is she related to THE Rossetti?’ The answer is very likely yes. The family had a lot of connections and successful members.

The title of J.K. Rowling’s novel The Cuckoo’s Calling is based on a line in Rossetti’s poem A Dirge.

Hywel and Blodwen by Idris Davies

Where are you going to, Hywel and Blodwen,

With your eyes as sad as your shoes?

We are going to learn a nimble language

By the waters of the Ouse.

 

We are trampling through Gloucester and through Leicester,

We hope we shall not drop,

And we talk as we go of the Merthyr streets

And a house at Dowlais Top.

 

We have triads and englyns from pagan Dyfed

To brace us in the fight,

And three or four hundred Methodist hymns

To sing on a starless night.

 

We shall grumble and laugh and trudge together

Till we reach the stark North Sea

And talk till we die of Pantycelyn

And the eighteenth century.

 

We shall try to forget the Sunday squabbles,

And the foreign magistrate,

And the stupid head of the preacher’s wife,

And the broken iron gate.

 

So here we say farewell and wish you

Less trouble and less pain,

And we trust you to breed a happier people

Ere our blood flows back again.

 

by Idris Davies


There was a Welsh language opera based on the same Welsh story as this poem. Blodwen is an opera in three acts composed in 1878 by Dr Joseph Parry to a Welsh libretto by Richard Davies. It was the first opera written in the Welsh language. I just mention it as I doubt many people know of it.