Pre-Cambrian by R. S. Thomas

Here I think of the centuries,

six million of them, they say.

Yesterday a fine rain fell;

today the warmth has brought out the crowds.

After Christ, what? The molecules

are without redemption. My shadow

sunning itself on this stone

remembers the lava. Zeus looked down

on a brave world, but there was

no love there; the architecture

of their temples was less permanent

than these waves. Plato, Aristotle,

all those who furrow the calmness

of their foreheads are responsible

for the bomb. I am charmed here

by the serenity of the reflections

in the sea's mirror. It is a window

as well. What I need

now is a faith to enable me to out-stare

the grinning faces of the inmates of its asylum,

the failed experiments God put away.


by R. S. Thomas

from Frequencies (1978)
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‘You’re not alone. You haven’t died’ by Osip Mandelstam

You're not alone. You haven't died,
while you still,beggar-woman at your side,
take pleasure in the grandeur of the plain,
the gloom, the cold,the whirlwinds of snow.


In sumptuous penury, in mighty poverty
live comforted and at rest -
your days and nights are blest,
your sweet-voiced labour without sin.


Unhappy he, a shadow of himself,
whom a bark astounds and the wind mows down,
and to be pitied he, more dead than alive,
who begs handouts from a ghost.


by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam.)
His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
(1937)
translated by Andrew Davis

Blind Noel by R. S. Thomas

Christmas; the themes are exhausted.

Yet there is always room

on the heart for another

snowflake to reveal a pattern.


Love knocks with such frosted fingers.

I look out. In the shadow

of so vast a God I shiver, unable

to detect the child for the whiteness.


by R. S. Thomas

from No Truce with the Furies (1995)

Bronze Poet by Innokenty Annensky

Clouds that whiten in a dome of blue

and twisted trees sharply delineated,

the dust aglow, each shadow elongated

and phantoms that pass through the heart anew.

Why was the tale so brief? I cannot say.

Was there a second half I didn’t know?

In pale skies the clouds dissolve away

and night roams through the blackened tree below.

That man, the bench he sits on in the dusk

are growing heavier and more grotesque…

Don’t move! For as carnations start to shine

and leafy bushes melt and intertwine,

the poet shakes away his uniform

of tired bronze and prings on the lawn.

 

by Иннокентий Фёдорович Анненский (Innokenty Fyodorovich Annensky)

(date unknown)

translated by Peter Oram


Fun fact: Annensky is thinking of a statue of Pushkin in the Lycee Garden in Tsarkoye Selo.

Directions by R.S. Thomas

In this desert of language

we find ourselves in,

with the sign-post with the word ‘God’

worn away

and the distance… ?

 

Pity the simpleton

with his mouth open crying:

How far is it to God?

 

And the wiseacre says: Where you were,

friend.

You know the smile

glossy

as the machine that thinks it has outpaced

belief?

I am one of those

who sees from the arms opened

to embrace the future

the shadow of the Cross fall

on the smoothest of surfaces

causing me to stumble.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Between Here and Now (1981)

‘Twilight was turning to darkness outside…’ by Vladislav Khodasevich

Twilight was turning to darkness outside.

Under the eaves a window banged wide.

 

A curtain was lifted, a light briefly shone,

a swift shadow fell down the wall and was gone.

 

Happy the man who falls head first to death:

at least for a moment his viewpoint is fresh.

 

by Владислав Фелицианович Ходасевич (Vladislav Felitsianovich Khodasevich)

(1922)

translated by Michael Frayn

Последняя любовь (Last Love) by Fyodor Tyutchev

Towards our end, as life runs out,

love is more troubled and more tender.

Fade not, fade not, departing light

of our last love, our farewell splendour.

 

Shadow overshadows half the sky;

far to the west the last rays wander.

Shine on, shine on, last light of day;

allow us still to watch and wonder.

 

What if our blood runs thinner, cooler?

This does not make the heart less tender.

Last love, last love, what can I call you?

Joy and despair, mortal surrender.

 

by Фёдор Иванович Тютчев (Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev)

(1851-4)

translated by Robert Chandler


A reading of the poem in Russian:

Fun facts: Counted amongst the admirers of Tyutchev’s works were Dostoevsky and Tolstoy along with Nekrasov and Fet. Then later Osip Mandelstam who, in a passage approved of by Shalamov, believed that a Russian poet should not have copy of Tyutchev in his personal library – he should know all of Tyutchev off by heart.