The Houses of the Valleys by Ann Hughes

Reaching out in unending lines

Houses of the valleys, all the same

In their uniform of dereliction and decay

Clinging on to the hillside, like old people

Clinging on to the old way of life.

.

Smoke rises from the chimneys

Catching the last fading sunlight

of the promising summer of plenty,

Falling soon to the sills in black sooty smuts

Where sometimes people sit and stare.

.

The empty streets echo in the silence

of tack boots on the cobblestones,

Black windows stare at me with accusation

Betrayal screams at you with her evidence

in the houses of the valleys.

.

.

By Ann Hughes (1992)

Плачущий Сад (Weeping Garden) by Boris Pasternak

 Dreadful! It drips and it listens -
whether it's all alone in the world
crushing a twig like lace at the window,
or is someone watching?

Palpable, though, is the pressure
of porous earth's taut swellings,
and far off, audible as in August,
midnight ripens in fields.

No, no sound, no witness,
Convincing there's no one there,
back it goes to its game of rolling
down roofs and across gutters.

I'll lift it up to my lips and listen -
whether I'm all alone in the world,
ready to burst out in sobs if I need to,
or is someone watching?

Silence. Not a leaf moving.
No dot of light, just weird
gulps and splashings about in slippers,
the lulls full of sighs and tears.


By Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к (Boris Leonidovich Pasternak)
(1917)
translated by Angela Livingstone

A recital of the poem in Russian:

Below is the poem in it’s original Russian cyrillic form:

 
Ужасный! — Капнет и вслушается,
Все он ли один на свете
Мнет ветку в окне, как кружевце,
Или есть свидетель.

Но давится внятно от тягости
Отеков — земля ноздревая,
И слышно: далеко, как в августе,
Полуночь в полях назревает.

Ни звука. И нет соглядатаев.
В пустынности удостоверясь,
Берется за старое — скатывается
По кровле, за желоб и через.

К губам поднесу и прислушаюсь,
Все я ли один на свете, —
Готовый навзрыд при случае, —
Или есть свидетель.

Но тишь. И листок не шелохнется.
Ни признака зги, кроме жутких
Глотков и плескания в шлепанцах
И вздохов и слез в промежутке.

Evening by R. S. Thomas

The archer with time

as his arrow – has he broken

his strings that the rainbow

is so quiet over our village?

 

Let us stand, then in the interval

of our wounding, till the silence

turn golden and love is

a moment eternally overflowing.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from No Truce With the Furies (1995)

One Day by R.S. Thomas

In that day language

shall expose its sores,

begging for the alms

we can not give. ‘Leave it’

we shall say, ‘on the pavement

of the quotidian.’ There is

a cause there is nobody

to plead, yet whose sealed lips

are its credentials. What

does the traveller to your door

ask, but that you sit down

and share with him that

for which there are no words?

I look forward to the peace

conferences of the future

when lies, hidden behind speeches,

shall have their smiles blown away

by the dove’s wings, fanning in silence.

 

by R. S. Thomas

Mass for Hard Times (1992)

February Diary [extract] by Olga Berggolts

It was a day like any other.

A woman friend of mine called round.

Without a tear she told me she’d

just buried her one true friend.

We sat in silence till the morning.

What words were there to say to her?

I’m a Leningrad widow too.

 

by Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts)

a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz

(1942)

translated by Robert Chandler


A Soviet poet, writer, playwright and journalist. She is most famous for her work on the Leningrad radio during the city’s blockade, when she became the symbol of city’s strength and determination.

 

Fun extra: Here is a recital of the entire poem in the original Russian:

Kneeling by R.S. Thomas

Moments of great calm,

Kneeling before an altar

Of wood in a stone church

In summer, waiting for the God

To speak; the air a staircase

For silence; the sun’s light

Ringing me, as though I acted

A great rôle. And the audiences

Still; all that close throng

Of spirits waiting, as I,

For the message.

Prompt me, God;

But not yet. When I speak,

Though it be you who speak

Through me, something is lost.

The meaning is in the waiting.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Not That He Brought Flowers (1968)

The Moment by Dannie Abse

You raise your eyes from the level book

as if deeply listening. You are further than I call.

Like Eurydice you wear a hurt and absent look,

but I’m gentle for the silence into which you fall so sadly.

What are you thinking? Do you love me?

Suddenly you are not you at all but a ghost

dreaming of a castle to haunt or a heavy garden;

some place eerie, and far from me. But now a door

is banging outside, so you turn your head surprised.

 

You speak my name and someone else has died.

 

by Dannie Abse

from Tenants of the house (1957)

‘After Midnight Clean Out Of Your Hands’ by Osip Mandelstam

After midnight, clean out of your hands,

the heart seizes a sliver of silence.

It lives on the quiet, it’s longing to play;

like it or not, there’s nothing quite like it.

 

Like it or not, it can never be grasped;

so why shiver, like a child off the street,

if after midnight the heart holds a feast,

silently savouring a silvery mouse?

 

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

(1931)

translated by Robert Chandler

Три стихотворения (Three Poems) [extract] by Anna Akhmatova

The poet was right: once again –

lantern, side-street, drugstore,

silence, the Neva and its granite…

A monument to our century’s

first years, there he stands, as when,

waving goodbye to Pushkin House,

he drank a mortal weariness –

as if such peace

were more than he deserved.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1960)

translation by Robert Chandler


Fun Fact: This poem is an homage to Alexander Blok, whose last poem is addressed to Pushkin House in St Petersburg.


Original Russian Cyrillic version:

Он прав — опять фонарь, аптека,
Нева, безмолвие, гранит…
Как памятник началу века,
Там этот человек стоит —
Когда он Пушкинскому Дому,
Прощаясь, помахал рукой
И принял смертную истому
Как незаслуженный покой.