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)
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 (1982) Letter from a Far Country
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.
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.
R. S. Thomas
(1995) No Truce With the Furies
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)
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.
Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts) Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (
a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz
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:
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.
(1957) Tenants of the house
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?
( Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
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)
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.