‘Memory Has Veiled Much Evil…’ by Varlam Shalamov

Memory has veiled

much evil;

her long lies leave nothing

to believe.

 

There may be no cities

or green gardens;

only fields of ice

and salty oceans.

 

The world may be pure snow,

a starry road;

just northern forest

in the mind of God.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1952?)

translated by Robert Chandler

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Moorland by R. S. Thomas

It is beautiful and still;

the air rarified

as the interior of a cathedral

 

expecting a presence. It is where, also,

the harrier occurs,

materialising from nothing, snow –

 

soft, but with claws of fire,

quartering the bare earth

for the prey that escapes it;

 

hovering over the incipent

scream, here a moment, then

not here, like my belief in God.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)

‘Where Can I Look, Where Can I Go…’ by Georgy Ivanov

Where can I look, where can I go,

to find that almost Alpine snow,

all sacrificed so life can grow,

all turned by May to splash and flow,

to breath of dandelion and rose,

to mighty wave or shining billow –

into that foolish question posed

by François Villon long ago?

 

by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)

(1951)

translated by Robert Chandler


 

Fun fact: François Villon was born in Paris in 1431, disappeared from view in 1463 and is the best known French poet of the late Middle Ages. A ne’er-do-well who was involved in criminal behavior, had multiple encounters with law enforcement authorities and so wrote about some of these experiences in his poems.

‘Spring Exultation, Nightingales, The Moon…’ by Georgy Ivanov

Spring exultation, nightingales, the moon

on southern seas – they make my poor head spin

with boredom. More than that. I disappear.

The real me lives elsewhere. Far to the north.

 

Berlin, poor Russian Paris, filthy Nice –

a dream from which I soon will find release.

 

Petersburg. Winter, Gumilyov and I

walk by an ice-bound Neva, bright with snow.

The river Lethe. Side by side, we walk

and talk as poets did, so long ago.

 

by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)

(1958)

translated by Robert Chandler


 

Fun Fact: Gumilyov of course refers to the poet Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov (Николай Степанович Гумилёв) who was executed by the Petrograd Cheka in 1921. Neva to the river Neva which runs through St Petersburg (also known as Petrograd or Leningrad) while Lethe is one of the five rivers running through Hades, the underworld populated by the dead, in Greek mythology.

Воронеж (Voronzh) by Anna Akhmatova

for Osip Mandelstam

All the town’s gripped in an icy fist.

Trees and walls and snow are set in glass.

I pick my timid way across the crystal.

Unsteadily the painted sledges pass.

Flocks of crows above St Peter’s, wheeling.

The dome amongst the poplars, green and pale in

subdued and dusty winter sunlight, and

echoes of ancient battles that come stealing

out across the proud, victorious land.

All of a sudden, overhead, the poplars

rattle, like glasses ringing in a toast,

as if a thousand guests were raising tumblers

to celebrate the marriage of their host.

 

But in the exiled poet’s hideaway

the muse and terror fight their endless fight

throughout the night.

So dark a night will never see the day.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1936)

from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)

translation by Peter Oram


A different translation of the Воронеж (Voronzh) poem. The alternative on this site is translated by D. M Thomas and is also titled Воронеж (Voronzh).

The poet Osip Mandelstam who was living in the city of Voronezh when Akhmatova visited him in February 1936. Peter the Great built a flotilla here and the Field of Kulikovo, where the Tartars were defeated in 1380 isn’t far away.

Борис Пастернак [Boris Pasternak] by Anna Akhmatova

He who compared himself to the eye of a horse,

Peers, looks, sees, recognizes,

And instantly puddles shine, ice

Pines away, like a melting of diamonds.

 

Backyards drowse in lilac haze. Branch-

Line platforms, logs, clouds, leaves…

The engine’s whistle, watermelon’s crunch,

A timid hand in a fragrant kid glove. He’s

 

Ringing, thundering, grinding, up to his breast

In breakers… and suddenly is quiet… This means

He is tiptoeing over pine needles, feaful lest

He should startle space awake from its light sleep.

 

It means he counts the grains in the empty ears,

And it means he has come back

From another funeral, back to Darya’s

Gorge, the tombstone, cursed and black.

 

And burns again, the Moscow tedium,

In the distance death’s sleigh-bell rings…

Who has got lost two steps from home,

Where the snow is waist-deep, an end to everything?

 

Because he compared smoke with Laocoön,

Made songs out of graveyard thistles,

Because he filled the world with a sound no-one

Has heard before, in a new space of mirrored

 

Verses, he has been rewarded with a form

Of eternal childhood, with the stars’ vigilant love,

The whole earth has been passed down to him,

And he has shared it with everyone.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(19 January 1936)

from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

The View From The Window by R. S. Thomas

Like a painting it is set before one,

But less brittle, ageless; these colours

Are renewed daily with variations

Of light and distance that no painter

Achieves or suggests. Then there is movement,

Change, as slowly the cloud bruises

Are healed by sunlight, or snow caps

A black mood; but gold at evening

To cheer the heart. All through history

The great brush has not rested,

Nor the paint dried; yet what eye,

Looking coolly, or, as we now,

Through the tears’ lenses, ever saw

This work and it was not finished?

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Poetry For Supper (1958)