‘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)

January by R. S. Thomas

The fox drags its wounded belly

Over the snow, the crimson seeds

Of blood burst with a mild explosion,

Soft as excrement, bold as roses.

 

Over the snow that feels no pity,

Whose white hands can give no healing,

The fox drags its wounded belly.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Song At The Year’s Turning (1955)

Snow Keeps Falling Night And Day by Varlam Shalamov

Snow keeps falling night and day –

some god, now turned more strict,

is sweeping out from his domain

scraps of his old manuscripts.

 

Sheaves of ballads, songs and odes,

all that now seems bland or weak –

he sweeps it down from his high clouds,

caught up now by newer work.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1950 – or at least the incident which inspired the poem occurred then)

translated by Robert Chandler

In The Train Car by Innokenty Annensky

We’ve done enough, we’ve said enough –

let’s sit in silence, without smiling;

low-lying clouds are shedding snow

and heaven’s light is slowly fading.

 

The brittle willows rage and split

in an unspeakable pitched battle.

‘Until tomorrow, then,’ I say.

‘As for today, let’s call it settled.’

 

Even if boundlessly at fault,

I wish – not dreaming, not entreating –

to stare out at the fields of white

through windows swathed in cotton fleecing.

 

While you, show off your beauty, shine…

assure me that I have your pardon –

shine with that stream of eventide

around which everything has hardened.

 

by Иннокентий Фёдорович Анненский (Innokenty Fyodorovich Annensky)

(1906)

translated by Boris Dralyuk

The Last Night by Clark Ashton Smith

I dreamed a dream: I stood upon a height,

A mountain’s utmost eminence of snow.

Beholding ashen plains outflung below

To a far sea-horizon, dim and white.

Beneath the spectral sun’s expiring light

The world lay shrouded in a deathly glow;

Its last fear-laden voice, a wind, came low;

The distant sea lay hushed, as with affright.

 

I watched, until the pale and flickering sun,

In agony and fierce despair, flamed high,

And shadow-slain, went out upon the gloom.

Then Night, that war of gulf-born Titans won,

Impended for a breath on wings of doom.

And through the air fell like a falling sky.

 

by Clark Ashton Smith

After Plodding Year After Year by Georgy Ivanov

After plodding year after year

through towns in an alien land,

we have ground enough to despair –

and despair is where we must end.

 

For despair is our final refuge –

as if, midwinter, we had come

from Vespers in a nearby church,

through Russian snow, to our home.

 

by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)

(1958)

by Robert Chandler

Snow Baby by Mike Jenkins

You were a snow baby. We should’ve called you Eira. You were almost marooned in hospital: jaundiced face yellow as egg-yolk, clutched head the shape of a shell.

You grew to your name, Bethan, grew round. Your plum cheeks swelled to its sound.

And now in town you let the flakes settle in your long hair, saying ‘Ne’ mind. I like ’em there.’

I played you Ommadawn: layers of cloud frost, hail and sun climbing till that lightning moment when you were born.

Wrapped still throught frozen nights, layers of a nest taken from the strands of our house: broken violin string, discarded lace and strap of a watch you never wore.

Your dreams hatch and drift with feathers of the pillow-bird you believe in no more.

 

by Mike Jenkins

from Red Landscapes

 


Fun Fact: Mike Jenkins’ daughter is the Welsh politician Bethan Jenkins AM, (born 9 December 1981), who has represented the South Wales West Region for Plaid Cymru as a Member of the National Assembly for Wales since 2007.