Hallowe’en by R.S. Thomas

Outside a surfeit of planes.

Inside the hunger of the departed

to come back. ‘Ah, erstwhile humans,

would you make your mistakes

over again? In life, as in love,

the second time around is

no better.’

I confront their expressions

in the embers, on grey walls:

faces among the stones watching

me to see if this night

of all nights I will make sacrifice

to the spirits of hearth and of

roof-tree, pouring a libation.

 

‘Stay where you are,’ I implore.

‘This is no world for escaped beings

to make their way back into.

The well that you took your pails

to is polluted. At the centre

of the mind’s labyrinth to machine howls

for the sacrifice of the affections;

vocabulary has on a soft collar

but the tamed words are not to be trusted.

As long as the flames hum, making

their honey, better to look in

upon truth’s comb than to

take off as we do on fixed wings

for depollinated horizons.’

 

by R. S Thomas

from No Truce with the Furies (1995)

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)

‘I Thought about Eagles for a Long Time’ by Daniil Kharms

I thought about eagles for a long time

And understood a lot:

Eagles fly on heights sublime,

Disturbing people not.

I saw that eagles live on mountains hard to climb,

And make friends with spirits of the skies.

I thought about eagles for a long time,

But confused them, I think, with flies.

 

by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)

(15 March 1939)

from Events

translated by Matvei Yankelevich with Ilya Bernstein

Pinnacles Exposed by Ludwig Derangadage Scotty

Scorched, by searing rays of sun, bleached white;

Exposed, to elements of wind and rain, stood firm;

Forgotten, by generations of man and beast, eerily lonely;

Await, fateful destiny for restoration and use, obediently silent;

Forever beckoning to the heaven’s universe,

through merciful abeyance;

Disturbed, spirits of ancestors long gone, wailing on the breeze;

Groaning, amongst debris of machinery derelict, voices unclear;

Mesmerized, by haunting moonlit shaded, in peaceful bliss;

Carefree, days bygone on forefathers’ land, in reminiscence;

Witness, the ultimate destruction of Naoero land, for gains;

Leaving only birds afraid, hunted by man with aid;

To forever linger, undisturbed, until rehabilitation proper.

 

by His Excellency Ludwig Derangadage Scotty, former president of Nauru


In a book titled ‘World Leaders’ Favourite Poems’ he chose one he wrote himself…

An Attempt At Jealousy by Marina Tsvetaeva

How is your life with the other one,

simpler, isn’t it? One          stroke of the oar

then a long coastline, and soon

even the memory of me

 

will be a floating island

(in the sky, not on the waters):

spirits, spirits, you will be

sisters, and never lovers.

 

How is your life with an ordinary

woman?          without godhead?

Now that your sovereign has

been deposed (and you have stepped down).

 

How is your life? Are you fussing?

flinching? How          do you get up?

The tax of deathless vulgarity

can you cope with it, poor man?

 

‘Scenes and hysterics          I’ve had

enough! I’ll rent my own house.’

How is your life with the other one

now, you that I chose for my own?

 

More to your taste, more delicious

is it, your food? Don’t moan if you sicken.

How is your life with an image

you, who walked on Sinai?

 

How is your life with a stranger

from this world? Can you (be frank)

love her? Or do you          feel shame

like Zeus’ reins on your forehead?

 

How is your life? Are you

healthy? How do you          sing?

How do you deal with the pain

of an undying conscience, poor man?

 

How is your life with a piece of market

stuff, at a steep price?

After Carrara marble,

how is your life with the dust of

 

plaster now? (God was hewn from

stone, but he is smashed to bits.)

How do you live with one of a

thousand women          after Lilith?

 

Sated with newness, are you?

Now you are grown cold to magic,

how is your life with an

earthly woman, without a sixth

 

sense? Tell me: are you happy?

Not? In a shallow pit how is

your life, my love? Is it as

hard as mine with another man?

 

by Марина Ивановна Цветаева (Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)

(1924)

translated by Elaine Feinstein


 

The gaps mid-line were present in the original as was the emphasis on the word ‘image‘.

In case you want a few pointers regarding the context of the poem here are some facts about Tsvetaeva‘s life. To be honest I’ve tried to give a few points but it feels like you might have to do some in depth ‘further reading’ about her life to fully understand the context of this poem’s lines. A brief account of her life reads like it was one tragic event after the other…

Sergei Yakovlevich Efron (Сергей Яковлевич Эфрон; 8 October 1893 – 16 October 1941) was a Russian poet, officer of White Army and husband of Marina Tsvetaeva. While in emigration, he was recruited by the Soviet NKVD (forerunner to the better known KGB). After returning to USSR from France, he was executed. Some believe that Tsvetaeva did not seem to have known that her husband was a spy, nor the extent to which he was compromised.

They fell in love and were married in January 1912. While they had an intense relationship, Tsvetaeva had affairs, such as those with Osip Mandelstam and poet Sofia Parnok.

Tsvetaeva and her husband had two daughters: Ariadna a.k.a Alya (born 1912) and Irina (born 1917), and one son, Georgy. In 1919 while stuck in Moscow during the civil war (during which there was also a famine), she placed both her daughters in a state orphanage, mistakenly believing that they would be better fed there. Alya became ill and Tsvetaeva removed her but Irina died there of starvation in 1920. In summer 1924, Efron and Tsvetaeva left Prague (where they had resided) for the suburbs, living for a while in Jíloviště, before moving on to Všenory, where Tsvetaeva conceived their son, Georgy, whom she was to later nickname ‘Mur‘. He was a difficult child but Tsetaeva loved him obsessively. With Efron now rarely free from tuberculosis, their daughter Ariadna was relegated to the role of mother’s helper and confidante, and consequently felt robbed of much of her childhood.

To end on a lighter note: The Tsvetaev family name (feminine form: Tsvetaeva) evokes an association with flowers as the Russian word цвет (tsvet) means “color” or “flower”.

Also here is a reading of the poem in the original Russian by Маша Матвейчук, who does readings of various poems, on YouYube:

Red Nosed Frost [extract] by Nikolay Nekrasov

Not the autumn wind in the forest,

not streams hurtling down to the plains –

what we hear is Frost the Commander,

patrolling his far-flung domains.

 

Has snow been swept by the blizzards

over every pathway and track?

Is there any bare ground still showing,

any last brown fissure or crack?

 

Have the oak trees been handsomely dappled,

are the tops of the pines fluffed just right?

Have the ice floes been shackled together

so that every lake is gripped tight?

 

Frost comes striding over the treetops;

shards of ice crackle under his tread.

Lord Frost moves closer and closer;

beams of sunlight dance in his beard.

 

What pathway is closed to a wizard?

Ever nearer the widow he draws.

Now Frost is looming above her,

rehearsing his wintry laws.

 

There he stands in a pine tree,

beating time with his cane,

boasting of his own glory

and repeating his old refrain:

 

‘No need to be bashful, sweet maiden,

see how fine a Commander I am!

Speak truthfully now: have you ever

glimpsed a more handsome young man?

 

‘Blizzards, downpours and whirlwinds –

I can quieten them all in a trice;

I can stroll out over the ocean

and build myself chambers of ice.

 

‘One breath – and the greatest of rivers

lie silenced beneath my yoke,

transformed to the strongest of bridges,

broad roads for the merchant folk.

 

‘I love dropping down into graves

to scatter diamonds over the dead,

to freeze the blood in their veins

and ice the brains in their heads.

 

‘I love frightening a lonely robber

riding home with a purse he’s plundered:

in the depth of the forest silence

I make branches resound like thunder.

 

‘Old women go rushing back home,

their heads full of spirits and devils.

But there’s more pleasure still to be had

with drunkards returning from revels.

 

‘I don’t need chalk to whiten their faces!

I set their noses ablaze without fire!

I freeze beards to reins in a tangle

not even an axe can sever!

 

‘I’m rich, there’s no counting my treasure;

my fortune’s as great as the world.

Every day I bejewel my kingdom

anew with silver and pearls.

 

‘Dear Maiden, I bid you now enter

my empire. Let me make you my queen!

We shall reign in glory all winter,

then let summer slip by in a dream.

 

‘Come, maiden, and let me warm you

in a palace of pale blue ice!’

So Lord Frost sings out above her

as he swings his sparkling mace.

 

‘Are you warm enough there, dear maiden?’

he calls from high in the pine.

‘Oh yes,’ the young widow answers –

and icy shivers run down her spine.

 

Now Frost has dropped down lower,

his mace swinging ever so near,

and he whispers softly and tenderly:

‘Warm enough?’ ‘Oh yes, my dear!’

 

Warm enough – but what does she feel?

Frost’s breath has already numbed her

and needles of ice from his beard,

though colder and sharper than steel,

are lulling her into slumber.

 

‘Are you warm enough now?’ Frost whispers,

his arms now encircling her waist –

and she hears not Frost but Proklyusha

and all she sees is long past.

 

On her lips and her eyes and her shoulders

Darya feels the wizard’s long kisses –

and she sees not Frost but her husband

and she drinks in his honeyed whispers.

 

He’s talking to her of a wedding,

his words so caressing and sweet

that Darya’s eyes are now closing

and her axe lies still by her feet.

 

And the arc of a smile now parts

the poor lips of the wretched widow.

White flakes now cover her eyelids

and needles of ice her brow…

 

A lump of snow falls on Darya

as a squirrel takes a flying leap,

but Darya does not lift a finger;

she’s frozen, enchanted, asleep.

 

by Николай Алексеевич Некрасов (Nikolay Alexeyevich Nekrasov)

(1864)

translated by Robert Chandler and Boris Dralyuk