Top left an angel
hovering. Top right the attendance
of a star. From both
bottom corners devils
look up, relishing
in prospect a divine
meal. How old at the centre
the child's face gazing
into love's too human
face, like one prepared
for it to have its way
and continue smiling?
By R. S. Thomas
from Counterpoint 2. Incarnation (1990)
The forties, fateful,
with funeral notices,
The hum of the rails.
All is cold, high and barren.
Their houses have burned –
they’re heading east.
That’s me at the station
in my scruffy wool cap.
The star’s not standard issue –
it’s cut from a can.
Yes, here I am in the world,
skinny, happy, carefree.
I’ve got tobacco in my pouch –
I have a stash of rolling papers.
I joke with the girls,
and limp a little overmuch.
I break my rationed bread in half,
and I know everything on earth.
Imagine! What coincidence –
war, horror, dreams and youth!
And all of it sank deep inside me…
and only later did it wake.
The forties, fateful,
lead and gun smoke…
War wanders through the land.
And we are all so young!
by Давид Самойлов (David Samoylov)
pseudonym of Давид Самуилович Кауфман (David Samuilovich Kaufman)
translated by Boris Dralyuk
Additional information: David Samoylov (Давид Самойлов), pseudonym of David Samuilovich Kaufman ( Давид Самуилович Кауфман; 1 June 1920 in Moscow — 23 February 1990 in Tallinn) was a notable poet of the War generation of Russian poets, considered one of the most important Russian poets of the post-World War II era as well.
A recital of the poem in its original Russian:
The original Cyrillic Russian version of the poem:
Военные и фронтовые,
Где извещенья похоронные
И перестуки эшелонные.
Гудят накатанные рельсы.
Просторно. Холодно. Высоко.
И погорельцы, погорельцы
Кочуют с запада к востоку…
А это я на полустанке
В своей замурзанной ушанке,
Где звездочка не уставная,
А вырезанная из банки.
Да, это я на белом свете,
Худой, веселый и задорный.
И у меня табак в кисете,
И у меня мундштук наборный.
И я с девчонкой балагурю,
И больше нужного хромаю,
И пайку надвое ломаю,
И все на свете понимаю.
Как это было! Как совпало –
Война, беда, мечта и юность!
И это все в меня запало
И лишь потом во мне очнулось!..
Война гуляет по России,
А мы такие молодые!
While the dolphin and the sea-horse
Played silly games together,
The ocean beat against the cliffs
And washed the cliffs with its water.
The scary water moaned and cried.
The stars shone. Years went by.
Then the horrid hour came:
I am no more, and so are you,
The sea is gone, the cliffs, the mountains,
And the stars gone, too;
Only the choir sounds out of the dead void.
And for simplicity’s sake, our wrathful God
Sprung up and blew away the dust of centuries,
And now, freed from the shackles of time
He flies alone, his own and only dearest friend.
Cold everywhere, and darkness blind.
by ‘Dandan‘ a pseudonym used by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)
a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)
(15 October 1934)
translated by Matvei Yankelevich
Fun fact: A dandan or dendan is a mythical sea creature that appears in volume 9 of ‘The Book of One Thousand and One Nights’ (or more commonly ‘Arabian Nights’). It appears in the tale “Abdullah the Fisherman and Abdullah the Merman”, where the merman tells the fisherman that the dandan is the largest fish in the sea and is the enemy of the mermen. A dendan is capable of swallowing a ship and all its crew in a single gulp. Kharms was probably aware of this and thus played on it for one of his pseudonyms.
No, not the moon – the bright face of a clock
glimmers to me. How is it my fault
that I perceive the feeble stars as milky?
And I hate Batyushkov’s unbounding arrogance:
What time is it? Someone simply asked –
and he replied to them: eternity!
by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
translated by Boris Dralyuk
Fun fact: Such an exchange did occur between Konstanin Batyushkov and his doctor and in his poem ‘For The Tombstone of a Little Girl’ he imagined a dead baby saying to her parents ‘Dear ones, don’t cry! / Envy my ephemerality; / I did not know this life, / And know eternity’ (translation by Peter France).
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no, it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
by William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)
Each night the sea
tires of its slopping and slapping
and ascends the limestone staircase
of cactus-sharp stone.
It lies down
where sky has been,
waving away the blue
and only hooded clouds
show its occasional restlessness.
Bright fish with mouths
that globe, look down on me
and the breezy whish-whish
of sea-weed is the needled
branches of every pine.
I see the lights
of planes as they are out
trawling for dreams.
The moon spills milk
which I drink in,
before I too lie down
to sleep among shoals of stars.
by Mike Jenkins
from Invisible Times
Kate in full day in the heat of the sun
looks into the grave, sees in that unearthing
of a Roman settlement, under a stone
only the shadow of a skeleton.
Gwyn on his back in the dark, lying
on the lawn dry from months of drought,
finds in the sky through the telescope
the fuzzy dust of stars he had been searching.
Imprint of bones is a constellation
shining against silence, against darkness,
and stars are the pearly vertebrae
of water-drops against the drought, pelvis,
skull, scapula five million light years old
wink in the glass, and stardust is all we hold
of the Roman lady’s negative
in the infinite dark of the grave.
by Gillian Clarke
from New Poems
I wait in the evening air.
Sea-birds drop down to the sea.
I prepare to sail from where
the docks’ derelictions are.
I stand on the deck and stare,
slack hammocks of waves below,
while black shapes upon the pier
make the furthest star seem near.
Now the funnel’s negations blow
and my eyes, like spaces, fill,
and the knots of water flow,
pump to my eyes and spill.
For what who would choose to go
when who sailing made no choice?
Not for one second, I know,
can I be the same man twice.
The straw coloured flames flare still,
spokes over the long horizon,
and the boats under the hill
of Penarth, unload and move on.
by Dannie Abse
from Tenants of the House (1957)
Fun facts: This was written in 1957 and the former working docks, which by the time of the poem were ‘derelict’ and I myself recall in childhood walking through along the barrage, were redeveloped (‘gentrified’ wouldn’t be an understatement) in recent years into the Cardiff Bay area filled with bars, restaurants, the Wales Millennium Centre, the Senedd and BBC buildings amongst many other developments. Penarth is an affluent town, within walking distance along the coastline, south west of Cardiff .
Once more, once more,
Woe to the sailor who takes
a wrong bearing
between his boat and a star.
He will smash against rock
Woe to you all, who take
a wrong bearing
between your heart and me.
You will smash against rock
and be rock-mocked
by Велимир Хлебников (Velimir Khlebnikov)
a.k.a. Виктор Владимирович Хлебников
(Viktor Vladimirovich Khlebnikov)
translated by Robert Chandler
Russian reading of the poem:
Original Russian text:
Я для вас
Горе моряку, взявшему
Неверный угол своей ладьи
Он разобьется о камни,
О подводные мели.
Горе и Вам, взявшим
Неверный угол сердца ко мне:
Вы разобьетесь о камни,
И камни будут надсмехаться
Как вы надсмехались
The souls of those I love are on high stars.
How good that there is no-one left to lose
And one can weep. Tsarskoye Selo’s
Air was made to repeat songs.
By the river bank the silver willow
Touches the bright September waters.
Rising from the past, my shadow
Comes silently to meet me.
So many lyres, hung on branches, here,
But there seems a place even for my lyre.
And this shower, drenched with sun and rare,
Is consolation and good news.
by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1921?)
from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)
Fun fact: Though the poem is dated as being written in the 1940s it is more likely it was written just after her husband Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov‘s execution in 1921.