Stopped the car, asked a man the way
To some place; he rested on it
Smiling, an impression of charm
As of ripe fields; talking to us
He held a reflection of sky
In his brushed eyes. We lost interest
In the way, seeing him old
And content, feeling the sun's warmth
In his voice, watching the swallows
Above him – thirty years back
To this summer. Knowing him gone,
We wander the same flower-bordered road,
Seeing the harvest ripped from the land,
Deafened by the planes' orchestra;
Unable to direct the lost travellers
Or convince them this is a good place to be.
by R. S. Thomas
from H'm (1972)
Armed with wasp-vision, with the vision of wasps
that suck, suck, suck the earth's axis,
I'm filled by the whole deep vein of my life
and hold it here in my heart
and in vain.
And I don't draw, don't sing,
don't draw a black-voiced bow over strings:
I only drink, drink, drink in life and I love
to envy wasp-
waisted wasps their mighty cunning.
O if I too
could be impelled past sleep, past death,
stung by the summer's cheer and chir,
by this new air
to hear earth's axis, axis, axis.
by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam.)
His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
(8 February 1937)
translated by Robert Chandler
Below is the original Russian Cyrillic version of the poem.
Вооруженный зреньем узких ос,
Сосущих ось земную, ось земную,
Я чую всё, с чем свидеться пришлось,
И вспоминаю наизусть и всуе.
И не рисую я, и не пою,
И не вожу смычком черпоголосым,
Я только в жизнь впиваюсь и люблю
Завидовать могучим, хитрым осам.
О, если б и меня когда-нибудь могло
Заставить, сон и смерть минуя,
Стрекало Еоздуха и летнее тепло
Услышать ось земную, ось земную.
Extra information: The wasp-waist was a fashion regarding a women’s fashion silhouette, produced by a style of corset and girdle, that has experienced various periods of popularity in the 19th and 20th centuries. Its primary feature is the abrupt transition from a natural-width rib cage to an exceedingly small waist, with the hips curving out below. It takes its name from its similarity to a wasp’s segmented body. The sharply cinched waistline also exaggerates the hips and bust.
To put it bluntly Mandelstam is talking about admiring women, at least in part, in this poem.
Mandelstam was said to have had an affair with the poet Anna Akhmatova. She insisted throughout her life that their relationship had always been a very deep friendship, rather than a sexual affair. In the 1910s, he was in love, secretly and unrequitedly, with a Georgian princess and St. Petersburg socialite Salomea Andronikova, to whom Mandelstam dedicated his poem “Solominka” (1916).
In 1922, Mandelstam married Nadezhda Khazina in Kiev, Ukraine, where she lived with her family. He continued to be attracted to other women, sometimes seriously. Their marriage was threatened by his falling in love with other women, notably Olga Vaksel in 1924-25 and Mariya Petrovykh in 1933-34.
During Mandelstam’s years of imprisonment, 1934–38, Nadezhda accompanied him into exile. Given the real danger that all copies of Osip’s poetry would be destroyed, she worked to memorize his entire corpus, as well as to hide and preserve select paper manuscripts, all the while dodging her own arrest. In the 1960s and 1970s, as the political climate thawed, she was largely responsible for arranging clandestine republication of Mandelstam’s poetry.
He blunders through the last dream
of the night. I hear him, waking.
A brick and concrete stall, narrow
as a heifer’s haunches. Steel bars
between her trap and his small yard.
A froth of slobbered hay droops
from the stippled muzzle. In the slow
rolling mass of his skull his eyes
surface like fish bellies.
He is chained while they swill his floor.
His stall narrows to rage. He knows
the sweet smell of a heifer’s fear.
Remembered summer haysmells reach him,
a trace of the herd’s freedom, clover-
loaded winds. The thundering seed
blows up the Dee breathing of plains,
of cattle wading in shallows.
His crazy eyes churn with their vision.
By Gillian Clarke
from Letters from a Far Country (1982)
Fun fact: The River Dee (Welsh: Afon Dyfrdwy, Latin: Deva Fluvius) is a river in the United Kingdom. It flows through parts of both Wales and England, forming part of the border between the two countries.
I used to go to St John’s Wood
On Saturday evenings in summer
To look on London behind the dusty garden trees,
And argue pleasantly and bitterly
About Marx and Heine, the iron brain and the laughing sword;
And the ghost of Keats would sit in a corner,
Smiling slowly behind a summer of wine,
Sadly smiling at the fires of the future.
And late in the summer night
I heard the tall Victorian critics snapping
Grim grey fingers at London Transport,
And sober, solemn students of James Joyce,
Dawdling and hissing into Camden Town.
But now in the winter dusk
I go to Dowlais Top
and stand by the railway bridge
Which joins the bleak brown hills,
And gaze at the streets of Dowlais
Lop-sided on the steep dark slope,
A bettered bucket on a broken hill,
And see the rigid phrases of Marx
Bold and black against the steel-grey west,
Riveted along the sullen skies.
And as for Heine, I look on the rough
Bleak, colourless hills around,
Naked and hard as flint,
Romance in a rough chemise.
by Idris Davies
Dowlais is a village and community of the county borough of Merthyr Tydfil, in Wales. Dowlais is notable within Wales and Britain for its historic association with ironworking; once employing, through the Dowlais Iron Company, roughly 5,000 people, the works being the largest in the world at one stage.
Marx, I assume, refers to Karl Marx (5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) the German philosopher, economist, historian, political theorist, sociologist, journalist and revolutionary socialist.
Heine, refers to Christian Johann Heinrich Heine (13 December 1797 – 17 February 1856) was a German poet, journalist, essayist, and literary critic. He is best known outside of Germany for his early lyric poetry, which was set to music in the form of Lieder (art songs) by composers such as Robert Schumann and Franz Schubert. Heine’s later verse and prose are distinguished by their satirical wit and irony. He is considered part of the Young Germany movement. His radical political views led to many of his works being banned by German authorities, which however only added to his fame. Heine spent the last 25 years of his life as an expatriate in Paris.
James Augustine Aloysius Joyce (2 February 1882 – 13 January 1941) was an Irish novelist, short story writer, and poet. He contributed to the modernist avant-garde and is regarded as one of the most influential and important authors of the 20th century. Joyce is best known for Ulysses (1922), a landmark work in which the episodes of Homer’s Odyssey are paralleled in a variety of literary styles, most famously stream of consciousness. Other well-known works are the short-story collection Dubliners (1914), and the novels A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Finnegans Wake (1939). His other writings include three books of poetry, a play, his published letters and occasional journalism.
I want to visit the roses
In that lonely
Park where the statues remember me young
And I remember them under the water
Of the Neva. In the fragrant quiet
Between the limes of Tsarskoye I hear
A creak of masts. And the swan swims
Still, admiring its lovely
Double. And a hundred thousand steps,
Friend and enemy, enemy and friend,
Sleep. Endless is the procession of shades
Between granite vase and palace door.
There my white nights
Whisper of someone’s discreet exalted
Love. And everything is mother-
Of-pearl and jasper,
But the light’s source is a secret.
by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)
(July, 1959, Leningrad)
from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)
translation by D. M. Thomas
Fun facts: The Summer Garden (Летний сад) occupies an island between the Fontanka, Moika, and the Swan Canal in Saint Petersburg (a.k.a. Leningrad), Russia and shares its name with the adjacent Summer Palace of Peter the Great.
Akhmatova recites her poem:
The text in the original Russian Cyrillic:
Я к розам хочу, в тот единственный сад,
Где лучшая в мире стоит из оград,
Где статуи помнят меня молодой,
А я их под невскою помню водой.
В душистой тиши между царственных лип
Мне мачт корабельных мерещится скрип.
И лебедь, как прежде, плывет сквозь века,
Любуясь красой своего двойника.
И замертво спят сотни тысяч шагов
Врагов и друзей, друзей и врагов.
А шествию теней не видно конца
От вазы гранитной до двери дворца.
Там шепчутся белые ночи мои
О чьей-то высокой и тайной любви.
И все перламутром и яшмой горит,
Но света источник таинственно скрыт.
On the hottest, stillest day of the summer
A calf was born in a field
At Pant-y-Cetris; two buzzards
Measured the volume of the sky;
The hills brimmed with incoming
Night. In the long grass we could see
The cow, her sides heaving, a focus
Of restlessness in the complete calm,
Her calling at odds with silence.
The light flowed out leaving stars
And clarity. Hot and slippery, the scalding
Baby came, and the cow stood up, her cool
Flanks like white flowers in the dark.
We waited while the calf struggled
To stand, moved as though this
Were the first time. I could feel the soft sucking
Of the new-born, the tugging pleasure
Of bruised reordering, the signal
Of milk’s incoming tide, and satisfaction
Fall like a clean sheet around us.
by Gillian Clarke
from The Sundial (Gwasg Gomer, 1978)