I emerge from the mind’s
cave into the worse darkness
outside, where things pass and
the Lord is in none of them.
I have heard the still, small voice
and it was that of the bacteria
demolishing my cosmos. I
have lingered too long on
this threshold, but where can I go?
To look back is to lose the soul
I was leading upward towards
the light. To look forward? Ah,
what balance is needed at
the edges of such an abyss.
I am alone on the surface
of a turning planet. What
to do but, like Michelangelo’s
Adam, put my hand
out into unknown space,
hoping for the reciprocating touch?
by R. S. Thomas
from Later Poems (1983)
I like the Lutheran service, calm and grave,
I like its ritual, solemn and severe;
the message of these bare and empty walls
I bow to, I revere.
But don’t you see? Why surely you must know
that for the last time Faith is with us there.
She has not crossed the threshold yet to go,
but all is swept and bare.
She has not crossed the threshold on her way,
she has not gone for good, and closed the door.
But yet the hour has struck. Kneel down and pray,
for you will pray no more.
by Фёдор Иванович Тютчев (Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev)
translated by Frances Cornford and Esther Polianowsky Salaman
Fun fact: Counted amongst the admirers of Tyutchev’s works were Dostoevsky and Tolstoy along with Nekrasov and Fet. Then later Osip Mandelstam who, in a passage approved of by Shalamov, believed that a Russian poet should not have copy of Tyutchev in his personal library – he should know all of Tyutchev off by heart.
He did not return, even after his death, to
That ancient city he was rooted in.
Going away, he did not pause for breath
Nor look back. My song is for him.
Torches, night, a last embrace,
Fate, a wild howl, at his threshold.
Out of hell he sent her his curse
And in heaven could not forget her.
But never in a penitential shirt did
He walk with a lighted candle and barefoot
Through beloved Florence he could not betray,
Perfidious, base, and self-deserted.
by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)
from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)
translation by D. M. Thomas