The Friend by Rimma Kazakova

Quietly my friend is growing old,

and like an ancient itinerant

nun, has a faint gleam about her: an

unnatural light, thrown back as if from a mirror.

.

As she sits her needle stabs at her sewing.

Her apartment is nearby the station, yet

from somewhere else much more remote

comes the far-away hoot of another railway.

.

Her most ordinary things seem sad. A picture

of The Unknown Woman hangs over the bed;

across the tapestry of a German gobelin

a herd of sleek deer are grazing.

.

It’s well-heated in here, I say to her,

and she nods in reply: it is warm, yes.

What is it we have drowned in this room,

that I can feel trickling through our fingers?

.

Can these little muslin curtains here that

fool us with their starched whiteness be

the only banks, the only rivers

ever to flow for us with milk and honey?

.

Beggars we are, working infertile ground.

Like green arrows from a bow, perhaps

both of us have overestimated

the strength that belongs to young girls.

.

And yet maybe it is no sin, maybe

it is even part of knowing yourself human

to want to have some material thing that

can somehow last, and be eternal.

.

I am afraid of muddling everything with

words, on the wrong track again: is

it possible these nineteen years we’ve

shared will disappear without a trace of us?

.

They sank into us like burdens once,

and lay like routes ahead we had to take.

Comes to, wake up now, my dear friend.

Prick your finger with your needle!

.

Along the shipping routes, you also may

bear your lights out into the

open sea, as in other times,

pedlars carried their wares over old Russia.

.

My friend…

.

by Римма Фёдоровна Казакова (Rimma Fyodorovna Kazakova)

(1955?)

translated by Elaine Feinstein

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Additional information: Rimma Fyodorovna Kazakova (Римма Фёдоровна Казакова) was born in Sevastopol. 27 January 1932 in Sevastopol, Soviet Union – 19 May 2008 in Perkhushkovo, Odintsovo District of Moscow Oblast, Russia) was a Soviet/Russian poet. She was known as an author of many popular songs of the Soviet era. She studied history and worked in Khabarovsk as a lecturer. She has also worked as an editor in a newsreel studio.

Though a very conservative writer, Kazakova is nevertheless unusual in the Soviet context for her occasional frank treatment of such themes as pregnancy. Her poetry, like Berggolts’, is quite often sombre, showing insight into such problems as loneliness or ageing, particularly as it affects women. She identifies with the hard life of hunters, builders, fishermen etc., and much of her poetry springs from her observations of the working life of such people.

Her first rhymes were reminiscent of Yevtushenko, Okudzhava, Voznesensky and Rozhdestvensky and were first published in 1955. Her first poetry collection, Let’s Meet in the East («Встретимся на Востоке»), was published in 1958.

From 1959 until her death, she was a member of the USSR Union of Writers. She also held the position of First Secretary of the Moscow Union of Writers. In October 1993, she signed the Letter of Forty-Two. She died suddenly at age 76 at a medical sanatorium near Perkhushkovo on 19 May 2008 at 1pm. She was buried on 22 May 2008 at Vagankovo Cemetery in Moscow.

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There doesn’t seem to be much available information about Kazakova in English. In fact this is the only translated poem of hers I’m aware of so if anyone is able to contribute something further then please leave a comment. Especially if you know where to source the original, Cyrillic, version as I couldn’t find any evidence of it after looking at a number of Russian language poetry websites.

The Island by R. S. Thomas

And God said, I will build a church here

And cause this people to worship me,

And afflict them with poverty and sickness

In return for centuries of hard work

And patience. And its walls shall be hard as

Their hearts, and its windows let in the light

Grudgingly, as their minds do, and the priest’s words be drowned

By the wind’s caterwauling. All this I will do,

 

Said God, and watch the bitterness in their eyes

Grow, and their lips suppurate with

Their prayers. And their women shall bring forth

On my altars, and I will choose the best

Of them to be thrown back into the sea.

 

And that was only on one island.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from H’m (1972)