The Willow by Vladimir Soloukhin

The willow

Over past the potato patch

Is the least lucky

Of all the trees of our village –

The spot has been turned into a rubbish dump.

Yes. In the first place, no one knows whose it was,

Who planted it there, or why –

We don’t know.

If it’s always clean and tidy as a peasant’s hut

Round other

Perfectly ordinary, pleasant willows,

Round that godforsaken one

All manner of trash is piled.

People bring scrap iron,

Galoshes, boots,

Not fit for anything now, of course,

(If they were any good at all, they wouldn’t be there),

And when the cat dies, it’s dumped by the tree.

So encircled is the poor willow

With old boots, rags and rotting cats

That it’s advisable to give it a wide berth.

.

But still, when May comes,

The willow, up to its knees in muck,

Suddenly begins gently to gild itself.

It doesn’t give a damn about the torn galoshes,

The jars and tins, the old clothes.

It blossoms as do all its earthly sisters.

Shyly it blossoms

With innocent flowers, so pure,

Turned towards the sun, for the first time opening.

And the sun shines. And the whole tree smells of honey.

.

And, incidentally, bees fly to it,

In spite of the rubbish lying at its foot,

And bears away the translucent honey of its flowers

To people who abuse trees.

.

.

by Владимир Алексеевич Солоухин

(Vladimir Alexeyevich Soloukhin)

translated by Daniel Weissbort

Additional information: Soloukhin lived from 1924 to 1997.

At the Moscow meeting of writers on October 31, 1958, he took part in the condemnation of the novel Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. Soloukhin noted about the Nobel Prize laureate that Pasternak should become an emigrant:

“He will not be able to tell anything interesting there. And in a month he will be thrown out like an eaten egg, like a squeezed lemon. And then it will be a real execution for the betrayal that he committed ”

[Apologies for the rough translation – the original version of the quote, in Cyrillic, can be found on the Soloukhin’s Russian Wikipedia page].

In his journalism of the late 1950s and early 1960s, Soloukhin spoke out as a Russian patriot, pointed out the need to preserve national traditions, and reflected on the development of Russian art.

The main theme of Soloukhin’s poetic and literary work is the Russian countryside, its present and future. His works strive to demonstrate the necessity of preserving Russia’s national traditions, and pondering the ways to further develop ethnic Russian art.

Vladimir Soloukhin is considered to be a leading figure of the “village prose” group of writers. His journalistic expressions of opinion during the later years of perestroika idealized pre-revolutionary Russia. So it is interesting to note that while other groups had their works censored or suppressed the ‘village writers’ works were passed with such criticism due to their idealising of the manual laborer contributing to society.

In the early 1960s he became interested in Russian icons, eventually becoming a respected advocate of them, as well as a collector and specialist in the interpretation and technique of icon painting. His publications on this subject – “Letters from the Russian Museum” (1966) and “Black Boards” (1968) received a wide public response.

Soloukhin’s book “Searching for Icons in Russia” describes his hobby of collecting icons. He traveled throughout the countryside in the 1950s and 1960s searching for icons. In some instances he discovered beautiful 16th century icons underneath layers of grime and over-painting yet he also finds ancient icons chopped into bits and rotting away.

He was known for his campaign to preserve pre-revolutionary Russian art and architecture. Ilya Glazunov painted a portrait of him. He died on 4 April 1997 in Moscow and was buried in his native village.

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If you are able to find the Russian Cyrillic version of the above poem and direct me to it I would very much appreciated it.

На пороге ночи (Fall of Night) by Novella Matveyeva

In the evening the path

Is violet-grey,

A sulphuric, lilac shade.

And, like a nut

That ripens and

Comes loose from its own walls,

The moon comes away from the walls of the sky,

And from the moisture-filled clouds,

And sets out for the weightless firmament,

Lonely and cast adrift…

.

The gypsy shadows of the trees

Sweep the road with their curls…

Far off, aside, a desolate

Pond smokes and glitters,

Like the drowsy fire in a pipe,

Dull, quenched, half-dead,

Stuffed into the sleeve, under the damp fur

Of a sheepskin-coat.

.

From there, from that damp, sad place,

Into the dry-leafed coppice an owl bowls, head over heels,

Its wings bulky yet nimble –

Fluttering millstones.

It flies shaggily,

Ridiculously;

It flies like something sewn up in a grey sack,

With oblique slits for eyes.

Its clumsy dance in the fresh air

Is like a rudderless, compassless boat’s…

Be off, absurd creature, be off!

Beyond the ditch, black as an abyss,

Bushes shine glassily, like vessels filled with some

Medicinal infusion.

.

It is the prelude to night…

.

Night.

Like uprights and arcs,

Above the warm,

Lonely expanse

Are motionless sounds…

.

by Новелла Николаевна Матвеева

(Novella Nikolayevna Matveyeva)

(1965?)

translated by Daniel Weissbort

.

Beneath is the original Russian version of the poem in Cyrillic.

.

На пороге ночи

У тропки вечерней сиренево-серный
И серо-лиловый оттенок.
И, словно орех, который, созрев,
Отходит от собственных стенок,
Отходит луна от небес волокна,
От облачного потока,
И к легкому своду уходит она
Отколото, одиноко...

Деревьев цыганские тени кудрями дорогу метут...
Вдали, в запустенье, дымится и светится пруд,
Как жар, потухающий в трубке цыгана,
Мечтательно замерший наполовину,
Попав под рукав, под сырую овчину
Тумана...

Оттуда, из сырости грустной,
В лесок сухокудрый летит, кувыркаясь, сова:
Я слышу, я слышу крыла ее грузные,
О, эти порхающие жернова!
Летит она прозорливо и слепо, -
Движением тяжким и скорым, как шок.
Летит клочковато, летит нелепо,
Летит, как зашитая в серый мешок
С косыми прорезями для глаз...

Как пляска ладьи, где отшибло и руль и компас,
В воздухе свежем танец ее корявый...
Прочь, абсурдная,
Прочь!

...За черной, как пропасть, канавой
Стеклянно блистают кусты, как сосуды с целебным настоем, -
Это вступление в ночь...
Ночь.

Как столбики и как дуги,
Над теплым,
Над сиротливым простором
Стоят неподвижные звуки.

Февраль. Достать чернил и плакать! (February. Get ink and weep!) by Boris Pasternak

 February. Get ink and weep!
Burst into sobs – to write and write
of February, while thundering slush
burns like black spring.

For half a rouble hire a cab,
ride through chimes and the wheel's cry
to where the drenching rain is black,
louder than tears or ink -

where like thousands of charred pears
rooks will come tearing out of trees
straight into puddles, an avalanche,
dry grief to the ground of eyes.

Beneath it – blackening spots of thaw,
and all the wind is holed by shouts,
and poems – the randomer the truer -
take form, as sobs burst out.


By Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к
(Boris Leonidovich Pasternak)
(1913)
translated by Angela Livingstone

An alternate to Jon Stallworthy and Peter France’s translation of the poem ‘It’s February. Weeping take ink!‘ provided elsewhere on this site. The Original doesn’t have a specific title and is usually referred to by it’s first line, as is the case with many untitled poems, but my source for this translation titled it as ‘February’. Also of note this translation gives the date as 1913 but my research of Russian sources all agree to it being published, or at least written, in 1912. The discrepancy may be due to the date it was initially published in a collection of poetry or journal possibly.

A recital of the Russian version read by Sergei Yursky (a Russian actor who died on 8th February this year sadly) set to music by Chopin:

The original Russian Cyrillic version of the poem:

 Февраль. Достать чернил и плакать!
Писать о феврале навзрыд,
Пока грохочущая слякоть
Весною черною горит.

Достать пролетку. За шесть гривен,
Чрез благовест, чрез клик колес,
Перенестись туда, где ливень
Еще шумней чернил и слез.

Где, как обугленные груши,
С деревьев тысячи грачей
Сорвутся в лужи и обрушат
Сухую грусть на дно очей.

Под ней проталины чернеют,
И ветер криками изрыт,
И чем случайней, тем вернее
Слагаются стихи навзрыд.

‘The air is split into black branches’ by Velimir Khlebnikov

The air is split into black branches,

like old glass.

Pray to Our Lady of Autumn!

The windows of autumn’s chapel,

smashed by a hurtling bullet,

are wrinkling.

A tree was burning,

a bright spill in the golden air.

It bends; it bows down.

Autumn’s flint and steel angrily

struck the sparks of golden days.

A forest at prayer. All at once

golden smells fell to the ground.

Trees stretch out – rakes

gathering armfuls of the sun’s hay.

Autumn’s tree resonantly evokes

a sketch of Russia’s railroads.

The golden autumn wind

has scattered me everywhere.

 

by Велимир Хлебников (Velimir Khlebnikov)

a.k.a. Виктор Владимирович Хлебников

(Viktor Vladimirovich Khlebnikov)

(1921)

translated by Robert Chandler

Bronze Poet by Innokenty Annensky

Clouds that whiten in a dome of blue

and twisted trees sharply delineated,

the dust aglow, each shadow elongated

and phantoms that pass through the heart anew.

Why was the tale so brief? I cannot say.

Was there a second half I didn’t know?

In pale skies the clouds dissolve away

and night roams through the blackened tree below.

That man, the bench he sits on in the dusk

are growing heavier and more grotesque…

Don’t move! For as carnations start to shine

and leafy bushes melt and intertwine,

the poet shakes away his uniform

of tired bronze and prings on the lawn.

 

by Иннокентий Фёдорович Анненский (Innokenty Fyodorovich Annensky)

(date unknown)

translated by Peter Oram


Fun fact: Annensky is thinking of a statue of Pushkin in the Lycee Garden in Tsarkoye Selo.

Once it was the Colour of Saying by Dylan Thomas

Once it was the colour of saying

Soaked my table the uglier side of a hill

With a capsized field where a school sat still

And a black and white patch of girls grew playing;

The gentle seaslides of saying I must undo

That all the charmingly drowned arise to cockcrow and kill.

When I whistled with mitching boys through a reservoir park

Where at night we stoned the cold and cuckoo

Lovers in the dirt of their leafy beds,

The shade of their trees was a word of many shades

And a lamp of lightning for the poor in the dark;

Now my saying shall be my undoing,

And every stone I wind off like a reel.

 

by Dylan Thomas


Fun Facts: ‘Mitching’ is Skivving, bunking, skipping school.

‘All all the trees go piff’ by Daniil Kharms

All all the trees go piff

all all the rocks go paff

all all of nature poof.

 

All all the girls go piff

all all the guys go paff

all all the marriage poof.

 

All all the slavs go piff

all all the jews go paff

all all of Russia poof.

 

by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

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

(early October 1929)

translated by Matvei Yankelevich

Marx and Heine and Dowlais by Idris Davies

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


Fun facts:

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.

Storm Awst by Gillian Clarke

The cat walks. It listens, as I do,

To the wind which leans its iron

Shoulders on our door. Neither

The purr of a cat nor my blood

Runs smoothly for elemental fear

Of the storm. This then is the big weather

They said was coming. All the signs

Were bad, the gulls coming in white,

Lapwings gathering, the sheep too

Calling all night. The gypsies

Were making their fires in the woods

Down there in the east…always

A warning. The rain stings, the whips

Of the laburnum hedge lash the roof

Of the cringing cottage. A curious

Calm, coming from the storm, unites

Us, as we wonder if the work

We have done will stand. Will the tyddyn,

In its group of strong trees on the high

Hill, hold against the storm Awst

Running across the hills where everything

Alive listens, pacing its house, heart still?

 

by Gillian Clarke

from The Sundial, (Gwasg Gomer, 1978)


Fun facts:  Glossary: Welsh = English

Awst = August

Storm Awst = August storm

tyddyn = [farm] smallholding

Funeral by R. S. Thomas

They stand about conversing

In dark clumps, less beautiful than trees.

What have they come here to mourn?

There was a death, yes; but death’s brother,

Sin, is of more importance.

Shabbily the teeth gleam,

Sharpening themselves on reputations

That were firm once. On the cheap coffin

The earth falls more cleanly than tears.

What are these red faces for?

This incidence of pious catarrh

At the grave’s edge? He has returned

Where he belongs; this is acknowledged

By all but the lonely few

Making amends for the heart’s coldness

He had from them, grudging a little

The simple splendour of the wreath

Of words the church lays on him.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from The Bread of Truth (1963)