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.

Invitation by R. S. Thomas

And one voice says: Come
Back to the rain and manure
Of Siloh, to the small talk,
Of the wind,and the chapel's

Temptation; to the pale,
Sickly half-smile of
The daughter of the village
Grocer. The other says: Come

To the streets, where the pound
Sings and the doors open
To its music, with life
Like an express train running

To time. And I stay
Here, listening to them, blowing
On the small soul in my
Keeping with such breath as I have.

by R. S. Thomas
from H'm (1972)

Siloh is a hamlet in Llandovery, Carmarthenshire.

Evening by R. S. Thomas

The archer with time

as his arrow – has he broken

his strings that the rainbow

is so quiet over our village?

 

Let us stand, then in the interval

of our wounding, till the silence

turn golden and love is

a moment eternally overflowing.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from No Truce With the Furies (1995)

Reservoirs by R.S. Thomas

There are places in Wales I don’t go:

Reservoirs that are the subconscious

Of a people, troubled far down

With gravestones, chapels, villages even;

The serenity of their expression

Revolts me, it is a pose

For strangers, a watercolour’s appeal

To the mass, instead of the poem’s

Harsher conditions. There are the hills,

Too; gardens gone under the scum

Of the forests; and the smashed faces

Of the farms with the stone trickle

Of their tears down the hills’ side.

 

Where can I go, then, from the smell

Of decay, from the putrefying of a dead

Nation? I have walked the shore

For an hour and seen the English

Scavenging among the remains

Of our culture, covering the sand

Like the tide and, with the roughness

Of the tide, elbowing our language

Into the grave that we have dug for it.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Not That He Brought Flowers (1968)


Ronald Stuart Thomas (29 March 1913 – 25 September 2000), published as R. S. Thomas, was a Welsh poet and Anglican priest who was noted for his nationalism, spirituality and deep dislike of the anglicisation of Wales. M. Wynn Thomas said: “He was the Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn of Wales because he was such a troubler of the Welsh conscience.”

R. S. Thomas believed in what he called “the true Wales of my imagination”, a Welsh-speaking aboriginal community that was in tune with the natural world. He viewed western (specifically English) materialism and greed, represented in the poetry by his mythical “Machine”, as the destroyers of community. He could tolerate neither the English who bought up Wales, and in his view stripped it of its wild and essential nature, nor the Welsh whom he saw as all too eager to kowtow to English money and influence.

As Capel Celyn was flooded in 1965 it’s almost certain one of the resevoirs referred to in this poem is this lost community. Capel Celyn was a rural community to the north west of Bala in Gwynedd, north Wales, in the Afon Tryweryn valley. The village and other parts of the valley were flooded to create a reservoir, Llyn Celyn, in order to supply Liverpool and Wirral with water for industry. The village contained, among other things, a chapel, as the name suggests, capel being Welsh for chapel, while celyn is Welsh for holly.