‘Oh Don’t Look Back’ but Olga Berggolts

Oh don’t look back

at that ice

at that dark;

there, waiting greedily

for you is a look

that will demand an answer.

 

I looked back today. And suddenly,

I saw him – alive and with living eyes,

looking at me out of the ice,

my one and only, for all time.

 

I hadn’t known it was like that;

I’d thought I lived and breathed another.

But Oh, my joy, my dream, my death,

I only live beneath your gaze.

 

I have been faithful to him alone;

in that alone I have done right:

to all the living, I’m his wife;

to you and me – your widow.

 

by Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts)

a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz

(1947)

translated by Robert Chandler


A Soviet poet, writer, playwright and journalist. She is most famous for her work on the Leningrad radio during the city’s blockade, when she became the symbol of city’s strength and determination.

Olga was married a number of times. In 1925 she joined a youth literature group ‘The Shift’ where she became acquainted with Boris Kornilov. In 1927 Boris and Olga entered the State Institute of Art History, and in 1928 they got married. In 1930 she graduated from the philological faculty and was sent to Kazakhstan to work as a journalist for the Soviet Steppe newspaper. During this period Olga divorced Kornilov and married her fellow student Nikolay Molchanov. Her former husband Boris Kornilov was arrested “for taking part in the anti-Soviet Trotskyist organization” and executed on February 1938. In January 1942 she survived another personal tragedy: her second husband Nikolay Molchanov died of hunger. Olga later dedicated a poem 29 January 1942 and her book The Knot (1965) to Nikolay. On March 1942 Olga, who suffered from a critical form of dystrophy, was forcefully sent by her friends to Moscow using the Road of Life, despite her protests. On 20 April she returned to Leningrad and continued her work at the Radio House. On her return she married Georgy Makogonenko, a literary critic, also a radio host during the siege.

Kneeling by R.S. Thomas

Moments of great calm,

Kneeling before an altar

Of wood in a stone church

In summer, waiting for the God

To speak; the air a staircase

For silence; the sun’s light

Ringing me, as though I acted

A great rôle. And the audiences

Still; all that close throng

Of spirits waiting, as I,

For the message.

Prompt me, God;

But not yet. When I speak,

Though it be you who speak

Through me, something is lost.

The meaning is in the waiting.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Not That He Brought Flowers (1968)

I by Mike Jenkins

I is the biggest word

in the English language –

some people yawn bored

as soon as you mention it.

 

I know people who erect crosses

made from it

and then refuse to carry them.

 

I know people who would

like to keep changing it

every week like fashionable clothing.

 

I know people who hate it so much

it’s become an obcession,

like a priest always ranting against sin.

 

In English, ‘I’ begins the sentence:

the other words queue up behind it

waiting for their instructions.

 

You must write ‘I’ with a capital letter.

but ‘we’ with a small one.

Why? … well… as in God and Great Britain.

 

i know a person who tried to make it

mock itself, to disguise an ambition.

i know a person who thinks it will outlive

the exploring body, the inflated mind.

 

by Mike Jenkins

from Empire of Smoke

‘Neither By Cart Nor Boat…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Neither by cart nor boat

Could you have got here.

On rotten snow

The deep water;

Farmsteads marooned and

Ah! that morose

Soul, that Robinson,

Is so close.

How often can

He inspect sledge and skis,

Return to the divan

To sit and wait for me?

And his short spur grinds

Sheer through the vile

Rug. Now mirrors learn

Not to expect smiles.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1916)

– from Белая стая (White Flock, 1917) translation by D. M. Thomas

White Night by Anna Akhmatova

I haven’t locked the door,

Nor lit the candles,

You don’t know don’t care,

That tired I haven’t the strength

 

To decide to go to bed.

Seeing the fields fade in

The sunset murk of pine-needles,

And to know all is lost,

 

That life is a cursed hell:

I’ve got drunk

On your voice in the doorway.

I was sure you’d come back.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1911, Tsarskoye Selo)

– from Вечер (Evening, 1912), translation by D. M. Thomas