На берегу (On the Bank) by Arseny Tarkovsky

He was sitting by the river, among reeds

that peasants had been scything for their thatch.

And it was quiet there, and in his soul

it was quieter and stiller still.

He kicked off his boots and put

his feet into the water, and the water

began talking to him, not knowing

he didn't know its language.

He had thought that water is deaf-mute,

that the home of sleepy fish is without words,

that blue dragonflies hover over water

and catch mosquitoes or horseflies,

that you wash if you want to wash, and drink

if you want to drink, and that's all there is

to water. But in all truth

the water's language was a wonder,

a story of some kind about some thing,

some unchanging thing that seemed

like starlight, like the swift flash of mica,

like a divination of disaster.

And in it was something from childhood,

from not being used to counting life in years,

from what is nameless

and comes at night before you dream,

from the terrible, vegetable

sense of self

of your first season.


That's how the water was that day,

and its speech was without rhyme or reason.


by Арсений Александрович Тарковский
(Arseny Alexandrovich Tarkovsky)
(1954)
translated by Robert Chandler

Arseny was the father of the famous and highly influential film director Andrei Tarkovsky. His poetry was often quoted in his son’s films.

Beneath is the original version of the poem.

На берегу

Он у реки сидел на камыше,
Накошенном крестьянами на крыши,
И тихо было там, а на душе
Еще того спокойнее и тише.
И сапоги он скинул. И когда
Он в воду ноги опустил, вода
Заговорила с ним, не понимая,
Что он не знает языка ее.
Он думал, что вода - глухонемая
И бессловесно сонных рыб жилье,
Что реют над водою коромысла
И ловят комаров или слепней,
Что хочешь мыться - мойся, хочешь -
пей,
И что в воде другого нету смысла.

И вправду чуден был язык воды,
Рассказ какой-то про одно и то же,
На свет звезды, на беглый блеск слюды,
На предсказание беды похожий.
И что-то было в ней от детских лет,
От непривычки мерить жизнь годами,
И от того, чему названья нет,
Что по ночам приходит перед снами,
От грозного, как в ранние года,
Растительного самоощущенья.

Вот какова была в тот день вода
И речь ее - без смысла и значенья.
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Island by R. S. Thomas

I would still go there
if only to await
the once-in-a-lifetime
opening of truth's flower;

if only to escape
such bought freedom, and live,
prisoner of the keyless sea,
on the mind's bread and water.

by R. S. Thomas
from No Truce with the Furies (1995)

The Fisherman by R. S. Thomas

A simple man,
He liked the crease on the water
His cast made, but had no pity
For the broken backbone
Of water or fish.

One of his pleasures, thirsty,
Was to ask a drink
At the hot farms;
Leaving with a casual thank you,
As though they owed it him.

I could have told of the living water
That springs pure.
He would have smiled then,
Dancing his speckled fly in the shallows,
Not understanding.

by R. S. Thomas
from Not That He Brought Flowers (1968)

‘Gotta keep living, though I’ve died twice’ Osip Mandelstam

Gotta keep living, though I’ve died twice,

and water’s driving the city crazy:

how beautiful, what high cheekbones, how happy,

how sweet the fat earth to the plough,

how the steppe extends in an April upheaval,

and the sky, the sky – pure Michelangelo…

 

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)

(1935)

translated by Andrew Davis

What Are We To Do? by Daniil Kharms

While the dolphin and the sea-horse

Played silly games together,

The ocean beat against the cliffs

And washed the cliffs with its water.

The scary water moaned and cried.

The stars shone. Years went by.

Then the horrid hour came:

I am no more, and so are you,

The sea is gone, the cliffs, the mountains,

And the stars gone, too;

Only the choir sounds out of the dead void.

And for simplicity’s sake, our wrathful God

Sprung up and blew away the dust of centuries,

And now, freed from the shackles of time

He flies alone, his own and only dearest friend.

Cold everywhere, and darkness blind.

 

by ‘Dandan‘ a pseudonym used by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

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

(15 October 1934)

translated by Matvei Yankelevich


Fun fact: A dandan or dendan is a mythical sea creature that appears in volume 9 of ‘The Book of One Thousand and One Nights’ (or more commonly ‘Arabian Nights’). It appears in the tale “Abdullah the Fisherman and Abdullah the Merman”, where the merman tells the fisherman that the dandan is the largest fish in the sea and is the enemy of the mermen. A dendan is capable of swallowing a ship and all its crew in a single gulp. Kharms was probably aware of this and thus played on it for one of his pseudonyms.

О.Л.С. (F.L.F.) by Daniil Kharms

The forest sways its tippy-tops,

people walk around with pots,

catching water from air with them.

In the sea, water bends.

But fire will not bend to the very end.

Fire loves airy freedom.

 

by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

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

(21/22 August 1933)

translated by Matvei Yankelevich


Fun facts: The original Russian title, О.Л.С., is an acronym of three of the last lines four words – огонь любит воздушную свободу (Ogon’ Liubit vozdushnuyu Svobodu) i.e. Fire Loves airy Freedom.

In Great Waters by R. S. Thomas

You are there also

at the foot of the precipice

of water that was too steep

for the drowned: their breath broke

and they fell. You have made an altar

out of the deck of the lost

trawler whose spars

are your cross. The sand crumbles

like bread; the wine is

the light quietly lying

in its own chalice. There is

a sacrament there more beauty

than terror whose ministrant

you are and the aisles are full

of the sea shapes coming to its celebration.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Frequencies (1978)