I'll say this in a whisper, in draft,
because it's early yet:
we have to pay
with experience and sweat
to learn the sky's free play.
And under purgatory's temporal sky
we easily forget:
the dome of heaven
is a home
to praise forever, wherever.
by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam.
His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
translated by Robert Chandler
I want to visit the roses
In that lonely
Park where the statues remember me young
And I remember them under the water
Of the Neva. In the fragrant quiet
Between the limes of Tsarskoye I hear
A creak of masts. And the swan swims
Still, admiring its lovely
Double. And a hundred thousand steps,
Friend and enemy, enemy and friend,
Sleep. Endless is the procession of shades
Between granite vase and palace door.
There my white nights
Whisper of someone’s discreet exalted
Love. And everything is mother-
Of-pearl and jasper,
But the light’s source is a secret.
by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)
(July, 1959, Leningrad)
from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)
translation by D. M. Thomas
Fun facts: The Summer Garden (Летний сад) occupies an island between the Fontanka, Moika, and the Swan Canal in Saint Petersburg (a.k.a. Leningrad), Russia and shares its name with the adjacent Summer Palace of Peter the Great.
Akhmatova recites her poem:
The text in the original Russian Cyrillic:
Я к розам хочу, в тот единственный сад,
Где лучшая в мире стоит из оград,
Где статуи помнят меня молодой,
А я их под невскою помню водой.
В душистой тиши между царственных лип
Мне мачт корабельных мерещится скрип.
И лебедь, как прежде, плывет сквозь века,
Любуясь красой своего двойника.
И замертво спят сотни тысяч шагов
Врагов и друзей, друзей и врагов.
А шествию теней не видно конца
От вазы гранитной до двери дворца.
Там шепчутся белые ночи мои
О чьей-то высокой и тайной любви.
И все перламутром и яшмой горит,
Но света источник таинственно скрыт.
Dafydd looked out;
I look out: five centuries
without change? The same sea breaks
on the same shore and is not
broken. The stone in Llŷn
is still there, honey-
coloured for a girl’s hair
to resemble. It is time’s
smile on the cliff
face at the childishness
of my surprise. Here was the marriage
of land and sea, from whose bickering
the spray rises. ‘Are you there?’
I call into the dumb
past, that is close to me
as my shadow. ‘Are you here?’
I whisper to the encountered
self like one coming
on the truth asleep
and fearing to disturb it.
by R. S Thomas
from Mass for Hard Times (1992)
Fun facts: Dafydd is the Welsh form of David and St David is the patron saint of Wales. However the Dafydd referenced here could be one of many. I assume it’s Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd (c. 1145 – 1203) who was Prince of Gwynedd from 1170 to 1195 but please comment if you know otherwise.
Pen Llŷn refers to the Llŷn Peninsula (Welsh: Penrhyn Llŷn or Pen Llŷn) extends 30 miles (50 km) into the Irish Sea from north west Wales, south west of the Isle of Anglesey. It is part of the modern county and historic region of Gwynedd. Much of the eastern part of the peninsula, around Criccieth, may be regarded as part of Eifionydd rather than Llŷn, although the boundary is somewhat vague. The area of Llŷn is about 400 km2 (150 sq miles), and its population is at least 20,000. The Llyn Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty covers c. 62 square miles.
Historically, the peninsula was travelled by pilgrims en route to Bardsey Island (Welsh: Ynys Enlli), and its relative isolation has helped to conserve the Welsh language and culture, for which the locality is now famous. This perceived remoteness from urban life has lent the area an unspoilt image which has made Llŷn a popular destination for both tourists and holiday home owners. Holiday homes remain a bone of contention among locals, many of whom are priced out of the housing market by incomers.
From the 1970s to the 1990s, a Welsh nationalist group known as Meibion Glyndŵr claimed responsibility for several hundred arson attacks on holiday homes using incendiary devices, some of which took place in Llŷn. R S Thomas was a well known nationalist who endorsed their actions. In 1990 the poet and priest R. S. Thomas called for a campaign to deface English-owned homes.
Paper and sticks and shovel and match
Why won’t the news of the old world catch
And the fire in a temper start
Once I had a rich boy for myself
I loved his body and his navy blue wealth
And I lived in his purse and his heart
When in our bed I was tossing and turning
All I could see were his brown eyes burning
By the green of a one pound note
I talk to him as I clean the grate
O my dear it’s never too late
To take me away as you whispered and wrote
I had a handsome and well-off boy
I’ll share my money and we’ll run for joy
With a bouncing and silver spooned kid
Sharp and shrill my silly tongue scratches
Words on the air as the fire catches
You never did and he never did.
by Dylan Thomas
Fun fact: This was the only poem left out of Dylan Thomas’ ‘Collected Poems 1934 – 1952‘ because he disliked it. The book was published on 10 November 1952 by Dylan’s usual publishers Dent of London, which gathered together all the poems from his three previous volumes of poetry (’18 Poems’, ‘Twenty Five Poems’ and ‘Deaths and Entrances’), plus a further six written since 1946, to make a total of 90.
I walked without dragging my feet
but felt heavy at heart and frightened;
and I pulled onto my left hand
the glove that belonged to the right.
There seemed to be countless steps,
though I knew there were only three,
and an autumn voice from maples
whispered, ‘Die with me!
I have been undone by a fate
that is cheerless, flighty and cruel.’
I repied, ‘So have I, my dearest –
let me die one death with you…’
The song of a last encounter:
I glanced up at a dark wall:
from the bedroom indifferent candles
glowed yellow… And that was all.
by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)
(1911, Tsarkoye Selo)
from Вечер (Evening, 1912)
translation by Robert Chandler
This is an alternative version of same poem translated as Song of the Last Meeting by D. M. Thomas.
My breast grew cold and numb,
But my feet were light.
On to my right hand I fumbled
The glove to my left hand.
It seemed that there were many steps
-I knew there were only three.
An autumn whisper between the maples
Kept urging: ‘Die with me.
Change has made me weary,
Fate has cheated me of everything.’
I answered: ‘My dear, my dear!
I’ll die with you. I too am suffering.’
It was a song of the last meeting.
Only bedroom-candles burnt
When I looked into the dark house,
And they were yellow and indifferent.
– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1911, Tsarskoye Selo)
– from Вечер (Evening, 1912), translation by D. M. Thomas