Баллада о немецком цензоре (The Ballad of a German Censor) by David Samoylov

In Germany once lived a censor

of lowly rank and title.

He blotted, struck and cancelled

and knew no other no other calling.

 

He sniffed out harmful diction

and smeared it with Indian ink.

He guarded minds from infection

and his bosses valued his work.

 

On a winter day in forty-three

he was dispatched ‘nach Osten’.

And he stared from the train car’s window

at fields, graveyards, snowstorms.

 

It was cold without a fur coat.

He saw hamlets without homes or people.

Only charred chimneys were left,

creeping by, like lizards or camels.

 

And it seemed to him that Russia

was all steppe, Mongoloid, bare.

And he thought he was feeling ‘nostalgia’,

but it was really just the chill and fear.

 

He arrived at his field post office:

such-and-such region and number.

Table, chair, iron cot and mattress,

three walls – in the fourth, a window.

 

Russia’s short on Gemütlichkeit!

He had to climb over snowdrifts.

And the work? No shortage of that:

cutting, deleting, smearing.

 

Before him lay piles of letters,

lines and lines – some straight, some wavy.

Generals wrote to their comrades,

soldiers wrote to their families.

 

There were letters, messages, queries

from the living, from those who’d been killed.

There were words he judged ‘non-Aryan’,

but it was really just fear and chill.

 

He would read nearly all day round,

forgetting to eat or shave.

And inside his tired mind

something strange began to take place.

 

Words he’d blotted and excised

would come and torment him at night,

and, like some eerie circus,

would parade there before his eyes…

 

Lines, killed by black ink,

turned tyrannical, like a tirade:

‘In the East, the East, the East,

we will not, will not be spared…’

 

The text was composed of black mosaics;

each word clung fast to the next.

Not the greatest master of prose

could have come up with such a text.

 

Long thoughts, like wagon trains,

shook the joints and ridges

of his tired and weakened brain;

battered its fragile bridges.

 

He turned unfriendly to all his friends

and grew brusque, unsociable, sad.

He was brilliant for a few days

and then broke down and went bad.

 

He awoke, from the fear and chill…

with a wild, choking feeling.

The dark was impenetrable –

the window blacked out with ink.

 

He realised that bravado leads nowhere,

that existence is fragile,

and the black truth invaded his soul

and wiped away the white lie.

 

The poor censor was born a pedant.

He reached for a small notebook

and truthfully – that is, with talent –

set everything down, in order.

 

The next morning he took up, with seal,

his… No – a different task:

he underlined all that was real

and crossed out everything else.

 

Poor censor, he’d lost his mind!

Little man, like a grain of millet!

He informed on himself in a day

and was taken away that minute…

 

There once lived a censor in Germany.

His rank and title were low.

He died and was promptly buried,

and his grave fell under the plough.

 

by Давид Самойлов (David Samoylov)

pseudonym of Давид Самуилович Кауфман (David Samuilovich Kaufman)

(1961)

translated by Boris Dralyuk


Additional information: David Samoylov (Давид Самойлов), pseudonym of David Samuilovich Kaufman ( Давид Самуилович Кауфман; 1 June 1920 in Moscow — 23 February 1990 in Tallinn) was a notable poet of the War generation of Russian poets, considered one of the most important Russian poets of the post-World War II era as well.

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The Garden by R. S. Thomas

It is a gesture against the wild,

The ungovernable sea of grass;

A place to remember love in,

To be lonely for a while;

To forget the voices of children

Calling from a locked room;

To substitute for the care

Of one querulous human

Hundreds of dumb needs.

 

It is the old kingdom of man.

Answering to their names,

Out of the soil the buds come,

The silent detonations

Of power weilded without sin.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from The Bread of Truth (1963)

No Through Road by R. S. Thomas

All in vain. I will cease now

My long absorption with the plough,

With the tame and the wild creatures

and man united with the earth.

I have failed after many seasons

In the mind’s precincts do not apply.

 

But where to turn? Earth endures

After the passing, necessary shame

Of winter, and the old lie

Of green places beckons me still

From the new world, ugly and evil,

That men pry for in truth’s name.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Song at the Year’s Turning (1955)

The Lay Preacher Ponders by Idris Davies

‘Isn’t the violet a dear little flower? And the daisy, too.

What nice little thoughts arise from a daisy!

If I were a poet now – but no, not a poet,

For a poet is a wild and blasphemous man;

He talks about wine and women too much for me

And he makes mad songs about old pagans, look you.

Poets are dangerous men to have in chapel,

And it is bad enough in chapel as it is

with all the quarelling over the organ and the deacons;

The deacons are not too nice to saintly young men like me.

(Look at Jenkins John Jones, the old damn scoundrel!)

They know I can pray for hours and hours,

They know what a righteous young man I am,

They know how my Bible is always in my pocket

And Abraham and Jonah like brothers to me,

But they prefer the proper preacher with his collar turned around;

They say he is more cultured than I am,

And what is culture but palaver and swank?

I turn up my nose at culture.

I stand up for faith, and very simple faith,

And knowledge I hate because it is poison.

Think of this devilish thing they call science,

It is Satan’s new trick to poison men’s minds.

When I shall be local councillor and a famous man –

I  look forward to the day when I shall be mayor –

I will put my foot down on clever palaver,

And show what a righteous young man I am.

And they ought to know I am that already,

For I give all my spare cash to the chapel

And all my spare time to God.’

 

by Idris Davies