On The Farm by R. S. Thomas

There was Dai Puw. He was no good.
They put him in the fields to dock swedes,
And took the knife from him, when he came home
At late evening with a grin
Like the slash of a knife on his face.

There was Llew Puw, and he was no good.
Every evening after the ploughing
With the big tractor he would sit in his chair,
And stare into the tangled fire garden,
Opening his slow lips like a snail.

There was Huw Puw, too. What shall I say?
I have heard him whistling in the hedges
On and on, as though winter
Would never again leave those fields,
And all the trees were deformed.

And lastly there was the girl:
Beauty under some spell of the beast.
Her pale face was the lantern
By which they read in life's dark book
The shrill sentence: God is love.


by R. S. Thomas
from The Bread of Truth (1963)

Зима приближается (Winter Approaches) by Boris Pasternak

Winter approaches. And once again
The secret retreat of some bear
Will vanish under impassible mud
To a tearful child's despair.

Little huts will awaken in lakes
Reflecting their smoke like a path.
Encircled by autumn's cold slush,
Life-lovers will meet by the heath.

Inhabitants of the stern North,
Whose roof is the open air,
'In this sign conquer' is written
On each inaccessible lair.

I love you, provincial retreats,
Off the map, off the road, past the farm.
The more thumbed and grubby the book,
The greater for me its charm.

Slow lines of lumbering carts,
You spell out an alphabet leading
From meadow to meadow. Your pages
Were always my favourite reading.

And suddenly here it is written
Again, in the first snow – the spidery
Cursive italic of sleigh runners -
A page like a piece of embroidery.

A silvery-hazel October.
Pewter shine since the frosts began.
Autumnal twilight of Chekov,
Tchaikovsky and Levitan.

by Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к
(Boris Leonidovich Pasternak)
(1943)
translated by Jon Stallworthy and Peter France
The poem read in Russian by the actor Aleksandr Feklistov

Below is the original Russian Cyrillic version of the poem:

Зима приближается


Зима приближается. Сызнова
Какой-нибудь угол медвежий
Под слезы ребенка капризного
Исчезнет в грязи непроезжей.

Домишки в озерах очутятся,
Над ними закурятся трубы.
В холодных объятьях распутицы
Сойдутся к огню жизнелюбы.

Обители севера строгого,
Накрытые небом, как крышей!
На вас, захолустные логова,
Написано: сим победиши.

Люблю вас, далекие пристани
В провинции или деревне.
Чем книга чернее и листанней,
Тем прелесть ее задушевней.

Обозы тяжелые двигая,
Раскинувши нив алфавиты,
Вы с детства любимою книгою
Как бы посредине открыты.

И вдруг она пишется заново
Ближайшею первой метелью,
Вся в росчерках полоза санного
И белая, как рукоделье.

Октябрь серебристо-ореховый.
Блеск заморозков оловянный.
Осенние сумерки Чехова,
Чайковского и Левитана.

Мой щегол, я голову закину (Goldfinch, friend, I’ll cock my head) by Osip Mandelstam

Goldfinch, friend, I'll cock my head -
let's check the world out, just me and you:
this winter's day pricks like chaff;
does it sting your eyes too?

Boat-tailed, feathers yellow-black,
sopped in colour beneath your beak,
do you get, you goldfinch you,
just how you flaunt it?

What's he thinking, little airhead? -
white and yellow, black and red!
Both eyes check both ways – both! -
will check no more – he's bolted!


by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam.) His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
(9-27 December 1936)
translated by Andrew Davis
A recital of the poem by Mikhail Kozakov
The original Russian Cyrillic version of the poem


Мой щегол, я голову закину —
Поглядим на мир вдвоем:
Зимний день, колючий, как мякина,
Так ли жестк в зрачке твоем?

Хвостик лодкой, перья черно-желты,
Ниже клюва в краску влит,
Сознаешь ли — до чего щегол ты,
До чего ты щегловит?

Что за воздух у него в надлобье —
Черн и красен, желт и бел!
В обе стороны он в оба смотрит — в обе!—
Не посмотрит — улетел!

Extra information: The RSPB website has information, a bird identifying ‘questionnaire’ if you’ve seen any you don’t recognise, sound clips of bird calls, videos and more about goldfinches and many other species of birds. It might be an interesting distraction if you haven’t looked at it before.

The image of a goldfinch or starling is a repeated motif in the poetry of Mandelstam. (if you can’t read Russian then just put the text of the linked page, or it’s page address, into GoogleTranslate which gives a surprisingly eloquent translation).

‘No one will be in the house’ by Boris Pasternak

 No one will be in the house
But twilight. Just the same
Winter day in the gap
The gathered curtains frame.

Only swiftly beating wings
Of white flakes as they fall.
Only roofs and snow, and but
For roofs and snow – no one at all.

And frost again will start too sketch.
And I again will find despairs
Of last year whirling me back
To another winter's affairs.

And they again will sting me
With last year's guilt, the same,
Unexpiated. Lack of wood
Will cramp the window-frame.

Then suddenly the curtain
Will shudder at the door
And you will come in, like the future,
Making no sound on the floor.

And you will stand there wearing
Something white, no lace, no braid,
Something made from the fabric
From which snowflakes are made.


by Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к
(Boris Leonidovich Pasternak)
(1931)
translated by Jon Stallworthy and Peter France

Зимнее небо (Winter Sky) by Boris Pasternak

Out of the smoky air now are plucked down
Stars for the past week frozen in flight.
Head over heels reels the skaters' club,
Clinking its rink with the glass of the night.

Slower, slower, skater, step slow-er,
Cutting the curve as you swerve by.
Every turn a constellation
Scraped by the skate into Norway's sky.

Fetters of frozen iron shackle the air.
Hey, skaters! There it's all the same
That night is on earth with its ivory eyes
Snake-patterned like a domino game;

That the moon, like a numb retriever's tongue,
Is freezing to bars as tight as a vice;
That mouths, like forgers' mouths, are filled
Brim-full with lava of breathtaking ice.


By Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к
(Boris Leonidovich Pasternak)
(1914-1916 )
translated by Jon Stallworthy and Peter France

Below is the original Russin version in Cyrillic

 Зимнее небо

Цeльнoю льдинoй из дымнoсти вынутa
Стaвший с нeдeлю звeздный пoтoк.
Клуб кoнькoбeжцeв ввepxу oпpoкинут:
Чoкaeтся сo звoнкoю нoчью кaтoк.

Peжe-peжe-pe-жe ступaй, кoнькoбeжeц,
В бeгe ссeкaя шaг свысoкa.
Нa пoвopoтe сoзвeздьeм вpeжeтся
В нeбo нopвeгии скpeжeт кoнькa.

Вoздуx oкoвaн мepзлым жeлeзoм.
O кoнькoбeжцы! Тaм - всe paвнo,
Чтo, кaк глaзa сo змeиным paзpeзoм,
Нoчь нa зeмлe, и кaк кoсть дoминo;

Чтo языкoм oбoмлeвшeй лeгaвoй
Мeсяц к сeбe пpимepзaeт; чтo pты,
Кaк у фaльшивoмoнeтчикoв, - лaвoй
Дуx зaxвaтившeгo льдa нaлиты.

14-ое ДЕКАБРЯ 1825 (14 December 1825) [Excerpt] by Fyodor Tyutchev

O sacrifice to reckless thought,
it seems you must have hoped
your scanty blood had power enough
to melt the eternal Pole.
A puff of smoke, a silent flicker
upon the age-old ice -
and then a breath of iron winter
extinguished every trace.


by Фёдор Иванович Тютчев
(Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev)
(14 December, 1825)
translated by Robert Chandler

Fun fact: Counted amongst the admirers of Tyutchev’s works were Dostoevsky and Tolstoy along with Nekrasov and Fet. Then later Osip Mandelstam who, in a passage approved of by Shalamov, believed that a Russian poet should not have copy of Tyutchev in his personal library – he should know all of Tyutchev off by heart.

A video of the full poem being recited in Russian.

The full original Russian Cyrillic version:

14-ое ДЕКАБРЯ 1825

Декабристам

Вас развратило Самовластье,
И меч его вас поразил,—
И в неподкупном беспристрастье
Сейприговор Закон скрепил.
Народ, чуждаясь вероломства,
Поносит ваши имена —
Иваша память от потомства,
Как труп вземле, схоронена.

О жертвы мысли безрассудной,
Вы уповали, можетбыть,
Что станет вашей крови скудной,
Чтобвечный полюс растопить!
Едва, дымясь,она сверкнула,
На вековой громаде льдов,
Зима железная дохнула —
И неосталось и следов.

Suicide on Pentwyn Bridge by Gillian Clarke

I didn't know him,
the man who jumped from the bridge.
But I saw the parabola
of long-drawn-out falling in the brown

eyes of his wife week after week
at the supermarket cash-out.
We would quietly ask "How is he?"
hear of the hospital's white

care, the corridors between her
and the broken man in the bed,
and the doctors who had no words,
no common supermarket women's talk.

Only after the funeral
I knew how he'd risen, wild
from his chair and told her
he was going out to die.

Very slowly from the first leap
he fell through winter, through the cold
of Christmas, wifely silences,
the blue scare of ambulance,

from his grave on the motorway
to the hospital, two bridges down.
A season later in a slow cortège
he has reached the ground.

by Gillian Clarke
from Letter from a Far Country (1982)

Pentwyn is a district, community and electoral ward in the east of Cardiff, Wales, located northeast of the city centre. Llanedeyrn is immediately to the south, Cyncoed to the west, Pontprennau to the north and the Rhymney River forms the eastern border.

This story of this poem is true albeit half heard from people talking about it and half learned from the local newspaper. The Pentwyn Bridge of the title carries a road over a dual carriageway in Cardiff. Asthe peom narrates a man told his terrified wife he was going out to kill himself. He jumped from the bridge and was severely injured then taken to hospital. Many months later, having never left hospital in the meantime, he finally died.