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
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).
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
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.
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.