The Belfry by R. S. Thomas

I have seen it standing up grey,

Gaunt, as though no sunlight

Could ever thaw out the music

Of its great bell; terrible

In its own way, for religion

Is like that. There are times

When a black frost is upon

One’s whole being, and the heart

In its bone belfry hangs and is dumb.

 

But who is to know? Always,

Even in winter in the cold

Of a stone church, on his knees

Someone is praying, whose prayers fall

Steadily through the hard spell

Of weather that is between God

And himself. Perhaps they are warm rain

That brings the sun and afterwards flowers

On the raw graves and throbbing of bells.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Pietà (1966)

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‘Mist Climbs From The Lake’ by Sergey Yesenin

Mist climbs from the lake.

Fields bare after harvest.

Beyond blue hills

the sun rolls to its rest.

 

Splintered, deep in ruts,

the weary road thinks

it cannot be long now

till grey-haired winter.

 

In the misty, resonant grove

I watched yesterday

as a bay moon, like a foal,

harnessed herself to our sleigh.

 

by Сергей Александрович Есенин (Sergei Alexandrovich Yesenin) a.k.a. Sergey Yesenin / Esenin

(1917)

translated by Robert Chandler

London Welsh by Idris Davies

We have scratched our names in the London dust,

Sung sometimes like the Jews of Babylon

Under the dusty trees of Hyde Park Corner,

Almost believing in a Jesus of Cardigan

Or a Moses on the mountains of Merioneth;

We have dreamed by the Thames of Towy and Dee,

And whistled in dairy shops in the morning,

Whistled of Harlech and Aberdovey.

We have grown sentimental in London

Over things that we smiled at in Wales.

Sometimes in Woolwich we have seen the mining valleys

More beautiful than we ever saw them with our eyes.

We have carried our accents into Westminster

As soldiers carry rifles into the wars;

We have carried our idioms into Piccadilly,

Food for the critics on Saturday night.

We have played dominoes in Lambeth with Alfred the Great,

And lifted a glass with Henry VIII

In the tavern under the railway bridge

On Friday nights in winter;

And we have argued with Chaucer down the Old Kent Road

On the englynion of the Eisteddfod.

We have also shivered by the Thames in the night

And know that the frost has no racial distinctions.

 

by Idris Davies

‘Spring Exultation, Nightingales, The Moon…’ by Georgy Ivanov

Spring exultation, nightingales, the moon

on southern seas – they make my poor head spin

with boredom. More than that. I disappear.

The real me lives elsewhere. Far to the north.

 

Berlin, poor Russian Paris, filthy Nice –

a dream from which I soon will find release.

 

Petersburg. Winter, Gumilyov and I

walk by an ice-bound Neva, bright with snow.

The river Lethe. Side by side, we walk

and talk as poets did, so long ago.

 

by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)

(1958)

translated by Robert Chandler


 

Fun Fact: Gumilyov of course refers to the poet Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov (Николай Степанович Гумилёв) who was executed by the Petrograd Cheka in 1921. Neva to the river Neva which runs through St Petersburg (also known as Petrograd or Leningrad) while Lethe is one of the five rivers running through Hades, the underworld populated by the dead, in Greek mythology.

Resurrection by R. S. Thomas

Easter. The grave clothes of winter

are still here, but the sepulchre

is empty. A messenger

from the tomb tells us

how a stone has been rolled

from the mind, and a tree lightens

the darkness with its blossom.

There are travellers upon the roads

who have heard music blown

from a bare bough, and a child

tells us how the accident

of last year, a machine stranded

beside the way for lack

of petrol is covered with flowers.

 

by R. S. Thomas

Воронеж (Voronzh) by Anna Akhmatova

for Osip Mandelstam

All the town’s gripped in an icy fist.

Trees and walls and snow are set in glass.

I pick my timid way across the crystal.

Unsteadily the painted sledges pass.

Flocks of crows above St Peter’s, wheeling.

The dome amongst the poplars, green and pale in

subdued and dusty winter sunlight, and

echoes of ancient battles that come stealing

out across the proud, victorious land.

All of a sudden, overhead, the poplars

rattle, like glasses ringing in a toast,

as if a thousand guests were raising tumblers

to celebrate the marriage of their host.

 

But in the exiled poet’s hideaway

the muse and terror fight their endless fight

throughout the night.

So dark a night will never see the day.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1936)

from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)

translation by Peter Oram


A different translation of the Воронеж (Voronzh) poem. The alternative on this site is translated by D. M Thomas and is also titled Воронеж (Voronzh).

The poet Osip Mandelstam who was living in the city of Voronezh when Akhmatova visited him in February 1936. Peter the Great built a flotilla here and the Field of Kulikovo, where the Tartars were defeated in 1380 isn’t far away.

March Saw Winter Gain In Strength by Maria Petrovykh

March saw winter gain in strength –

bitter cold and unrelenting storms.

In reckless fury, blinding spite,

the wind blew only from the north.

 

No hint of spring. Gripped by inertia,

the heart slips all too close to places

of no return: no self, no words,

mere apathy and voicelessness.

 

Who can bring back our sight, our hearing?

Who can retrace the way to hearth

and home now that all trace of home

is gone, wiped from the earth?

 

by Мария Сергеевна Петровых (Maria Sergeyevna Petrovykh)

(1955)

translated by Robert Chandler and Irina Mashinski


 

the final line could be considered a sceptical response to Khrushchev’s Thaw during the, relatively, liberal period after Stalin’s death.

Also it is quite timely considering the current UK weather where ‘the Beast for the East’ and Storm Emma are double teaming the British Isles.