Ere I freeze, to sing bravely By Mary, is best for me; I will make a new canto To the terrible mist and snow, Steel ground, grass short and withered, The black month, the shiver-stirred. I’m not hale here, nor wisely Sing nor well, alas for me! Better the awkward Muse might Run in May or June’s sunlight, When a sweet bird in the thick Of leaves charms with its music, And under a birch like heaven A fool enjoys hugging Gwen, And his voice in a greenhall Is found, and a poem’s soul. But not like this, I dare swear, Does winter stay forever. How old it looks, white snowdrift Hiding every slope and rift, Everywhere cold, white each tree, And no stream in the valley. Water locked, no genial day, Black frost along the footway; Birds of the world, sad deadlock – God’s put their food under lock: The key let Him take home then Rightly to be kept in heaven!
by Lewis Morris (1701-1765)
Additional information: Lewis Morris (2 March 1701 – 11 April 1765) was a Welsh hydrographer, antiquary, poet and lexicographer, the eldest of the Morris brothers of Anglesey. Lewis was the eldest son of Morris ap Rhisiart Morris, a farmer, of Llanfihangel-Tre’r-Beirdd in Anglesey. His bardic name was Llewelyn Ddu o Fôn (“Black Llewelyn [Lewis] of Anglesey”). The correspondence between him and his younger brothers is a valuable historical source. In 1751, he founded the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion along with his brother Richard.
That winter of our Island Fortress, the docks blacked-out and sirens wailing, the house closed its brittle silence around her. Rain drummed the windows behind her children’s dreams. Over the months she saved from her widow’s pay and the hours of cleaning at the manse seven silver coins, one from the abdication year with the head of the love-lost king.
Should the coastline be split by incoming shells, parachutes flower in the Vale and jackboots strut in King’s Square, then she would lay her six children to sleep, sealing the windows and doors with newspapers and blankets. Seven shillings’ worth of gas would deliver them out of occupation.
For months she has dreamt of his lost freighter, torpedoed six days out of New York, men overboard, gagging on salt and diesel. How the ship reared and plunged like a whale, her wash sweeping cold hands from flotsam. As he sank into the anonymous dark the final waves from her minting coins from the constant moon.
Tonight the City of London burns with St Paul’s untouched at the very centre. At the edge of night the Welsh ports sound no alarms. She opens the curtains to a moon-bright sky, counts out the coins in the tea-caddy and holds them cupped in her palms. OMN. Rex. Defender of the Faith. Emperor of India. The seven polished shillings sing in her hands.
by Tony Curtis
Additional information: Although it goes without saying Tony Curtis is a Welsh poet not to be confused with the American actor.
Winter, to me your gestures are cold and careful: yes, in winter there is something gentle as medicine,
or why else would sickness put out trusting hands into that season, from its own torture and darkness?
Weave your magic then my love, let the kiss of one curl of ice brush over my forehead.
Soon I shall trust any deception, and look without fear into the eyes of dogs, as I press close to the trees:
And forgive, playfully, with a run, turn and jump; and after a bout of forgiveness forgive again,
become like a winter’s day: empty and oval, though in comparison to such presence, always small.
I shall turn to nothing, and so call over the wall, not some shadow of myself, but light I shall not block at all.
by Бе́лла (Изабе́лла) Аха́товна Ахмаду́лина Белла Әхәт кызы Әхмәдуллина Bella Akhatovna Akhmadulina (1950) translated by Elaine Feinstein
О жест зимы ко мне, холодный и прилежный. Да, что-то есть в зиме от медицины нежной.
Иначе как же вдруг из темноты и муки доверчивый недуг к ней обращает руки?
О милая, колдуй, заденет лоб мой снова целебный поцелуй колечка ледяного.
И все сильней соблазн встречать обман доверьем, смотреть в глаза собак и приникать, к деревьям.
Прощать, как бы играть, с разбега, с поворота, и, завершив прощать, простить еще кого-то.
Сравняться с зимним днем, с его пустым овалом, и быть всегда при нем его оттенком, малым.
Свести себя на нет, чтоб вызвать за стеною не тень мою, а свет, не заслоненный мною.
Additional information: Bella (Izabella) Akhatovna Akhmadulina (10 April 1937 – 29 November 2010) was a Soviet and Russian poet, short story writer, and translator, known for her apolitical writing stance. She was part of the Russian New Wave literary movement. She was cited by Joseph Brodsky as the best living poet in the Russian language. She is known in Russia as “the voice of the epoch“. Despite the aforementioned apolitical stance of her writing, Akhmadulina was often critical of authorities in the Soviet Union, and spoke out in favour of others, including Nobel laureates Boris Pasternak, Andrei Sakharov, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. She was known to international audiences via her travels abroad during the Khrushchev Thaw, during which she made appearances in sold-out stadiums. Upon her death in 2010 at the age of 73, President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev hailed her poetry as a “classic of Russian literature.”
The main themes of Akhmadulina‘s works are friendship, love, and relations between people. She wrote numerous essays about Russian poets and translators, some devoted to her close friend, Bulat Okudzhava. Akhmadulina avoided writing overtly political poems, but took part in political events in her youth, supporting the so-called dissident movement.
Akhmadulina wrote in an apolitical style making use of imagery and humour in her work. She used rhymed quatrains in her early works, which discussed ordinary, yet imaginative occurrences from daily life in language that was full of both archaisms and neologisms. Religion and philosophy became her themes as she aged and she wrote in longer forms.
Of mixed Tartar and Italian descent, Bella Akhmadulina was born in Moscow into a middle-class family. At the age of eighteen she married Yevtushenko, a fellow student at the Gorky Institute of Literature, from which she was expelled. Her second husband was the well-known short-story writer Yuri Nagibin, with whom she collaborated on a film scenario. Her third marriage weas to the playwright and children’s writer Gennadi Mamlin.
Akhmadulina’s first collection, String, was published in 1962 and criticized by the Party as ‘superfluous’, too intimate, etc. It was composed mainly of short lyrics, witty, whimsical, well-turned – strongly influenced by Ahmatova in their sobriety of form and preoccupation with individual emotions. Though Akhmadulina’s work appeared thereafter in magazines and almanacs from time to time, it was not until 1969 that her second collection, Music Lessons, was published. In 1963 a fragment of her long poem ‘A Fairy Tale about the Rain’ was published in Literary Georgia. ‘Rain’ marked a high point and and is still her most ambitious work to date. Since then she appears to have done more translating, especially from Georgian, than original writing, though the indications are that she has again entered a more creative period. Akhmadulina has perhaps major potentialities (Yevtushenko regards her as the foremost woman poet in Russian since the death of Akhmatova). Her work became rapidly more complex after the early short lyrics, and in ‘Rain’ it gained a weight of symbolic meaning that indicates considerable poetic endurance and power. Her subject in this poem, and in many others leading up to it, is nothing less than her relationship to her own poetic inspiration, symbolized by the Rain.
As Christine Rydel says in her illuminating analysis of Akhmadulina’s symbolic system, ‘The Metapoetical World of Bella Akhmadulina’ (Russian Literature Triquarterly, No.1): ‘Where most poets look to love for inspiration, Akhmudalina looks to inspiration for love.’ Like Tsvetayeva, with whom, as in ‘Music Lessons’ and ‘I Swear’, she identifies explicitly, Akhmadulina is uncomfortable, uneasy in the world. There is a plaintive, complaining tone to all this that can be irritating, but her verbal power, her technical accomplishment, allied to her capacity, by remote control as it were, to enter into and share in the destiny of her distinguished women predecessors, accurately and agonizingly conveys the struggle of creativity in an alienating environment.
Biographical information about Akhmadulina, p.227- 228, Post-War Russian Poetry (1974), ed. Daniel Weissbort , published by Penguin Books Ltd.
Among Akhmadulina’s ancestors on her mother’s side were Italians who settled in Russia, including the professional revolutionary Aleksandr Stopani, after whom a street in Moscow was named. On her father’s side were Tatars. In 1955, when her first verses were published in the journal Oktiabr’, it was immediately obvious that a real poet had come on the scene. She entered the Gorky Literary Institute the same year and became its queen. All of the young poets there were in love with her, including the compiler of this anthology who became her first husband. Her talent was also admired by poets of the older generation – Pavel Antokolsky, Mikhail Svetlov and Vladimir Lugovskoi. She encountered Boris Pasternak once while walking down a country path; he recognized her and invited her to visit him the next day when guests were coming, but she was too shy and respectful to come.
After mastering the assonant “Yevtushenko” rhyme, she took a sharp turn in the opposite direction, into whispers, rustling indeterminacy, and, at times, such intimacy as to be incomprehensible. Many of her major poems establish links to the memory on the great Russian poets on the past, especially Marina Tsvetaeva, Osip Mandelstam and Aleksandr Pushkin.
With Anna Akhmatova’s death, Akhmadulina became known as the most brilliant woman poet writing in Russian. She is an absolute sorceress with poetic form, though she has a tendency to spin intricate verbal webs. Probably no one in Russian poetry at the present has such an innate feeling for words. Akhmadulina’s poetry is somewhat private and she has a reputation of being apolitical, as assessment that misses the point. One can discern in such poems as “I Swear”, “St. Bartholomew’s Night,” and “A Fairy Tale About Rain” a social conscience permeated with a hatred for the vile politics that degrades people. Her fragile, gentle hand has signed any and all letters in defense of dissidents or anyone in trouble in the Soviet system. She was unafraid to cross police lines to visit Sakharov while he was in exile.
Akhmadulina writes elegant prose, placing refinement of language above all else, as she does with her poetry. She was awarded the State Prize for literature in 1989 and was the first of her generation to be elected an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Biographical information about Akhmadulina, p.873 – 874, ‘Twentieth Century Russian Poetry’ (1993), compiled by Yevgeny Yevtushenko (ed. Albert C. Todd and Max Hayward) , published by Fourth Estate Limited by arrangement with Doubleday of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc.
Not waking, in my dreams, my dreams, I saw you – you were alive. You had endured all and come to me, crossing the last frontier.
You were earth already, ashes, you were my glory, my punishment. But, in spite of life, of death, you rose from your thousand graves.
You passed through war hell, concentration camp, through furnace, drunk with the flames, through your own death you entered Leningrad, came out of love for me.
You found my house, but I live now not in our house, in another; and a new husband shares my waking hours… O how could you not have known?!
Like the master of the house, proudly you crossed the threshold, stood there lovingly. And I murmured: ‘God will rise again’, and made the sign of the cross over you – the unbeliever’s cross, the cross of despair, as black as pitch, the cross that was made over each house that winter, that winter in which
you died. O my friend, forgive me as I sigh. How long have I not known where waking ends and the dream begins…
by Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts) a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz (1946) translated by Daniel Weissbort
Не наяву, но во сне, во сне я увидала тебя: ты жив. Ты вынес все и пришел ко мне, пересек последние рубежи.
Ты был землею уже, золой, славой и казнью моею был. Но, смерти назло и жизни назло, ты встал из тысяч своих могил.
Ты шел сквозь битвы, Майданек, ад, сквозь печи, пьяные от огня, сквозь смерть свою ты шел в Ленинград, дошел, потому что любил меня.
Ты дом нашел мой, а я живу не в нашем доме теперь, в другом, и новый муж у меня — наяву… О, как ты не догадался о нем?!
Хозяином переступил порог, гордым и радостным встал, любя. А я бормочу: «Да воскреснет бог», а я закрещиваю тебя крестом неверующих, крестом отчаянья, где не видать ни зги, которым закрещен был каждый дом в ту зиму, в ту зиму, как ты погиб…
О друг,— прости мне невольный стон: давно не знаю, где явь, где сон …