Relearning Solitude [Extract] by Boris Slutsky

Just as I once learned one ancient tongue

enough to read its texts,

and I forgot the aphabet –

I’ve forgotten solitude.

This all must be recalled, recovered, and relearned.

I remember how once I met

a compiler of words

in the ancient tongue that I had learned

and lost.

Turned out, I knew two words: ‘heavens’ and ‘apple’.

I might have recalled the rest –

All beneath the heavens and beside the apples –

But the need wasn’t there.

 

by Борис Абрамович Слуцкий (Boris Abramovich Slutsky)

(1977)

translated by Marat Grinberg and Judith Pulman

 

Interesting information: Slutsky was a atheist but he didn’t forget his cultural roots regarding not only Yiddish but also the Hebrew he had learned as a child which remained important to him even if only as deeply felt absences. He had to ‘relearn solitude’ due to the death of his wife Tanya in 1977. For the following three months, before he fell into a depressed silence for the last nine years of his life during which he wrote nothing, he produced some of the most highly regarded poems on the themes of love and mourning in the Russian language.


Funeral by R. S. Thomas

They stand about conversing

In dark clumps, less beautiful than trees.

What have they come here to mourn?

There was a death, yes; but death’s brother,

Sin, is of more importance.

Shabbily the teeth gleam,

Sharpening themselves on reputations

That were firm once. On the cheap coffin

The earth falls more cleanly than tears.

What are these red faces for?

This incidence of pious catarrh

At the grave’s edge? He has returned

Where he belongs; this is acknowledged

By all but the lonely few

Making amends for the heart’s coldness

He had from them, grudging a little

The simple splendour of the wreath

Of words the church lays on him.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from The Bread of Truth (1963)

Paper and Sticks by Dylan Thomas

Paper and sticks and shovel and match

Why won’t the news of the old world catch

And the fire in a temper start

 

Once I had a rich boy for myself

I loved his body and his navy blue wealth

And I lived in his purse and his heart

 

When in our bed I was tossing and turning

All I could see were his brown eyes burning

By the green of a one pound note

 

I talk to him as I clean the grate

O my dear it’s never too late

To take me away as you whispered and wrote

 

I had a handsome and well-off boy

I’ll share my money and we’ll run for joy

With a bouncing and silver spooned kid

 

Sharp and shrill my silly tongue scratches

Words on the air as the fire catches

You never did and he never did.

 

by Dylan Thomas


 

Fun fact: This was the only poem left out of Dylan Thomas’ ‘Collected Poems 1934 – 1952‘ because he disliked it. The book was published on 10 November 1952 by Dylan’s usual publishers Dent of London, which gathered together all the poems from his three previous volumes of poetry (’18 Poems’, ‘Twenty Five Poems’ and ‘Deaths and Entrances’), plus a further six written since 1946, to make a total of 90.

‘Not In Our Power To Foretell’ by Fyodor Tyutchev

Not in our power to foretell

what response our words will meet.

Fellow feeling, heaven’s grace –

mysteries we can’t predict.

 

by Фёдор Иванович Тютчев (Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev)

(1869)

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 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.

‘So Again We Triumph…’ by Anna Akhmatova

So again we triumph!

Again we do not come!

Our speeches silent,

Our words, dumb.

Our eyes that have not met

Again, are lost;

And only tears forget

The grip of frost.

A wild-rose bush near Moscow

Knows something of

This pain that will be called

Immortal love.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1956)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

Words Lying Empty, Without Breathing by Maria Petrovykh

Words lying empty, without breathing –

that don’t know why they exist at all.

Words with no goal, words with no meaning,

that shelter no one from the cold

and haven’t fed a single soul.

Words of impotence – of the weak!

Words that don’t dare, too shy to speak.

They give no heat, they shed no light,

but, with an orphan’s grief, go mute,

not knowing they are mutilated.

 

by Мария Сергеевна Петровых (Maria Sergeyevna Petrovykh)

(1970s)

translated by Boris Dralyuk

We Pronounced by Olga Berggolts

We pronounced

the simplest, poorest words

as if they had never been said.

We were saying

sun, light, grass

as people pronounce

life, love, strength.

 

Remembered how we cleared

that eternal, accursed glacier

from the city streets – and an old man

stamped his foot against the pavement,

shouting, ‘Asphalt, friends, asphault!’

 

As if he were a sailor long ago,

calling out ‘Land, land!’

 

by

Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts)

a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz

(1945)

translated by Robert Chandler

Additional information: A Soviet poet, writer, playwright and journalist. She is most famous for her work on the Leningrad radio during the city’s blockade, when she became the symbol of the city’s strength and determination.