‘Thought, yet more thought! Poor artist of the world’ by Yevgeny Baratynsky

Thought, yet more thought! Poor artist of the word,

thought’s priest! For you there can be no forgetting;

it’s all here, here are people and the world

and death and life and truth without a veil.

Ah! Chisel, cello, brush, happy the man

drawn to you by his senses, going no further.

He can drink freely at the world’s great feast!

But in your presence, thought, in your sharp rays,

before your unsheathed sword, our life grows pale.

 

by Евгений Абрамович Баратынский (Yevgeny Abramovich Baratynsky)

(1840)

translated by Peter France

Роландов рог (Roland’s Horn) by Marina Tsvetaeva

Like a jester complaining of the cruel weight

of his hump – let me tell about my orphaned state.

 

Behind the devil there’s his horde, behind the thief there’s his band,

behind everyone there’s someone to understand

 

and support him – the assurance of a living wall

of thousands just like him should he stumble and fall;

 

the soldier has his comrades, the emperor has his throne,

but the jester has nothing but his hump to call his own.

 

And so: tired of holding to the knowledge that I’m quite

alone and that my destiny is always to fight

 

beneath the jeers of the fool and the philistine’s derision,

abandoned – by the world – with the world – in collision,

 

I blow with all my strength on my horn and send

its cry into the distance in search of a friend.

 

And this fire in my breast assures me I’m not all

alone, but that some Charlemagne will answer my call!

 

by Марина Ивановна Цветаева (Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)

(March 1921)

translated by Stephen Capus


Fun facts: This poem was a favourite of Varlam Shalamov, according to Irina Sirotinskaya (she was a close friend of his and the holder of his works’ publication rights). It’s very likely he may have referenced this work in his poem Roncesvalles.

Tsvetaeva is referencing the romanticised tale of the historical figure Roland‘s death as retold in the eleventh-century poem The Song of Roland, where he is equipped with the olifant (a signalling horn) and an unbreakable sword, enchanted by various Christian relics, named Durendal. The Song contains a highly romanticized account of the Battle of Roncevaux Pass and Roland’s death, setting the tone for later fantastical depiction of Charlemagne’s court.

And, yes, he is ‘that’ Roland – the one who Stephen King references in his Dark Tower series though it was chiefly inspired by him via the poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” by Robert Browning.

 

Original Russian cyrillic version:

 

Роландов рог

Как нежный шут о злом своем уродстве,
Я повествую о своем сиротстве…

За князем — род, за серафимом — сонм,
За каждым — тысячи таких, как он,

Чтоб, пошатнувшись,— на живую стену
Упал и знал, что — тысячи на смену!

Солдат — полком, бес — легионом горд.
За вором — сброд, а за шутом — все горб.

Так, наконец, усталая держаться
Сознаньем: перст и назначением: драться,

Под свист глупца и мещанина смех —
Одна из всех — за всех — противу всех! —

Стою и шлю, закаменев от взлету,
Сей громкий зов в небесные пустоты.

И сей пожар в груди тому залог,
Что некий Карл тебя услышит, рог!

 

A recital of the original Russian language version

‘What did they do’ by Boris Slutsky

What did they do

with the relatives of Christ?

What did they do with them?

No written source

will tell you a damned thing –

nothing but crossings out, emptiness.

What the hell did they do with them?

 

What did they do

with those simple people,

simple craftsmen, men who worked on the land?

Were all marched off to some nearby wilderness,

lined up and machine-gunned?

 

Whatever happened then, two centuries later

there were no demands for compensation or calls for revenge?

Total posthumous rehabilitation of Jesus

led to no rehabilitation of kin.

 

And now flowers are growing from the relatives of Christ.

Below them lie depths, above them rise heights,

yet world history had found no place

for those relatives of Christ.

 

by Борис Абрамович Слуцкий (Boris Abramovich Slutsky)

(1977)

translated by Robert Chandler

 

‘Loving, I am still dumbfounded’ by Afanasy Fet

Loving, I am still dumbfounded

by the world and its beauty,

and nothing will make me renounce

the sweetness you grant me.

However hard my breath come,

while I stand here on earth

the sound of new life will be welcome

wherever it stirs.

Submissive to the sun’s rays,

roots go down into the grave

to seek from death the strength

to meet spring days.

 

by Афанасий Афанасьевич Фет (Afanasy Afanasyevich Fet)

a.k.a. Шеншин (Shenshin)

(1890)

translated by Robert Chandler

Imitation of the Armenian by Anna Akhmatova

I shall come to you in a dream,

a black ewe that can barely stand;

I’ll stagger up to you and I’ll bleat,

‘Shah of Shahs, have you dined well?

You are protected by Allah’s will,

the world is a bead in your hand…

And did my son’s flesh taste sweet?

Did your children enjoy their lamb?

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1937?)

from around the time of Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book) but left unpublished

translation by Robert Chandler


Fun facts: This poem refers to the arrest of Akhmatova’s son by the authorities during the Stalinist era.

An alternative translation of the same poem was done by D. M. Thomas.

Curlew by Gillian Clarke

She dips her bill in the rim of the sea.

Her beak is the ellipse

of a world much smaller

than that far section of the sea’s

circumference. A curve enough to calculate

the field’s circle and its heart

of eggs in the cold grass.

 

All day while I scythed my territory

out of nettles, laid claim to my cantref,

she has cut her share of sky. Her song bubbles

long as a plane trail from her savage mouth.

I clean the blade with newspaper. Dusk blurs

circle within circle till there’s nothing left

but the egg pulsing in the dark against her ribs.

For each of us the possessed space contracts

to the nest’s heat, the blood’s small cicuit.

 

by Gillian Clarke

from The Sundial (Gwasg Gomer, 1978)


Fun fact: A cantref was a medieval Welsh land division, particularly important in the administration of Welsh law.

Gift by R. S. Thomas

Some ask the world

and are diminished

in the receiving

of it. You gave me

 

only this small pool

that the more I drink

from, the more overflows

me with sourceless light.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)

Молчание (Silentium) by Osip Mandelstam

She has yet to be born:

she is music and word,

and she eternally bonds

all life in this world.

 

The sea breathes gently;

the day glitters wildly.

A bowl of dazed azure

sways pale foam-lilac.

 

May I too reach back

to that ancient silence,

like a note of crystal

pure from its source.

 

Stay, Aphrodite, as foam.

Return, word, to music.

Heart, be shy of heart,

fused with life’s root.

 

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)

(1910)

translated by Robert Chandler and Boris Dralyuk


Fun fact: This is Mandelstam’s variation on Tyutchev’s earlier poem ‘Silentium‘.

Recital in the original Russian:

Russian cyrillic version:

Она еще не родилась,
Она и музыка и слово,
И потому всего живого
Ненарушаемая связь.

Спокойно дышат моря груди,
Но, как безумный, светел день,
И пены бледная сирень
В черно-лазоревом сосуде.

Да обретут мои уста
Первоначальную немоту,
Как кристаллическую ноту,
Что от рождения чиста!

Останься пеной, Афродита,
И, слово, в музыку вернись,
И, сердце, сердца устыдись,
С первоосновой жизни слито!

Молчание (Silentium) by Fyodor Tyutchev

Be silent, hide away and let

your thoughts and longings rise and set

in the deep places of your heart.

 

Let dreams move silently as stars,

in wonder more than you can tell.

Let them fulfil you – and be still.

 

What heart can ever speak its mind?

How can some other understand

the hidden pole that turns your life?

A thought, once spoken, is a lie.

Don’t cloud the water in your well;

drink from this wellspring – and be still.

 

Live in yourself. There is a whole

deep world of being in your soul,

burdened with mystery and thought.

The noise outside will snuff it out.

Day’s clear light can break the spell.

Hear your own singing – and be still.

 

by Фёдор Иванович Тютчев (Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev)

(1829 – early 1830s)

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 recital of the poem in the original Russian:

The original Russian Cyrillic text:

Молчи, скрывайся и таи
И чувства и мечты свои –
Пускай в душевной глубине
И всходят и зайдут оне
Как звезды ясные в ночи-
Любуйся ими – и молчи.

Как сердцу высказать себя?
Другому как понять тебя?
Поймёт ли он, чем ты живёшь?
Мысль изречённая есть ложь.
Взрывая, возмутишь ключи,-
Питайся ими – и молчи.

Лишь жить в себе самом умей –
Есть целый мир в душе твоей
Таинственно-волшебных дум;
Их заглушит наружный шум,
Дневные ослепят лучи,-
Внимай их пенью – и молчи!..

An English recital of the poem in an alternate translation: