Anna Akhmatova |
Not under foreign skies
Nor under foreign wings protected -
I shared all this with my own people
There, where misfortune had abandoned us.
INSTEAD OF A PREFACE
During the frightening years of the Yezhov terror, I
spent seventeen months waiting in prison queues in
One day, somehow, someone 'picked me out'.
On that occasion there was a woman standing behind me,
her lips blue with cold, who, of course, had never in
her life heard my name.
Jolted out of the torpor
characteristic of all of us, she said into my ear
(everyone whispered there) - 'Could one ever describe
this?' And I answered - 'I can.
' It was then that
something like a smile slid across what had previously
been just a face.
[The 1st of April in the year 1957.
Mountains fall before this grief,
A mighty river stops its flow,
But prison doors stay firmly bolted
Shutting off the convict burrows
And an anguish close to death.
Fresh winds softly blow for someone,
Gentle sunsets warm them through; we don't know this,
We are everywhere the same, listening
To the scrape and turn of hateful keys
And the heavy tread of marching soldiers.
Waking early, as if for early mass,
Walking through the capital run wild, gone to seed,
We'd meet - the dead, lifeless; the sun,
Lower every day; the Neva, mistier:
But hope still sings forever in the distance.
Immediately a flood of tears,
Followed by a total isolation,
As if a beating heart is painfully ripped out, or,
Thumped, she lies there brutally laid out,
But she still manages to walk, hesitantly, alone.
Where are you, my unwilling friends,
Captives of my two satanic years?
What miracle do you see in a Siberian blizzard?
What shimmering mirage around the circle of the moon?
I send each one of you my salutation, and farewell.
It happened like this when only the dead
Were smiling, glad of their release,
That Leningrad hung around its prisons
Like a worthless emblem, flapping its piece.
Shrill and sharp, the steam-whistles sang
Short songs of farewell
To the ranks of convicted, demented by suffering,
As they, in regiments, walked along -
Stars of death stood over us
As innocent Russia squirmed
Under the blood-spattered boots and tyres
Of the black marias.
You were taken away at dawn.
I followed you
As one does when a corpse is being removed.
Children were crying in the darkened house.
A candle flared, illuminating the Mother of God.
The cold of an icon was on your lips, a death-cold
On your brow - I will never forget this; I will gather
To wail with the wives of the murdered streltsy (1)
Inconsolably, beneath the Kremlin towers.
Silent flows the river Don
A yellow moon looks quietly on
Swanking about, with cap askew
It sees through the window a shadow of you
Gravely ill, all alone
The moon sees a woman lying at home
Her son is in jail, her husband is dead
Say a prayer for her instead.
It isn't me, someone else is suffering.
Not like this.
Everything that has happened,
Cover it with a black cloth,
Then let the torches be removed.
Giggling, poking fun, everyone's darling,
The carefree sinner of Tsarskoye Selo (2)
If only you could have foreseen
What life would do with you -
That you would stand, parcel in hand,
Beneath the Crosses (3), three hundredth in
Burning the new year's ice
With your hot tears.
Back and forth the prison poplar sways
With not a sound - how many innocent
Blameless lives are being taken away.
For seventeen months I have been screaming,
Calling you home.
I've thrown myself at the feet of butchers
For you, my son and my horror.
Everything has become muddled forever -
I can no longer distinguish
Who is an animal, who a person, and how long
The wait can be for an execution.
There are now only dusty flowers,
The chinking of the thurible,
Tracks from somewhere into nowhere
And, staring me in the face
And threatening me with swift annihilation,
An enormous star.
Weeks fly lightly by.
I cannot understand what has arisen,
How, my son, into your prison
White nights stare so brilliantly.
Now once more they burn,
Eyes that focus like a hawk,
And, upon your cross, the talk
Is again of death.
The word landed with a stony thud
Onto my still-beating breast.
Nevermind, I was prepared,
I will manage with the rest.
I have a lot of work to do today;
I need to slaughter memory,
Turn my living soul to stone
Then teach myself to live again.
The hot summer rustles
Like a carnival outside my window;
I have long had this premonition
Of a bright day and a deserted house.
[22 June 1939.
Fontannyi Dom (4)]
You will come anyway - so why not now?
I wait for you; things have become too hard.
I have turned out the lights and opened the door
For you, so simple and so wonderful.
Assume whatever shape you wish.
Like a shell of noxious gas.
Creep up on me
Like a practised bandit with a heavy weapon.
Poison me, if you want, with a typhoid exhalation,
Or, with a simple tale prepared by you
(And known by all to the point of nausea), take me
Before the commander of the blue caps and let me
The house administrator's terrified white face.
I don't care anymore.
The river Yenisey
The Pole star blazes.
The blue sparks of those much-loved eyes
Close over and cover the final horror.
[19 August 1939.
Madness with its wings
Has covered half my soul
It feeds me fiery wine
And lures me into the abyss.
That's when I understood
While listening to my alien delirium
That I must hand the victory
However much I nag
However much I beg
It will not let me take
One single thing away:
Not my son's frightening eyes -
A suffering set in stone,
Or prison visiting hours
Or days that end in storms
Nor the sweet coolness of a hand
The anxious shade of lime trees
Nor the light distant sound
Of final comforting words.
[14 May 1940.
Weep not for me, mother.
I am alive in my grave.
A choir of angels glorified the greatest hour,
The heavens melted into flames.
To his father he said, 'Why hast thou forsaken me!'
But to his mother, 'Weep not for me.
Magdalena smote herself and wept,
The favourite disciple turned to stone,
But there, where the mother stood silent,
Not one person dared to look.
I have learned how faces fall,
How terror can escape from lowered eyes,
How suffering can etch cruel pages
Of cuneiform-like marks upon the cheeks.
I know how dark or ash-blond strands of hair
Can suddenly turn white.
I've learned to recognise
The fading smiles upon submissive lips,
The trembling fear inside a hollow laugh.
That's why I pray not for myself
But all of you who stood there with me
Through fiercest cold and scorching July heat
Under a towering, completely blind red wall.
The hour has come to remember the dead.
I see you, I hear you, I feel you:
The one who resisted the long drag to the open window;
The one who could no longer feel the kick of familiar
soil beneath her feet;
The one who, with a sudden flick of her head, replied,
'I arrive here as if I've come home!'
I'd like to name you all by name, but the list
Has been removed and there is nowhere else to look.
I have woven you this wide shroud out of the humble
I overheard you use.
Everywhere, forever and always,
I will never forget one single thing.
Even in new
Even if they clamp shut my tormented mouth
Through which one hundred million people scream;
That's how I wish them to remember me when I am dead
On the eve of my remembrance day.
If someone someday in this country
Decides to raise a memorial to me,
I give my consent to this festivity
But only on this condition - do not build it
By the sea where I was born,
I have severed my last ties with the sea;
Nor in the Tsar's Park by the hallowed stump
Where an inconsolable shadow looks for me;
Build it here where I stood for three hundred hours
And no-one slid open the bolt.
Listen, even in blissful death I fear
That I will forget the Black Marias,
Forget how hatefully the door slammed and an old woman
Howled like a wounded beast.
Let the thawing ice flow like tears
From my immovable bronze eyelids
And let the prison dove coo in the distance
While ships sail quietly along the river.
1 An elite guard which rose up in rebellion
against Peter the Great in 1698.
Most were either
executed or exiled.
2 The imperial summer residence outside St
Petersburg where Ahmatova spent her early years.
3 A prison complex in central Leningrad near the
Finland Station, called The Crosses because of the
shape of two of the buildings.
4 The Leningrad house in which Ahmatova lived.
Wole Soyinka |
for Moremi, 1963
Earth will not share the rafter's envy; dung floors
Break, not the gecko's slight skin, but its fall
Taste this soil for death and plumb her deep for life
As this yam, wholly earthed, yet a living tuber
To the warmth of waters, earthed as springs
As roots of baobab, as the hearth.
The air will not deny you.
Like a top
Spin you on the navel of the storm, for the hoe
That roots the forests plows a path for squirrels.
Be ageless as dark peat, but only that rain's
Fingers, not the feet of men, may wash you over.
Long wear the sun's shadow; run naked to the night.
Peppers green and red—child—your tongue arch
To scorpion tail, spit straight return to danger's threats
Yet coo with the brown pigeon, tendril dew between your lips.
Shield you like the flesh of palms, skyward held
Cuspids in thorn nesting, insealed as the heart of kernel—
A woman's flesh is oil—child, palm oil on your tongue
Is suppleness to life, and wine of this gourd
From self-same timeless run of runnels as refill
Your podlings, child, weaned from yours we embrace
Earth's honeyed milk, wine of the only rib.
Now roll your tongue in honey till your cheeks are
Swarming honeycombs—your world needs sweetening, child.
Camwood round the heart, chalk for flight
Of blemish—see? it dawns!—antimony beneath
Armpits like a goddess, and leave this taste
Long on your lips, of salt, that you may seek
None from tears.
This, rain-water, is the gift
Of gods—drink of its purity, bear fruits in season.
Fruits then to your lips: haste to repay
The debt of birth.
Yield man-tides like the sea
And ebbing, leave a meaning of the fossilled sands.
Rabindranath Tagore |
I ask for a moment's indulgence to sit by thy side.
that I have in hand I will finish afterwards.
Away from the sight of thy face my heart knows no rest nor respite,
and my work becomes an endless toil in a shoreless sea of toil.
Today the summer has come at my window with its sighs and murmurs; and
the bees are plying their minstrelsy at the court of the flowering grove.
Now it is time to sit quite, face to face with thee, and to sing
dedication of life in this silent and overflowing leisure.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe |
The morn arrived; his footstep quickly scared
The gentle sleep that round my senses clung,
And I, awak'ning, from my cottage fared,
And up the mountain side with light heart sprung;
At every step I felt my gaze ensnared
By new-born flow'rs that full of dew-drops hung;
The youthful day awoke with ecstacy,
And all things quicken'd were, to quicken me.
And as I mounted, from the valley rose
A streaky mist, that upward slowly spread,
Then bent, as though my form it would enclose,
Then, as on pinions, soar'd above my head:
My gaze could now on no fair view repose,
in mournful veil conceal'd, the world seem'd dead;
The clouds soon closed around me, as a tomb,
And I was left alone in twilight gloom.
At once the sun his lustre seem'd to pour,
And through the mist was seen a radiant light;
Here sank it gently to the ground once more,
There parted it, and climb'd o'er wood and height.
How did I yearn to greet him as of yore,
After the darkness waxing doubly bright!
The airy conflict ofttimes was renew'd,
Then blinded by a dazzling glow I stood.
Ere long an inward impulse prompted me
A hasty glance with boldness round to throw;
At first mine eyes had scarcely strength to see,
For all around appear'd to burn and glow.
Then saw I, on the clouds borne gracefully,
A godlike woman hov'ring to and fro.
In life I ne'er had seen a form so fair--
She gazed at me, and still she hover'd there.
"Dost thou not know me?" were the words she said
In tones where love and faith were sweetly bound;
"Knowest thou not Her who oftentimes hath shed
The purest balsam in each earthly wound?
Thou knows't me well; thy panting heart I led
To join me in a bond with rapture crown'd.
Did I not see thee, when a stripling, yearning
To welcome me with tears, heartfelt and burning?"
"Yes!" I exclaim'd, whilst, overcome with joy,
I sank to earth; "I long have worshipp'd thee;
Thou gav'st me rest, when passions rack'd the boy,
Pervading ev'ry limb unceasingly;
Thy heav'nly pinions thou didst then employ
The scorching sunbeams to ward off from me.
From thee alone Earth's fairest gifts I gain'd,
Through thee alone, true bliss can be obtain'd.
"Thy name I know not; yet I hear thee nam'd
By many a one who boasts thee as his own;
Each eye believes that tow'rd thy form 'tis aim'd,
Yet to most eyes thy rays are anguish-sown.
Ah! whilst I err'd, full many a friend I claim'd,
Now that I know thee, I am left alone;
With but myself can I my rapture share,
I needs must veil and hide thy radiance fair.
She smiled, and answering said: "Thou see'st how wise,
How prudent 'twas but little to unveil!
Scarce from the clumsiest cheat are clear'd thine eyes,
Scarce hast thou strength thy childish bars to scale,
When thou dost rank thee 'mongst the deities,
And so man's duties to perform would'st fail!
How dost thou differ from all other men?
Live with the world in peace, and know thee then!"
"Oh, pardon me," I cried, "I meant it well:
Not vainly did'st thou bless mine eyes with light;
For in my blood glad aspirations swell,
The value of thy gifts I know aright!
Those treasures in my breast for others dwell,
The buried pound no more I'll hide from sight.
Why did I seek the road so anxiously,
If hidden from my brethren 'twere to be?"
And as I answer'd, tow'rd me turn'd her face,
With kindly sympathy, that god-like one;
Within her eye full plainly could I trace
What I had fail'd in, and what rightly done.
She smiled, and cured me with that smile's sweet grace,
To new-born joys my spirit soar'd anon;
With inward confidence I now could dare
To draw yet closer, and observe her there.
Through the light cloud she then stretch'd forth her hand,
As if to bid the streaky vapour fly:
At once it seemed to yield to her command,
Contracted, and no mist then met mine eye.
My glance once more survey'd the smiling land,
Unclouded and serene appear'd the sky.
Nought but a veil of purest white she held,
And round her in a thousand folds it swell'd.
"I know thee, and I know thy wav'ring will.
I know the good that lives and glows in thee!"--
Thus spake she, and methinks I hear her still--
"The prize long destined, now receive from me;
That blest one will be safe from ev'ry ill,
Who takes this gift with soul of purity,--"
The veil of Minstrelsy from Truth's own hand,
Of sunlight and of morn's sweet fragrance plann'd.
"And when thou and thy friends at fierce noon-day
Are parched with heat, straight cast it in the air!
Then Zephyr's cooling breath will round you play,
Distilling balm and flowers' sweet incense there;
The tones of earthly woe will die away,
The grave become a bed of clouds so fair,
To sing to rest life's billows will be seen,
The day be lovely, and the night serene.
Come, then, my friends! and whensoe'er ye find
Upon your way increase life's heavy load;
If by fresh-waken'd blessings flowers are twin'd
Around your path, and golden fruits bestow'd,
We'll seek the coming day with joyous mind!
Thus blest, we'll live, thus wander on our road
And when our grandsons sorrow o'er our tomb,
Our love, to glad their bosoms, still shall bloom.
Rainer Maria Rilke |
I have great faith in all things not yet spoken.
I want my deepest pious feelings freed.
What no one yet has dared to risk and warrant
will be for me a challenge I must meet.
If this presumptious seems, God, may I be forgiven.
For what I want to say to you is this:
my efforts shall be like a driving force,
quite without anger, without timidness
as little children show their love for you.
With these outflowing, river-like, with deltas
that spread like arms to reach the open sea,
with the recurrent tides that never cease
will I acknowledge you, will I proclaim you
as no one ever has before.
And if this should be arrogance, so let me
arrogant be to justify my prayer
that stands so serious and so alone
before your forehead, circled by the clouds.
Lewis Carroll |
Inscribed to a Dear Child:
In Memory of Golden Summer Hours
And Whispers of a Summer Sea
Girt with a boyish garb for boyish task,
Eager she wields her spade: yet loves as well
Rest on a friendly knee, intent to ask
The tale he loves to tell.
Rude spirits of the seething outer strife,
Unmeet to read her pure and simple spright,
Deem if you list, such hours a waste of life,
Empty of all delight!
Chat on, sweet Maid, and rescue from annoy
Hearts that by wiser talk are unbeguiled.
Ah, happy he who owns that tenderest joy,
The heart-love of a child!
Henry Kendall |
To her who, cast with me in trying days,
Stood in the place of health and power and praise;-
Who, when I thought all light was out, became
A lamp of hope that put my fears to shame;-
Who faced for love's sole sake the life austere
That waits upon the man of letters here;-
Who, unawares, her deep affection showed,
By many a touching little wifely mode;-
Whose spirit, self-denying, dear, divine,
Its sorrows hid, so it might lessen mine, -
To her, my bright, best friend, I dedicate
This book of songs. 'Twill help to compensate
For much neglect. The act, if not the rhyme,
Will touch her heart, and lead her to the time
Of trials past. That which is most intense
Within these leaves is of her influence;
And if aught here is sweetened with a tone
Sincere, like love, it came of love alone.
Robert Lowell |
"Relinquunt Omnia Servare Rem Publicam.
The old South Boston Aquarium stands
in a Sahara of snow now.
Its broken windows are boarded.
The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.
The airy tanks are dry.
Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;
my hand tingled
to burst the bubbles
drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish.
My hand draws back.
I often sigh still
for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom
of the fish and reptile.
One morning last March,
I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized
fence on the Boston Common.
Behind their cage,
yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting
as they cropped up tons of mush and grass
to gouge their underworld garage.
Parking spaces luxuriate like civic
sandpiles in the heart of Boston.
A girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders
braces the tingling Statehouse,
shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw
and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry
Gaudens' shaking Civil War relief,
propped by a plank splint against the garage's earthquake.
Two months after marching through Boston,
half the regiment was dead;
at the dedication,
William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.
Their monument sticks like a fishbone
in the city's throat.
Its Colonel is as lean
as a compass-needle.
He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,
a greyhound's gently tautness;
he seems to wince at pleasure,
and suffocate for privacy.
He is out of bounds now.
He rejoices in man's lovely,
peculiar power to choose life and die--
when he leads his black soldiers to death,
he cannot bend his back.
On a thousand small town New England greens,
the old white churches hold their air
of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags
quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic.
The stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier
grow slimmer and younger each year--
wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets
and muse through their sideburns .
Shaw's father wanted no monument
except the ditch,
where his son's body was thrown
and lost with his "niggers.
The ditch is nearer.
There are no statues for the last war here;
on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph
shows Hiroshima boiling
over a Mosler Safe, the "Rock of Ages"
that survived the blast.
Space is nearer.
When I crouch to my television set,
the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons.
is riding on his bubble,
for the bless?d break.
The Aquarium is gone.
giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
a savage servility
slides by on grease.
Rg Gregory |
(roundel: variation of the rondeau
consisting of three stanzas of three
lines each, linked together with but
two rhymes and a refrain at the end
of the first and third group)
the blind rose
today's fullness is tomorrow's gone
(the next day after no one knows)
last year's dream now feeds upon
what blindly grows
imagine if you like a rose
on which no likely sun has shone
a darkness chokes it (just suppose)
the die though's cast - a marathon
of hopes endeavours then bestows
dawn's right to spill its colours on
what blindly grows
there are so few words left now to grow
green on - my vocabulary's stumped
for a hard-edged phrase to let you know
my truth's not been gazumped
love itself of course is blandly thumped
each time it suits you to imagine no
fruits are guilty for their being scrumped
if you can't be honest with me - better go
if dumped is what you wish then i'll be dumped
excuse me if i go on squeaking though
my truth's not been gazumped
ease of mind
the world spins - today i have migraine
the peace i seek is never less than ill
striving's no answer to the bumptious pain
that is love's overspill
wanting warmth encourages the chill
relaxation breeds its bitter strain
the worst of all crimes is - i love you still
hope itself by nature is inane
i squat in a box dismembered from such will
to let me find the ease of mind again
that is love's overspill
a roundel for ptolemy
the earth is not the system's centre- so ok
heliocentric - well our sun's a midget
spawning galaxies blow our minds away
space then equal to a digit
the mightiest telescope's a widget
science at best hard guessing gone astray
no genius stretch beyond a second's fidget
ptolemy discarded yet may have his say
infinity takes a hologram to bridge it
each shard of us contains the cosmos -
space then equal to a digit
everything you do is my reflection
the hurts you cause are my pain inside out
blame's no matter for a close inspection
your guilt turns mine about
love itself is many hands of doubt
it cannot be without it breeds rejection
its silences result in one big shout
i am left with nothing but dejection
what's gold in me has nowhere to get out
love's pride is fatal to correction
my guilt turns yours about
the round understands the fluidity of order
how the thing lit up and the shadow can't compete
how the centre is that version of the border
the moment makes complete
notice each face around a space at times replete
with insights given to no one else as warder
but not condemned when those insights retreat
impermanence is eternity's recorder -
with an intricate sense of pattern power can't delete
the round honours those cracks in the divine disorder
the moment makes complete
acting is not the true self's dissipation
but not its preening either - outside the role
it honours it best fights shy of reputation -
being what prometheus stole
it is a distant spark of that first live coal
a conscious glimpse of human desperation
rekindled as a longing to console
the waning spirit or the shattered dedication
actors are allies of the delphic hole
for good or ill they echo human expectation
being what prometheus stole
roundels in honour of the round
when energy was born it asked this question
which way dear parents do i go from here
mum fluttered indifferently (i blame exhaustion)
dad pointed with his sexual gear
so energy thrust straight ahead and fostered fear
at once its dreaded source became a bastion
too holy to be doubted - mum flipped a gear
she sought revenge on dad for his lewd suggestion
taking too long of course - things went nuclear
the scale of the damage was too much to ingest when
dad pointed with his sexual gear
she sat with her flowing skirt spread out on the earth
and tore the garment into strips from toe to waist
laying them to point around the wide world's girth
my way the truth flows best
dad laughed his head off at the pointless waste
and energy itself was seized by powerful mirth
perhaps mum's petalled skirt was not well placed
in time mishandled plenty breeds its dearth
dad's roisterous one-way-ism was disgraced
energy began to sense what mum was worth
her way the truth flows best
Rainer Maria Rilke |
Swing of the heart.
O firmly hung, fastened on what
Who, who gave you the push,
that you swung with me into the leaves?
How near I was to the exquisite fruits.
is the essence of this motion.
Only the nearness, only
toward the forever-too-high, all at once the possible
from an irresistibly swung-up-to place
--already, once again, lost--the new sight, the outlook.
And now: the commanded return
back and across and into equilbrium's arms.
Below, in between, hesitation, the pull of earth, the passage
through the turning-point of the heavy--, past it: and the
weighted with the heart's curiosity,
to the other side, opposite, upward.
Again how different, how new! How they envy each other
at the ends of the rope, these opposite halves of pleasure.
Or, shall I dare it: these quarters?--And include, since it
that other half-circle, the one whose impetus pushes the
I'm not just imagining it, as the mirror of my here-and-now
It will be
But from endpoint to endpoint
of the arc that I have most dared, I already fully possess it:
overflowings from me plunge over to it and fill it,
stretch it apart, almost.
And my own parting,
when the force that pushes me someday
stops, makes it all the more near.