27 October 2013

Three by Akhmatova

by Anna Akhmatova

The three things he loved most in life
Were white peacocks, music at mass,
And tattered maps of America.
He didn't like kids who cried and he
Didn't like raspberry jam with tea
Or womanish hysteria.
. . . And I was, like it or not, his wife.

Broad and yellow is the evening light,
The coolness of April is dear.
You, of course, are several years late,
Even so, I'm happy you're here.

Sit close at hand and look at me,
With those eyes, so cheerful and mild:
This blue notebook is full, you see,
Full of poems I wrote as a child.

Forgive me, forgive me, for having grieved
For ignoring the sunlight, too.
And especially for having believed
That so many others were you.

I hear the oriole's voice, clear and distressed,
I greet the waning of the summer but
One wheat ear against another pressed
The sickles with reptilian hisses cut.

The short hems of the women in the field
Fly in the wind like flags on a holiday.
Now I yearn for the joyful bells that pealed,
His dusty lashes -- And he didn't look away.

I don't expect caresses or words to spare
In expectation of that dark descent,
But do come look at the paradises where
Together we were blissful and innocent.


From Anna Akhmatova, Poems, 1974. Trans., Lyn Coffin.

20 October 2013

Dancing by the Black Sea

by Patrick Leigh Fermor

At the end of the dance, Dimitri joined us by the fire and swelled the accompaniment with his own voice and another gourd. The next dance, on which Costa now embarked solo, though akin to its forerunner, was even odder. There was the same delay and deliberation, the same hanging head with its cap on the side, a cigarette in the middle of the dancer's mouth. He gazed at the ground with his eyes almost closed, rotating on the spot with his hands crossed in the small of his back; soon they rose above his head like a vulture's wings opening, then soared in alternate sweeps before his lowered face with an occasional carefully placed crack of thumb and forefinger and the slow and complex steps evolved. The downward gaze, the absorption, the precise placing of the feet, the sudden twirl of the body, the sinking on alternate knees, the sweep of an outstretched leg in three quarters of a circle, with the arms all at once outflung in two radii as the dancer rose again in another slow circle, gather pace till he spun for a few seconds at high speed and then slowed down in defiance of all the laws of momentum -- these steps and passes and above alll the downward scrutiny were as though the dancer were proving, on the fish scales and the goats' droppings underfoot, some lost theorem about tangents and circles, or retracing the conclusions of Pythagoras about the square on the hypotenuse. Sometimes during these subsidences, he slapped the ground with one hand and shot into the air again. A leap, after a few grave and nearly static paces, would carry him effortlessly through the air to land motionless with knees bent and ankles crossed. he would rise from this crouched posture, his trunk flung forward like a pair of scissors closing, the smoke from his cigarette spiralling round him. These abrupt acrobatics and calculated flashes of strength were redoubled in effect by the measured smoothness and abstraction fo the steps that bracketed them. This controlled acceleration and braking wove them all into a single and solemn choreographic line. Perhaps the most striking aspect of it was the tragic and doomed aura that surrounded the dance, the flaunting so quickly muffled, and the introvert and cerebral aloofness of the dancer, so cut off by indifference from the others in the cave that he might have been alone in another room, applying ritual devices to conundrums reluctant of yielding their answers, or exorcizing a private and incommunicable pain. The loneliness was absolute. The singing had stopped and nothing but the jangle of the wire strings accompanied him.  

From Patrick Leigh Fermor, The Broken Road, 2013 (241-242).

13 October 2013

The time a bedtime story takes

Two by Glyn Maxwell


Together they took the least space they could.
Entered each other deeply, to be less,
to throw one shadow only, to be still
for all the world while moving for each other.

So space, so barely dented, might not bruise
and cry, and time come running. This was why
their breaths were held inside till the only end
of that -- this side of nothing -- the great sigh
that gives the place away . . .
                               And out they come,
exiting one another with the kiss
to heal the bruise and be the bruise and there
they sit. The only angel in this case
came only there to point them, in their first
amazing silence, to two peaceful desks.

Hard to remember, now there is nothing here,
that there was once nothing here. Hard to remember
they paused in a field with a plot for a field and a feel
of a place in mind and a little know of horses
     faraway in a corner stood there

pretty much where that kittle knot of horses
stands. The railway ran through the white template,
the life and death of it, made east and west
of nowhere. North and south it left itself
     whichever way one looked.

Hard to remember now that it's all begun
that it all began and, now that it's all over,
hard to recall it's gone. Those who are gone
arrive in a crest of steam and the late-lamented
     help them with their boxes.

Those to the east have a shed and those to the west
a greenhouse, it was a field and not a field
hereafter, it was a path through new houses
and a sweetship. There was a lane and another lane
     which, crossing it, was obliged

to name what it was named and the five things
needed they built buildings for. A meadow
reared its set of gardens like farm-children
edging behind houses to belong there,
     to cluster and imagine

a gate that is always shut will be always open.
But for now the horizon was sky and a blackberry hedge
and the north was the nettle-bed, and the south the roses
and the east and archway to those sad allotments,
     and the west a banded twilight

as out they build, in the time a bedtime story
takes to ferry me shipshape to tomorrow;
out they build till I wake and the horizon's
gone. It won't be found until it's wept to
     on a holiday. The town

is mine, this side of town is mine, the homes
go strolling by, then, bowing out of sight
they scurry round the world to be back in time
for when I pass, as if they never budged,

     and a chuckle of wood-chimes

From Glyn Maxwell, Pluto, 2013.

06 October 2013

Cavafy's little gods: three versions

by C. P. Cavafy, 1909

All the little household gods

Have started crying . . .W. H. Auden


Eagles of coral
adorn the ebony bed
where Nero lies fast asleep --
callous, happy, peaceful,
in the prime of his body's strength,
in the fine vigor of youth.

But in the alabaster hall that holds
the ancient shrine of the Aenobarbi
how restless the household deities!
The little gods tremble
and try to hide their insignificant bodies.
They've heard a terrible sound,
a deadly sound coming up the stairs,
iron footsteps that shake the staircase;
and, faint with fear, the miserable Lares
scramble to the back of the shrine,
shoving each other and stumbling,
one little god falling over another.
because they know what kind of sound that is,
know by now the footsteps of the Furies.

            Trans. E. Keeley & P. Sherrard


On an ebony bed, ornamented
with coral eagles, sound asleep, lies
Nero -- unconscious, quiet and blissful,
flourishing in the vigor of the flesh
and in the splendid strength of youth.

But in the alabaster hall enclosing
the ancient shrine of the Aenobarbi
how restive are his Lares.
The small household gods tremble
and they try to hide their insignificant bodies.
For they heard a sinister clamor,
a deathly clamor ascending the stairs;
iron footsteps rattling the stairs.
And now in a faint the miserable Lares
bury themselves in the rear of the shrine;
one tumbles and stumbles over the toher,
one little god falls over the other
for they understand what sort of clamor this is,
by now they already know the Furies' footsteps.

           Trans. Rae Dalven


On an ebony bed that is adorned
with eagles made of coral, Nero sleeps
deeply -- heedless, calm, and happy;
flush in the prime of the flesh,
and in the beautiful vigor of youth.

But in the alabaster hall that holds
the ancient shrine of the Ahenobarbi
how uneasy are his Lares!
The little household gods are trembling,
trying to hide their slight bodies.
For they've heard a ghastly sound,
a fatal sound mounting the stairs,
footsteps of iron that rattle the steps.
And, faint with fear now, the pathetic Lares,
wriggle their way to the back of the shrine;
each jostles the other and stumbles
each little god falls over the other
because they've understood what kind of sound it is,
have come to know by now the Erinyes' footsteps.

           Trans. D. Mendelsohn


Σ´ἐβένινο κρεββάτι στολισμένο
με1 κοραλλένιους ἐετούς, βαθυὰ κοιμᾶται
ὁ Νέρων ‒ ἀσυνείδητος, ἧσυχος, κ´ευ"τυχής·
ἀκμαῖος μὲς στὴν εὐρωστία τῆς σαρκός,
καὶ στῆσς νεότητος τ´ὡραῖο σφρῖγος.

Άλλὰ στὴν αἴθουσα τὴν ἀλαβάτρινη ποὺ κλείνει
τῶν Άηνοβάρβων τὸ ἀρχαῖο λαράριο
τί ἀνήσυχοι ποὺ εῖν´ οἱ Λάρητές του.
Τρέμουν οἱ σπιτικοὶ μικροὶ θεοί,
καὶ προσπαθοῦν τ´ ἀσήμαντά των σώματα νὰ κρύψουν.
Γιατὶ ἄκουσαν μια1 ἀπαίσια βοή,
θανάσιμη βοὴ τὴν σκάλα ν´ἀνεβαίνει,
βέματα σιδερένια ποὺ τραντάζουν τὰ σκαλιά.
Καὶ λιγοθυμισμένοι τώπα οἱ ἄ1λιοι Λάρετες,
μέσα στὸ Βάθος τοῦ λαράριους χώνονται,
ὁ ἕνας τὸν ἄλλονα σκουντᾶ καὶ σκουντουφλᾶ,
ὁ ἕνας μικρὸς θεὸς πάνω στὸν ἄλλον πέφτει
γιατὶ κατάλαβαν τί εἵδομ βοὴ εἶναι τούτη,

τἄνοιωααν πιὰ τὰ βήματα των Ἐριννύων.