a site by John Cobley

a coppice gate


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Transtromer's "Ostinato"

Translation and discussion of Transtromer's "Ostinato"

OstinatoUnder the buzzard’s circling point of stillnessthe ocean rolls on thunderously in daylight,blindly chews its bridle of seaweed and snorts                                    foam over sea shores. The earth is covered by darkness which batsnavigate. The buzzard stops and becomes a star.the ocean rolls on thunderously and snorts                                    foam over sea shores. Thomas TranströmerTranslated by John Cobley

Apollinaire's Two Autumn Poems

Translation from French of two Apollinaire poems

Guillaume Apollinaire didn’t write many nature poems, but these two autumn poems are remarkable. They were written in his early thirties and published in Alcools (1913). “Ailing Autumn,” which is often translated as “Sickly Autumn,” is notable for its images, especially the sound images (rumeurs in the French, which has no exact equivalent in English). The sounds move brilliantly from fallen fruit to trampled leaves to the train and finally to life itself. I am not comfortable with Apollinaire’s inclusion of the innocent water nymphs. But this poem comes from a different time over a century ago.

Grodek by Georg Trakl

Poem translation

GrodekAt evening, autumn forests resoundWith deadly weapons across the golden plainsAnd blue lakes, while overhead the sunRolls on more darkly. Night embraces   The dying warriors and the wild lament                                             5Of their mangled mouths. Yet silently in the pastureland, Red clouds inhabited by an angry godGather shed blood, lunar coldness.                             All roads lead to black decay.                                                             10

Russian Autumn Poems Part I

Five autumn poems by Tyutchev, Akhamtova, Gumilyov and Yevtushenko

WONDERFUL AUTUMN The unprecedented autumn built an immense dome;The clouds were ordered not to darken it. And people marveled: September is moving on.Where are the freezing, damp days?The murky canal waters have turned emerald;The nettles were smelling like roses, only stronger. It was sultry from sunrise, unendurable, diabolical, scarlet.All of it would stay with us to the end of our days.The sun was like a rebel entering the capital.And springlike autumn caressed it so ardently,As if the translucent snowdrops would soon turn white …

Pasternak: To the Memory of Marina Tsvetaeva

Pasternak poem translated into English

The grey day drags on,Rain streams cheerlesslyAcross the porch and front doorAnd into my open windows. Behind the fence along the roadThe public garden is flooded.Like beasts in their lair,The clouds sprawl about in disorder. In such bad weather I imagine A book about the beauty of the world.                      10I draw a wood nymph For you on the title page.  Marina, it’s been a long time,But it wouldn’t be that much troubleTo transfer your neglected ashes

Akhmatova: Her Tribute to Shostakovich

Russian poetry. Akhmatova's tribute to Shostakovich

Although the poet and the composer admired each other’s works, they were never friends. Their few encounters over the years were awkward; they were like chalk and cheese. “We were such different people,” Shostakovich told Solomon Volkov (Testimony, p. 274)  And he describes an arranged meeting between the two, where “we sat in silence. I was silent and Akhmatova was silent. We said nothing for a while and then parted.” This bizarre encounter is also documented from Akhmatova’s perspective by Zoya Tomashevskaya: “Anna Andreyevna Akmatova told me about her visit to Shostakovich: ‘Dmitri Dmitriyevich invited me to go to see him at Repino….We sat in silence for twenty minutes. It was wonderful.” (Elizabeth Wilson, Shostakovich: A Life Remembered 321).

Akhmatova: Poems to Three Friends

The Shade  What does one woman know about the hour of death?O. Mandel’shtam  Always the best dressed, rosiest and tallest,Why are you rising from the depths of long-gone years?Why does this predatory memory, your transparent profile,Sway before me in carriage windows?How we argued then—were you angel or bird?A poet called you “Straw.”The tender light of those Darial eyes Flowed over everyone through your dark eyelashes.O shade! Forgive me, beauty of 1913,But clear weather, Flaubert, insomnia

Akhmatova: Tributes to Writers

Seven tributes to Russian writers by Anna Akhmatova

To Aleksander Blok I went to visit the poet.Exactly at noon. On a Sunday.It was quiet in the spacious room, And there was frost outside the windows. And a raspberry sunAbove curls of blue-grey smoke…How serenely my taciturn hostSurveys me! He had the kind of eyesThat everyone remembers.I had to be careful not toEngage them at all.  But I’ll remember the conversation,The smoky noon, that SundayIn the tall grey houseBy the waterway of the Neva. 1914     TeacherIn memory of Innokenty Annensky

Tsvetaeva's "Trees" Sequence

Translation of nine-part sequence of "Trees" by Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva

The nine poems assembled under “Trees” are some of the most difficult in Tsvetaeva’s oeuvre. They were written in 1922-3, soon after she had left the USSR and settled in a rural area across the river from Prague. She was in a high state of excitement after escaping from Moscow, where she had suffered deeply from famine during the Revolution years. Additionally she was rejoining her husband Seryozha Efron after years of separation. This emotional high is evident throughout the nine poems of “Trees.”

Shostakovich: His Choice of Tsvetaeva's Poems for Op. 143

Shostakovich Opus 143: His Choice of Tsvetaeva's Poems

Like most educated Russians, Shostakovich was a regular reader of poetry. Throughout his life, he set many poems to music, not only Russian but also Japanese, Jewish, English, Italian, German and French. He covered some of the major Russian poets from Lermontov and Pushkin to Blok, Yevtushenko and Tsvetaeva. The very last of these Russian poets he worked on was Marina Tsvetaeva, whose poetry had become more accessible in the USSR since a major publication of her work in 1965.  Shostakovich wrote the music for Six Verses of Marina Tsvetaeva in just one week in August 1973, when he was vacationing in Estonia.  His health at this time was bad, and he already knew he had a terminal illness. His familiarity with Tsvetaeva’s work was increased in 1971 when he set to music Yevtushenko’s “Yelabuga Nail,” a poem about Tsvetaeva’s suicide. Soon after, he heard Tishenko’s “Three songs on Verses of Tsvetaeva” and subsequently ordered a copy (Fay 277)

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