Thursday, October 8, 2015

National Poetry Day

About an hour ago I overheard a conversation in the Members' Room of London Library between two people one or both of whom might have been a poet and a broadcaster though, sadly, I did not recognize either. The male member of the duo was holding forth about the sheer silliness of National Poetry Day, with which I mostly agree. It's like National Breast Cancer Day, he spluttered. We shall have young people with yellow buckets collecting money for National Poetry Day soon. I hid behind a book so he should not see me smiling and become even more self-satisfied. (Mind you, I am not sure what the point of a National Breast Or Any Other Cancer might be, either. Are there really people around who are not aware of those diseases?)

Still, it is good to have a few portraits of poets around and, to start with, here is one I am particularly fond of as it unites the greatest English language poet of the twentieth century with its greatest portraitist.

And that's enough National Poetry Day. Let us go on to World Poetry Day. Here is an unusual portrait of the great Anna Akhmatova (mentioned by me here, here, here and here). It is part of the mosaics created for the National Gallery by the Russian artist who lived in France but worked for and in England, Boris Anrep. Akhmatova represents Compassion. Let me note, in parenthesis, that it is very annoying to see people walk across those wonderful mosaics without giving them a glance. Not in the guide books, I suppose.

The last of the Akhmatova links in the paragraph above takes us to my translation of the introductory lines to her wonderful cycle about the Great Terror, Requiem, which I still have not translated in full. But on this day I shall re-post those introductory lines:
No, I did not live under an alien sky And was not protected by alien wings - I was then among my own people, Where my unhappy people were.


In the terrible years of yezhovschina I spent seventeen months in Leningrad’s prison queues. One day somebody recognized me. The woman immediately behind me, whose lips were blue with cold, and who, presumably, had never heard of me, seemed to shake off the numbness that had overtaken us all. Leaning close to my ear she whispered (we all spoke in whispers):

- And this. Can you write about this?

I said:

- Yes I can.

Then something resembling a smile glided across what had once been her face.

No comments:

Post a Comment