At the Gates

Oh yes, I was beguiled by churchy cliques –
complacent ease with humble privilege,
the arch presumption of black-suited men
and campness cloaking bitter buried truth.
Oh, there was joy in jargon’s jealous claims,
the coded in- and outness of it all,
the huddled boozy late night synod do,
and all the bored and bitchy meanness too.
I knew it then, but couldn’t quite resist –
for glowing through it all the passioned Christ
excused our earthen vessels’ obvious flaw,
his fractured host hard-won redemption’s gift
that shamed our pretty Pilate-patterned pomp.
The coal glows still – it warms me at the gates
as I observe the institution’s fall.
The managers now run the dismal end
with Stalin’s brutish dreary dullard’s hand,
and treacherous screen exposes what we hid.
And so, with wistful leaver’s greedy cling
I watch awhile, and fancy I’m awake.

Rupert Moreton


Caravaggio, The Taking of Christ. National Gallery of Ireland

The absent touch is my obsession
as one who never touches much,
for what you don’t do much you miss
the more when it is but forbidden.
It fascinates, attracts, repulses –
the parried clutch, the friction seized.

And now the others’ urge to touch
denied in paschal preparation
is clatter-carried on the screen.
It really seems it’s come to this –
for yearned evasion’s dim projection
appears to me but Judas-kiss.

Rupert Moreton

The Nightingale and the Rose (Соловей и роза); Alexander Pushkin

Unlike my previous post, this is indisputably Pushkin. Concise, self-mocking, world-weary.

In gardens’ silence, in benighted dark of spring,
Above the rose the nightingale begins to sing.
But, lovely rose hears not, she doesn’t pay attention.
Beneath the amorous hymn she sways in sleep’s descension.
And you, do you not sing to chilly beauty’s doze?
Awake, O bard! What is your quest, do you suppose?
She listens not. She is immune to bard’s attraction;
You gaze, she blossoms; you beseech – there’s no reaction.


В безмолвии садов, весной, во мгле ночей,
Поет над розою восточный соловей.
Но роза милая не чувствует, не внемлет,
И под влюбленный гимн колеблется и дремлет.
Не так ли ты поешь для хладной красоты?
Опомнись, о поэт, к чему стремишься ты?
Она не слушает, не чувствует поэта;
Глядишь, она цветет; взываешь – нет ответа.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

Not Pushkin


However much we might want it to be, this daguerreotype isn’t Pushkin, though it is often claimed that it is. He died before it could have been possible. A chap called Urri Grimm published this poem on Facebook a few days ago. It was ascribed to Pushkin almost immediately – though never by its author. It says much about Pushkin’s hold over the Russian spirit that every Russian amateur is fated to mimic him – and I’d be pretty chuffed if I were Mr Grimm. But Pushkin would have a sting in the tail – and tales of his piety are somewhat exaggerated…

But then I chanced on this

Permit me, people of this land
In this, the hour of spirit’s anguish
To greet you as I captive languish –
Enjoy this feast of spring at hand!
For calm must come, this won’t be doom,
Your sadness and your fear won’t tarry,
The roads again will smoothly carry
And as before, the garden bloom.
Upon sweet reason we shall call,
Abolish sickness with its power
And we’ll survive this testing hour
As members of one family, all.
And purer, wiser we shall be,
To fear and darkness shan’t surrender,
A lighter spirit we shall render,
A closer, kinder world agree.
And at the festive table spend
Our lives again in soul’s rejoicing,
And may our God with blessing voicing
To every home joy’s morsel send!


Позвольте, жители страны,
В часы душевного мученья
Поздравить вас из заточенья
С великим праздником весны!
Всё утрясётся, всё пройдёт,
Уйдут печали и тревоги,
Вновь станут гладкими дороги
И сад, как прежде, зацветёт.
На помощь разум призовём,
Сметём болезнь силой знаний
И дни тяжёлых испытаний
Одной семьёй переживём.
Мы станем чище и мудрей,
Не сдавшись мраку и испугу,
Воспрянем духом и друг другу
Мы станем ближе и добрей.
И пусть за праздничным столом
Мы вновь порадуемся жизни,
Пусть в этот день пошлёт Всевышний
Кусочек счастья в каждый дом!

Translation by Rupert Moreton

Like Night (Как ночь), Konstantin Balmont

Portrait of Balmont by Nikolai Ulyanov, 1909

She came towards me, and she silent was as night,
And with her eyes of violets’ blooming she was gazing
At where the gentle jewelled dewdrops’ rays were blazing,
She came towards me, and her apparition’s sight
Was just the same as quiet insinuating night.

With single glance she penetrated depths of mystery
Where I looked on my other self in speechless glass,
And I was like her face, and she my shadow’s pass,
And we in reaches’ strangeness mute beheld our history,
Ablaze with starry cluster, fathomlessness, mystery


Она пришла ко мне, молчащая, как ночь,
Глядящая, как ночь, фиалками-очами,
Где росы кроткие звездилися лучами,
Она пришла ко мне – такая же точь-в-точь,
Как тиховейная, как вкрадчивая ночь.

Ее единый взгляд проник до глуби тайной,
Где в зеркале немом – мое другое я,
И я – как лик ея, она – как тень моя,
Мы молча смотримся в затон необычайный,
Горящий звездностью, бездонностью и тайной.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

Approaching Holy Week

Faith was a thing I used to do.
For priested craft allowed me to
be agent of belief’s conceit –
enacted passion was complete
expression of the ungrasped truth
of pious hopes of callow youth.
Indeed, it was. For it allowed
faith’s burden’s carriage by the crowd
for whom the acted words somehow
contrived to promise things that vow’s
vicarious task absolved me from.
The host in hand, the merest crumb,
I clasped until it fell apart.
It’s strange that as we reach the start
of Holy Week – the doer’s time –
the call still chants the faithless rhyme
of faithful desperation’s cry.
For godforsaken-caught am I,
and glimmer’s glimpse still draws me in
towards that hope, so stubborn-thin.

Rupert Moreton

Another Covid Lent

The one who flinches feels it most,
and yet he plunges doubter’s hand’s
fresh piercing sword in wounded side.
“Don’t touch me, Mary!” But to Thomas:
“Reach out your hand.”
And so we’re caught
between the woman’s yearning clutch
and so-called doubter’s probing finger.
But yet for both, denied and glued,
the touch or lack confirms the thing.
The mess and gore and gardener’s flit
are incarnation’s curse and blessing –
the truth that only here can we
begin to see beyond confession’s
controlling orthodoxy’s grip.
The separation’s false, beguiles.
The thought, once caught, betrays, defiles.
For now the flickering screen allures
and touch, it’s felt, can here be real.
The glass, once darkly apprehended,
exposes all for what it is –
the stark rebuke of hubris-snare,
the there-ness of what isn’t there.
We’re left with nothing –
but to flinch.

Rupert Moreton

Another Epiphany

The splendid others blunder, beat
a starstruck path to others forced
by others to be counted as
another’s pastoral pageant tells.
This other tale, by other told –
a publican, whom others feared –
reminds us others, even now,
that others othered by our sin,
who see the other in our face,
who’d other other if they could,
are sisters, fathers, mothers, brothers –
that at the end we all are others.

Rupert Moreton

“Why does the ancient grave in captivation” (“Зачем пленяет старая могила”), Ivan Bunin

From 1922.

Why does the ancient grave in captivation,
hold all those dreams of what may once have been?
Why does the willow bend its frowning green
To cast its shadow as in veneration,
So mournful and so tender and so bright,
As if all things that now are ended might
Already know the joy of resurrection
And in redemption’s bosom, dark perfection
In tangle of celestial blooms’ delight?


Зачем пленяет старая могила
Блаженными мечтами о былом?
Зачем зеленым клонится челом
Та ива, что могилу осенила,
Так горестно, так нежно и светло,
Как будто все, что было и прошло,
Уже познало радость воскресенья
И в лоне всепрощения, забвенья
Небесными цветами поросло?

Translation by Rupert Moreton

Change (Перемена), Boris Pasternak


A poem from 1956 – the year of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which saw the denunciation of Stalin. This may or may not be a key…

I once was drawn towards the poor –
And not with gaze of condescension,
For it was only really there
That life went on without pretension.

Although some noble clans I knew
And public of sophistication,
The parasitic I’d eschew,
Befriended those of wastrel’s station.

To waken friendship then I sought
With those I met from ranks of toiler,
For which I earned from them their thought
That I belonged amidst the squalor.

I didn’t need fine words to feel,
Was real, and earthy and quite certain –
A simple cellar was my deal,
An attic home without a curtain.

And I have rotted since that time,
Corruption of the age afflicted
Midst bourgeois-optimistic climb,
My grief by shame has been convicted.

I’ve long been faithless to all those
Whom I was bound to by trust’s duty
I’ve lost the human path I chose
With all who spurn such simple beauty.


Я льнул когда-то к беднякам
Не из возвышенного взгляда,
А потому, что только там
Шла жизнь без помпы и парада.

Хотя я с барством был знаком
И с публикою деликатной,
Я дармоедству был врагом
И другом голи перекатной.

И я старался дружбу свесть
С людьми из трудового званья,
За что и делали мне честь,
Меня считая тоже рванью.

Был осязателен без фраз,
Вещественен, телесен, весок
Уклад подвалов без прикрас
И чердаков без занавесок.

И я испортился с тех пор,
Как времени коснулась порча,
И горе возвели в позор,
Мещан и оптимистов корча.

Всем тем, кому я доверял,
Я с давних пор уже не верен.
Я человека потерял
С тех пор, как всеми он потерян.

Translation by Rupert Moreton