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.

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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

“Yes, I am lying in the earth” (“Да, я лежу в земле”), Osip Mandelstam

Written in 1935. Mandelstam was in exile in Voronezh – and at his most cryptic.

Yes, I am lying in the earth – but see my lips
The words to every schoolboy’s future lesson giving:

Upon Red Square the earth is rounder, and it slips
In hardening plunge without an intervention,

The earth is surely rounder there upon Red Square,
Its slope is surely free without intention,

It’s sliding into fields of rice as long as there’s
Upon the surface of the earth a slave still living.

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Да, я лежу в земле, губами шевеля,
Но то, что я скажу, заучит каждый школьник:

На Красной площади всего круглей земля,
И скат ее твердеет добровольный,

На Красной площади земля всего круглей,
И скат ее нечаянно-раздольный,

Откидываясь вниз — до рисовых полей,
Покуда на земле последний жив невольник.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

In the End

Master of Vyšší Brod, a Bohemian master, c. 1350.

In the end the word was made
prevarication.
Flesh was too real,
too exposing.
So they tightened the swaddling bands,
stifled the bawl,
turned their backs on the sour beast-belched
scatological mystery
and presumed to speak of
eschatology.
And Pilate and the High Priest
breathed a sigh of relief

and the babe in the manger
continued to
weep.

Rupert Moreton

Advent 2020

The wait goes on. And yet we rush
to grasp the moment’s glib narration –
demand to pander to the hush-
denying tinselled glitzed evasion
of all we’d rather not address.
The scandal now not Incarnation
but self’s desire that no less
than Dickens-Cola-fizzed creation
will only ever really do.
And that’s what covid’s escalation
exposes now. It isn’t new
of course, but comes fresh invitation
to travel inward to the place
where God in bawling consummation
of human passion’s grim embrace
declines to meet our sorry station
as terrified, we up and run
to cosy Luke-wrought destination –
the easy seized in mystery-shun.

Rupert Moreton

The Postmodern Churchperson

I do not feel it – whatever it may be.
Unless I feel it, I’ll be off.
You’ll have to find a way to please me –
for I’m the one who matters now.
Unless the patter prompts sensation
and makes me better than the others,
you can’t expect me long to linger
and yet I will – don’t tell me how.
The truth is that I like your trappings –
for power seduces, and I can’t
quite bring myself to shake the dust
from feet that will not ever walk


the straitened path whose lure repels.

Rupert Moreton

Possession

Inspired by a gem of an interview from 1961 with Frank O’Connor about Cork.

Possession takes us unaware – we fight
Deflection’s other battles in our haste
To close our eyes to weary human plight
That sees us cloistered in our hubris-waste,
That tempts us grimly, blithely to embrace
The blandishments of self-denying gain,
The facile moment’s ease, the fleeting chase
Whose end is brought by pride’s evaded wane.
We love to think we love, yet we are but
Desirous of reflection’s warped conceit,
But through it all the timely truth will cut
The junction where our sad delusions meet.
For we must one day know our wretched fate –
We only really love the thing we hate.

Rupert Moreton

So Do We Sin(?)

So do we sin then, you and I?
Can we rebel against the notion
That our projection in the sky
Dismisses every craven motion
We make to counter happy fault?

And can we turn our gaze on us?
Persuade ourselves of love’s reflection,
That we may now reject the fuss
That causes so much grim dejection
And claim our place ’neath heaven’s vault?

And can we build a new salvation
That isn’t wrought in searing pain?
And are there grounds for a creation
That reassures us all again
That we are free of rot’s assault?

Or does postmodern idle chatter
Of old Pelagius draw us in?
And as we contemplate self’s matter
Then do we shy from mirrored sin?

Thus prophet dies at ego’s halt.
The victim shuns the Victim’s passion
But claims his faultless crown’s default,
Contrives with witless ease to fashion
Cheap grace’s selfish fancied win.

Rupert Moreton

Covid-mass 2

(Covid-mass)

From the Church of Ireland notes in the Irish Times.
“At Communion bread only was served, which was eaten on return to seats.”

Alone like mice we scuttle
to a musty corner with our prize.
The bishop says we mustn’t
be together in these trying times.
I find it suits me really –
for Communion never seemed as clean
as I’d quite like. We’re not a
sacramental church and never were.
So there’s a certain aptness
at the end we’ve brought to everything
that I can chew my bread in
peaceful shroud of dankness and confront
the role we’ve played in bringing
this to pass. The doors, the doors are shut,
the mystery’s left, the host is
bread.
My God, my God, forsaken thus
we know the one we kill is
caught.
He’s mine, not in my hand, you see?

Rupert Moreton

Empty

The vessel’s empty.
It probably always was.
Those earthen walls beguiled
because they made me feel like treasure.
And all the baubled balm
of decent, ordered liturgy
and choral glory calmed
but stirred a sense I would not own –
its beauty insulated,
but it didn’t go beyond the doors behind me
even as, moment-bound, I was transported
to projection’s other place.
But arch familiarity fostered
sectarian ease I saw in others
beguiled by blest assurance.
Outside the earthen walls
the dusty emptiness remains,
but baubled balm bewitches still.
Its memory mugs at inconvenient times
and lures. But then the walls remind
that those within possess the treasure still.
Its lure deceives both me and them.
I seek it there. They own it, so they can’t
admit its lustre fades.
The paradox persists.
I know the sanctuary lamp still flickers.
The buried substance bothers in the dark.

Rupert Moreton

Visitation 2020

The foetus leaps in greeting to
another greater. Womb’s constraint
cannot disguise the jolt.
Incarnate love enshrined
meets craggy cousin borne by one
who’s long since past the age.
Two scandals twine and now
redemption’s reckless struggle starts
between and by them. And our hearts
will never grasp the point.
Forefinger’s etch directs our gaze:
the one who touches flinches and
is touched to show the way.

Rupert Moreton