Elena Shvarts, the Russian poet, died on March 11th of this year. We bring two of her poems from her last book in English, Birdsong On The Seabed, published by Bloodaxe. The translations are by Sasha Dugdale.


Memory's sideways glance

Once upon a time
We were playing at war
On the bank of the river Neva.
It was blowing a fresh Easterly,
Dragging the river by her white coat to sea,
And I was lost in contemplation of this,
When suddenly a boy, grinding his teeth,
A jagged lump of coal
At my temple
(Temple has two meanings in English).[1]
And the game was over

But perhaps it was the Neva herself
The indolent Neva lifted herself
Came to my side, opened by third eye
And took up lapping in our heads.
Oh evil! Evil you are, Neva
With our might from Ladoga -
You seized that coal from the bank
And knocked the words into my temple.
Blood poured in streams and tributaries
Through the anthracite grime,
Pallor mixed with crimson
And the plumed shadow of coal.
And m head was the sun setting
On that short day before spring.

It burnt for a time above the Neva
Then circled, suddenly darted,
Enshrouded in cigarette smoke
Past my hands like ashen coal,
Like a seraph's white corpuscle.
I saw a branch – a rib of Adam,
Charcoaled, fling like a sister.
The Neva whets on granite banks
Its marble-silken sabres.



Why not everyone sees angels
To Gennadii Komarov

Angels pass so very quickly
The eye can barely keep up
A moment's blaze rips day's cloth
Darkness runs to sew it up

Eternity is short. Fleeting shadows
A golden slant l passed
I follow – eye's palms clapping
Clapping. Got it. Mine, at last!

And if you hold your breath and turn
On the edge of a pin -
Eternity's golden disc revolves -
The price – a sweeping wing.

And if an angel of the apes
Should rest upon your shoulder bone
There is no shoulder and no sorrow
No angel. Candlelight alone


1. this is also in the Russian original of the poem, eds.

©Elena Shvarts
translation copyright© Sasha Dugdale