The Greeks planned for war On the delightful island of Salamis. From the harbor of Athens, you could see it Seized by the enemy’s hand.
And now our friends the islanders Are fitting out our ships. Earlier the English didn’t love The sweet European soil.
O, Europe, new Hellas, Save the Acropolis and Pireus. We do not need the island’s gifts, A forest of uninvited ships.
One of Russia’s greatest poets, Osip was a diehard nonconformist, his attempts to maintain his artistic independence after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 resulted in ostracism, exile, and ultimately, death in Stalin’s labour camps. After Stalin’s death in 1953 (and long after his own death), Mandelstam was “rehabilitated” and his work has undergone a revival. He described his ethnic background as “Jewish chaos,”
Mandelstam sped his own demise when he wrote, in 1933, a satirical poem characterizing Stalin as a gleeful executioner with a cockroach moustache. This sixteen-line poem, known as the “Stalin Epigram.”
I pray to the sunbeam from the window – It is pale, thin, straight. Since morning I have been silent, And my heart – is split. The copper on my washstand Has turned green, But the sunbeam plays on it So charmingly. How innocent it is, and simple, In the evening calm, But to me in this deserted temple It’s like a golden celebration, And a consolation.
Why is this age worse than earlier ages? In a stupor of grief and dread have we not fingered the foulest wounds and left them unhealed by our hands?
In the west the falling light still glows, and the clustered housetops glitter in the sun, but here Death is already chalking the doors with crosses, and calling the ravens, and the ravens are flying in.
(Tr.by Stanley Kunitz, with Max Hayward)
Last Toast by Anna Akhmatova
I drink to our ruined house To the evil of my life To our loneliness together And I drink to you— To the lying lips that have betrayed us, To the dead-cold eyes, To the fact that the world is brutal and coarse To the fact that God did not save us.
(Tr.by Katie Farris and Ilya Kaminsky)
Trenches, trenches – You could lose your way! Of old Europe A scrap remains, Where in clouds of smoke, Towns burn … Now the ridges of the Crimea Grows dark. And I am leading a flock Of my own mourners. Oh, blue cloak Of a tranquil land! … Over a dead medusa.
(From Anna Akhmatova’s ‘The Way of al the Earth, tr. Judith Hemschemeyer)
‘Of old Europe a scrap remains‘ – Yes, ALL our C21st leaders are culpable, and everyone of us, as well, for allowing them to ruin our lives. And for preventing a new Europe to emerge. Europe is rapidly becoming ‘the foulest of wounds’, alas, with no healer in sight.
‘I drink to our ruined house. I drink to our ruined house’.
So sad. And tragic. It could have been a source of so much good for humanity in the last 70 years or so.
“My contention here is that the US crimes in the same period (as USSR) have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now. Although constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union, the United States’ actions throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to do what it liked.
Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America’s favoured method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as ‘low intensity conflict’. Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued – or beaten to death – the same thing – and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed. This was a commonplace in US foreign policy in the years to which I refer.
The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.
I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love.
The United States no longer bothers about low intensity conflict. It no longer sees any point in being reticent or even devious. It puts its cards on the table without fear or favour. It quite simply doesn’t give a damn about the United Nations, international law or critical dissent, which it regards as impotent and irrelevant. It also has its own bleating little lamb tagging behind it on a lead, the pathetic and supine Great Britain.
We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it ‘bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East’.
I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.
If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us – the dignity of man.“
From Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize in Literature 2005.