Category Archives: Poetry

Chidiock Tichborne (1558-1586). Elegy

I was once browsing the blogs that I read, and on ReadySteadyBook I came across a sad poem, written by one Chidiock Tichborne ‘on the eve of his execution’. I found his name remotely familiar, and later realised, why: he took part in the Babington conspiracy against Elizabeth I in 1586. As some of you may know (or guess by the dates), this conspiracy was also the one that had brought Mary Queen of Scots to her tragic end. However, I dare say, the end of the conspirators, including Tichborne, was far more tragic, since their execution was carried out in the *best traditions* of punishment for treason. They were hung, drawn and quartered. The execution was usually a gruesome one; it would include a criminal being cut open, and their insides being taken out and burnt in front of their eyes. Normally, they would die at this stage, but sometimes they were still alive by the time they had begun being cut into four parts. The sources say that such was the case of one of the Babington conspirators (not Tichborne, though). The rider in the verdict stated that the severity of punishment could be increased upon the authorities’ discretion. Nevertheless, having been reported about the popular dismay, the authorities allowed the next group of conspirators to hang until dead before being drawn and quartered.

Although Tichborne’s Elegy is not the only work that has reached us, this poem, written in such dramatic circumstances, has attracted much attention from the scholars. Indeed, the use of antithesis and paradox – the two popular Renaissance literary figures – suggests that Tichborne was definitely not new to the art of poetry. Some further information can be found over here, in The Leeds Review, where you can see the first imprint of Elegy, Tichborne’s letter to his wife Agnes, and a response to Tichborne’s poem, specially composed to diminish the creative effort of this young man.

Along with the English text, I also include my translation of it into Russian. I was immediately captivated by the text, and the chance to render all literary figures into my native language was impossible to miss. And when you consider the age of Tichborne and the severity of his execution, you probably begin to read the whole poem differently.

My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,
My feast of joy is but a dish of pain,
My crop of corn is but a field of tares,
And all my good is but vain hope of gain;
The day is past, and yet I saw no sun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

My tale was heard and yet it was not told,
My fruit is fallen, yet my leaves are green,
My youth is spent and yet I am not old,
I saw the world and yet I was not seen;
My thread is cut and yet it is not spun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

I sought my death and found it in my womb,
I looked for life and found it was a shade,
I trod the earth and knew it was my tomb,
And now I die, and now I was but made;
My glass is full, and now my glass is run,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

Chidiock Tichborne, 1586

Мою весну мороз невзгод овеял;
На радости пиру вкусил я боль;
Растил зерно – собрал охапки плевел;
Тщета надежд – достаток скудный мой.
День пролетел, – не видел солнца я.
Живу, и жизнь окончена моя.

Слух обо мне разносят пустословы;
Листвою зелен, наземь плод упал;
Промчалась юность, – я остался молод;
Я видел мир, а он меня не знал.
Прервали нить, кудели не спрядя.
Живу, и жизнь окончена моя.

К себе вернулся я, пойдя за смертью;
Я жизнь нашел в забвения тиши;
Могилу чувствовал, когда бродил по тверди;
И умираю, путь свой не свершив.
Иссякло время до исхода дня.
Живу, и жизнь окончена моя.

Julia Shuvalova © 2006


Of course, we’re in Manchester, and the weather has been nice, though chilly, in the past few days, with quite a few rays of sunshine caressing our forlorn November faces. In this weather I narrowly missed the fact that it’s the first day of winter today. So, congratulations. At Piccadilly Gardens you can do your bit of ice skating. My history of ice skating was short and painful, so it’s unlikely that you see me there. I do like skiing, though, and I heard in Sheffield there’s a sport centre where I could once again experience the joy of gliding on the white snowy surface. As I probably won’t go to Moscow until February or even March, I think I’ll go to Sheffield in January. If you’ve been there and have any pleasant/unpleasant memories or tips, please tell me.

And to take you through the start of winter season and many long dark nights, here is a lovely poem by a Tudor author A.W. (fl. 1585), Upon Visiting His Lady by Moonlight.

The night, say all, was made for rest;
And so say I, but not for all:
To them the darkest nights are best,
Which give them leave asleep to fall;
But I that seek my rest by light
Hate sleep, and praise the clearest night.

Bright was the Moon, as bright as day,
And Venus glistered in the west,
Whose light did lead the ready way,
That brought me to my wishèd rest:
Then each of them increased their light
While I enjoyed her heavenly sight.

Say, gentle Dames, what moved your mind
To shine so bright above your wont?
Would Phœbe fair Endymion find?
Would Venus see Adonis hunt?
No, no, you fearèd by her sight
To lose the praise of beauty bright.

At last, for shame you shrunk away,
And thought to ‘reave the world of light;
Then shone my Dame with brighter ray,
Than that which comes from Phœbus’ sight:
None other light but hers I praise
Whose nights are clearer than the days.

Procession (by Jacques Prévert)

As I said in the previous post, I couldn’t find the translation of Prévert’s poem Cortège on the web, so I decided I would have a go at translating it. I finished one of my projects, so I had the right amount of time to immerse in the process of rendering the French text into English. I’ll republish both French and Russian versions in this post, so that those who possibly know all three languages could compare the translations.

A golden oldster with a watch in grief
A labourer of England with an unskilled queen
And the workers of peace with the guardians of the sea
A hussar of cat with a paw of death
A coffee serpent with a bespectacled grinder
A tight-rope hunter with a head walker
A Meerschaum marshal with a retired pipe
A brat in tuxedo with a gentleman in undershirt
A composer of gallows with a bird of music
A spiritual collector with an advisor of cigarette butts
A sharpener of Coligny with an admiral of scissors
A nun of Bengal with a tiger of Saint Vincent de Paul
A professor of pottery with a repairer of philosophy
A controller of the Round Table with the knights of the Gas Company
A duck in Saint Helena with a Napoleon in orange sauce
An inspector of Samothrace with a Winged Victory of cemetery
A tug of many with a father of the tides
A member of prostate with an enlargement of the French Academy
A large horse in partibus with a great circus bishop
A comptroller of the Wooden Cross with a little singer of the bus
A dentist terrible with an enfant surgeon
And the general of oysters with an opener of Jesuits.

Julia Shuvalova © 2006

Un vieillard en or avec une montre en deuil
Une reine de peine avec un homme d’Angleterre
Et des travailleurs de la paix avec des gardiens de la mer
Un hussard de la farce avec un dindon de la mort
Un serpent à café avec un moulin à lunettes
Un chasseur de corde avec un danseur de têtes
Un maréchal d’écume avec une pipe en retraite
Un chiard en habit noir avec un gentleman au maillot
Un compositeur de potence avec un gibier de musique
Un ramasseur de conscience avec un directeur de mégots
Un repasseur de Coligny avec un amiral de ciseaux
Une petite sœur du Bengale avec un tigre de Saint-Vincent-de-Paul
Un professeur de porcelaine avec un raccommodeur de philosophie
Un contrôleur de la Table Ronde avec des chevaliers de la Compagnie du Gaz de Paris
Un canard à Sainte-Hélène avec un Napoléon à l’orange
Un conservateur de Samothrace avec une Victoire de cimetière
Un remorqueur de famille nombreuse avec un père de haute mer
Un membre de la prostate avec une hypertrophie de l’Académie française
Un gros cheval in partibus avec un grand évêque de cirque
Un contrôleur à la croix de bois avec un petit chanteur d’autobus
Un chirurgien terrible avec un enfant dentiste
Et le général des huîtres avec un ouvreur de Jésuites.

(Courtesy of

Скорбящие часы с золотым стариком
Потная королева с английским ломовиком
И труженики мира со стражами моря
Надутый эскадрон с индюком смерти
Очковая мельница с ветряной змеей
Канатный охотник с плясуном за черепами
Пенковый маршал с трубкой в отставке
Дитя во фраке с джентльменом в пеленках
Сочинитель сволочи с последней музыкой
Собиратель лиц с духовными окурками
Уличный адмирал с точильщиком флота
Бенгальская монашка с католическим тигром
Профессор по фарфору с художником по философии
Инспектор Круглого Стола с рыцарями Газовой Компании
Утка под Ватерлоо с Наполеоном под соусом
Самофракийская крыса с церковной Никой
Крестный буксир с морским отцом
Член простаты с гипертрофией Французской академии
Приходская лошадка с цирковым священником
Контролер на похоронах с плакальщиком в автобусе
Вопящий хирург с ребенком-дантистом
И магистр улиток с поедателем Ордена кармелиток.

(Courtesy of

A few comments on the translation. Although Prévert”s poem is seemingly absurd, its play on words is sometimes exemplary in re-discovering of some familiar idioms or collocations. I tried, for the most part, to remain faithful to the text, except for when I decided to translate ‘dindon de la farce‘ as ‘cat’s paw‘, actually reversing it, to make it ‘a paw of cat’, so that to mix it with ‘hussard de la mort‘. I also reversed the parts of the second line, because in the French text one can find some occasional (and mostly acoustic) rhymes, so I tried to do just that in the English text.

Also, in the line

Un contrôleur à la croix de bois avec un petit chanteur d’autobus

Prévert refers to Les Petits Chanteurs a la Crois de Bois, a boy choir that was founded in 1906 and exists until this day. As a matter of fact, this reference is omitted in Russian translation.
Bespectacled serpent‘ is, of course, a cobra; ‘gibier de potence‘ is translated as ‘a gallow bird’. ‘Un grand eveque in partibus‘ is a bishop of the see that doesn’t actually exist or is situated in the ‘unchristian’ part. In partibus is an abridgement of in partibus infidelium (Latin), i.e. in the lands of the unfaithful. Vincent de Paul is a well-known Catholic saint, who devoutedly supported and founded various charities, some of which continue to exist. His name is widely known in the West, including America, which is why I left a reference to him in the text. ‘Admiral of Coligny‘ is Gaspard de Coligny, whose brutal assassination was one of the acts of the dance macabre of St. Bartholomew’s Night of 1572.

A Day in the Life with the Blue Lyre

Yes, there was a post under such title already on this blog, but, since I took part in the History Matters campaign and my entry has been uploaded to their page, I thought I would post it here, too. You can read as many other entries, as you wish, by clicking here. I’ve got to say, some comments are totally amazing, especially those written by children.

You will notice that my ‘one day in history’ is anything, but down-to-earth. There’s no mention of how I brushed my teeth, ‘dragged the comb across my head’, and, since it was my day-off, I spent it at home. I noted what I had for tea, however. The major part of the entry is dedicated to my recalling of what I did in terms of reading, thinking and writing. I shall explain, why I did so. As you know, I am an historian, and for years I’ve been researching into intellectual history, or history of ideas (very broadly speaking). This field borders on both philosophy and art, which is one of the reasons why it fascinates me so much. Consequently, I jotted down, as briefly and clearly as possible, what I thought and felt on October 17th, 2006. What you’re reading, therefore, is a writer’s alienating themselves from their ideas and occupations and looking at these through an historian’s specs.

So, this is a retrospective view of one single day, 17th October 2006.

When I was an adolescent and tried to write a diary, I hated it. But recently I began to write a blog, and I am actually enjoying it. However, I don’t write about commonsensical things there. For this reason I’ll only briefly mention such unimportant details, as my getting up at 10am (because the 17th was my day-off, and the night before I stayed up late); having breakfast; checking my email; having lunch later on; then boiling chicken breasts and eating one of them for tea; and eventually going to bed. I don’t boil chicken breasts every day, and I don’t get up at 10am every day, but the rest I am doing day-in, day-out.

I have always been attracted to history, even before I went to study it. History was always linked to philosophy and art, and was about people, what and how they think and feel, and why. The arts, especially literature, have been my main interest and preoccupation since I was 6, so I ended up as a specialist in intellectual history. Back in 1997, in Moscow, and wanting to be a writer, I went to read History to gain the knowledge of life (in the broadest sense) and to generate my understanding of it, so I would have something to write about. Gradually I began to discover and sometimes to face the memories of my own past. Thinking about it, this is exactly what historians do – they collect information from elsewhere, whilst waiting for the archives to be opened. I don’t know exactly what has opened my archives, but perhaps I just forgot about it now?

This is what I thought on October 17. What did I feel? I felt love. Around that date I was in love with ‘Terrace in Rome’ by Pascal Quignard. The book was short enough to be swallowed in a couple of hours, but sometimes it is short or simple pieces that mesmerise you and touch your very core. Having finished it, I spent the next two days in a state close to cathartic. Even now I am not completely over it. For me as an artist, it is essential that I am in love, as love, whether shared or unrequited, is the source of inspiration. There is nothing particularly original about this view. Likewise, love doesn’t have to be associated with any particular person; the object of love can be a late writer or a book. Love in this case is a mixture of empathy, fantasy and passion, neither of which needs to be directly expressed or fulfilled. But it is essential that such object exists in my life, as something that attracts, challenges, inspires, and ultimately changes me. I don’t think, however, that love is a fleeting feeling; after all, I am faithful to my art.

In the afternoon I found an article about one classic Russian film, which I subsequently blogged. I’ve also posted an announcement on my blog (Notebooks) about this campaign. Later in the afternoon I received a totally unexpected email from a fellow artist. It mentioned his interview in The Wire; I found a couple of tracks on The Wire website and thought that ‘Lords of Fear’ was especially interesting.

In the evening I was again pondering on how to rewrite a cycle of poems that I composed in 2001. The cycle was called (and still is) ‘The Blue Lyre’, but its structure and form are to be totally changed. The main theme of the cycle is the formation of a poet, and in accordance with my plans, I wrote a rondeau. I never force myself to write, and I don’t quite believe in the ‘nulla dies sine linea’ adage. The world and the art, and my feelings for and thoughts about them, compel me, which is why I sometimes stay up in the night. But on October 17 I didn’t.

To see the corresponding entrances, so as to refresh your memory, you can go to the following links: the campaign and the article that I blogged, and the track that I listened to.

I’ll tell a tiny bit more about this cycle. Upon my word, I don’t know why I decided to call it ‘The Blue Lyre’. I think, generally, the explanation is pretty simple, and you can have a go at deciphering it. The rondeau I mentioned is a lovely Renaissance poetic form, and in the cycle it tells the story of the poet being warned against falling under the Lyre’s spell, for it makes everyone who follows it unhappy. But the poet eventually joins the Lyre’s retinue, whilst realising that he will be unhappy either with her or without her. The refrain of this rondeau is ‘I have always been told‘ (“Мне всегда говорили“), and this is what it reads like in Russian:

Мне всегда говорили: «Не слушай, когда,
Из небесных пределов спускаясь, звезда
Призывать в свою свиту тебя станет нежно, –
«Не желаю и знать!» – отвечай безмятежно».

«Коль примкнешь к ее свите волшебной, тогда
В бесконечной нужде проведешь ты года,
За одною настигнет другая беда,
Будешь плакать над долей своей безутешно», –
……………………………………….Мне всегда говорили.

Так ночей моих скудных прошла череда, –
И, за Синею Лирой уйдя навсегда,
Обещанье покоя отринув мятежно,
Понял я: буду с нею страдать неизбежно,
Без нее же счастливым не быть никогда, –
………………………………………Мне всегда говорили.

Julia Shuvalova © 2006

Still, a bientot!

If I Could Tell You (W. H. Auden)

I know I’ve put up a lot of poetry here recently, and I’m just about to post more. The genre of villanelle was probably fixed by one French poet in the late 16th c. Every villanelle consists of five three-line tercets and a final quatrain. In addition, the first and third lines of the first tercet recur alternately in the following stanzas and form a final couplet.

I’ve been particularly fascinated by this poem by W. H. Auden, If I Could Tell You, which I happily share now.

Time will say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.
If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so.
There are no fortunes to be told, although,
Because I love you more than I can say,
If I could tell you I would let you know.
The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reasons why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so.
Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
The vision seriously intends to stay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Suppose the lions all get up and go,
And all the brooks and soldiers run away;
Will Time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Needless to say, for all its beauty, the genre of villanelle has through centuries retained the mannerist quality of the French Renaissance.

Wei Tai on Poetry

Poetry presents the “thing” in order to convey the feeling. It should be precise about the thing and reticent about the feeling, for as soon as the mind regrounds and connects with the thing, the feeling shows in the words. This is how poetry enters deeply within us (Wei T’ai, Chinese philosopher).

From Goethe (Poetry)

FOR woman due allowance make!
Form’d of a crooked rib was she, —
By Heaven she could not straight’ned be.
Attempt to bend her, and she’ll break;
If left alone, more crooked grows madam;
What well could be worse, my good friend, Adam? —
For woman due allowance make;
‘Twere grievous, if thy rib should break!

[From Tefkir Nameh. Book of Contemplation, Western-Eastern Divan (1814-19). Those who know German, can read the original text. There is also a collection of Goethe’s works in verse, first printed in 1883, which you can find here. It contains English translation of the Divan. Finally, in Russian it is published at, but in fragments only].

How to Compliment a 16th c. Lady

Medieval poetry, in spite of its literary images, was in truth quite pathetic in describing a woman. Naturally, all women were ‘fair beauties’, but, like in painting, poetry rarely went much further.

I like a lot this poem by one of the best-known Tudor poets, John Skelton, The Commendations of Mistress Jane Scrope, which was published in 1545. Throughout the poem Skelton compares his beloved to a number of historical and mythical characters, such as Lucres, Polyxene, Calliope, “or else Penolope” (=Penelope), the nymph Egeria, and deities, starting with “Dame Flora“. It is also interesting that Skelton is more concerned about comparing his dame to an antique character, rather than about the homogeneity of the characters’ geographical origin. The names that we already mentioned come from both Greek and Roman history and mythology.

For my part, I like this passage from the poem:

My pen is unable,
My hand is unstable,
My reason rude and dull,
To praise her at the full,
Godly mistress Jane,
Sober, demure Diane.
Jane this mistress hight,
The lodestar of delight,
Dame Venus of all pleasure,
The well of worldly treasure.
She doth exceed and pass
The prudence dame Pallas.

It is really peculiar how in the space of 12 lines Skelton compares his beloved to Diane, Venus and Pallas – the three goddesses, (in)famously judged by Paris. This is also a curious instance of mixing and matching the names of deities from various mythologies. Both Diane and Venus are goddesses of Roman pantheon, whereas Pallas is a Greek goddess. Her Roman equivalent would be Minerva, but – as it seems – the choice of name was subjected to the purposes of rhyming.

[The quotations are from The Oxford Book of 16th c. verse].

The Rubaiyat

Complete Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. I know some verses relatively well in Russian, but haven’t found them in the English translation yet. One of my favourite is this (my literal translation from Russian):

To live life wisely, there’s a lot to know,
Two ground rules remember for a start:
Better be hungry than eat whatever food,
And better be alone than with whoever.

Чтоб мудро жизнь прожить, знать надобно немало,
Два важных правила запомни для начала:
Ты лучше голодай, чем что попало есть,
И лучше будь один, чем вместе с кем попало.

Please note that, as I said above, this is a literal translation. I couldn’t find the English version, so I rendered the text from Russian into English, to give an idea. As I don’t know the language of Khayyam, I wouldn’t actually translate this verse from Russian, since the Russian text is already a translation. I’m writing this, having discovered that my rendition has been quoted elsewhere on the web as a variant of the English translation. It must not be used as such.