Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #1511) Lot's Wife
And the just man trailed God's messenger His huge, light shape devoured the black hill. But uneasiness shadowed his wife and spoke to her: "It's not too late, you can look back still At the red towers of Sodom, the place that bore you, The square in which you sang, the spinning-shed, At the empty windows of that upper storey Where children blessed your happy marriage-bed.' Her eyes that were still turning when a bolt Of pain shot through them, were instantly blind; Her body turned into transparent salt, And her swift legs were rooted to the ground. Who mourns one woman in a holocaust? Surely her death has no significance? Yet in my heart she will never be lost She who gave up her life to steal one glance.
Trans. D. M. Thomas. The first time I read this poem I had the strange sensation of trying running through the first three stanzas (saying "yeah, yeah") and then being struck by the last stanza as if by a bolt of lightning, that transformed me, if not into salt, then into something equally crumbly. I love the way that Akhmatova transforms the story of Lot's wife, making her a more noble, more courageous character (is it just me, or are there shades of Orpheus here?). And I can't help but wondering -- what did Lot get out of being the only survivor? Was it really worth it to live on, having lost every single person that he knew? The one other thing that intrigues me about the translation is the use of the word 'holocaust' in the first line of the last stanza. I can't help thinking that that's a really clever touch and adds a sense of deep injustice to the poem that would otherwise be missing. Would be interesting to know what the word is in the original Russian. Aseem. [Incidentally, the translator D. M. Thomas was a reasonably well-known poet himself, though we haven't had any of his poems on the Minstrels. I believe he's Welsh, but no relation to Dylan Marlais Thomas, in case you were wondering. -- ed.]