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Photo by Margita Gutmane

Vizma Belševica

Vizma Belševica

GRATITUDE and Other Poems


What happened between us
In the moonlit confusion,
I gathered together and pressed
Into the bell of a single snowdrop.
I sealed the petals with my lips
And placed it in the leaves of a book.
When I turn the pages, it opens once more
In its dusty cemetery of words,
And rises up, confounding death,
To take the way it only knows.
The path is found, can you hear
The belled snowdrop ring in my heart?
See how whitened I walk
And leave prints of golden pollen,
But they do not see or know
the misery that issues from my joy.


I just happened to pass this way
By chance. Perhaps
The path will recall
Our footfalls. Stepping together.
Perhaps the borders of wild chervil
Will remember us fondly
And the elmtrees too
That bent over us
In prophetic mourning.

To the doubting elms I whisper
Small light lies about you,
About us being together.
The tangled park sighs
On a breath of wind,
The elms shake their heads,
The wild chervil reddens.

Only the scolding catcall
Of the impudent starling
Shrills out my bitterness
For all to hear.

Please, don't listen.
It has nothing to do with you.

You don't understand, what I crave.

To sit for a while by a rock. It feels good
By the silence of a rock. To be alone and
Together, at the same time.
Then to imagine the condolence of the rock
When I ask, do you love me? No reproach.
No rebuff of outstretched hand.
Just mute comfort: do not be sad
When day slowly slides
Into the coolness of dusk...

Do not be angry. I know,
I should not crave so much.

Forgive Me

Forgive me. The oak sheds branches.
Broken by no one. On its own.
In the bark a russet streak remains.
A bitter eye.
But dried. It could hurt
To know that moment when
You must decline and hold your peace.
Life's autumn has come.
I shed you. With a whisper it falls,
The branch caressed for years.
And then— muteness. And beyond winter,
Grizzled spring.

The Black Time

Hardly a green, just a faint airborne premonition
That soon a green-tinged mist will envelop supple birches
The timorous northern love of the slow greening of birch trees.
The waiting. The breathlessness. The almost choking tenderness.

Unseen. Unheard. The buds of birch unfurl. There's still
A lull between the owl's moan and the lark's trill. It's still
A black time— a pulsing streak between the white and the green.
Hardly a green, just a faint airborne premonition.

To Be the Roots

To be the roots. In subsoil where never a ray
Descends. Where light never glances.
A birdless bough. A leafless branch.
A spring head in the finest web of thread
That must not break. The hard labor of roots
Without respite. (Even winter's sleep is only apparent.)
To store. To feed. To quench. To be a mute link
Between the bitter end and life. By self denied
And crippled to allow the white flower
The celebration of the sun,
The power of beauty's revealment.
To be the roots. And not to envy the flower.

Words about Words

          Words came to me in a dream. They gathered around like little
          scamps, whose mother had been summoned by the militia to answer
          for their mischief. And the soft lips of the smallest and sweetest of
          them grew stiff and began to quiver and it seemed, at any moment
          now, he would cry, “I'll never do it again.” But he wasn't a crying
          word. And so I said:

Words, my words, don't hang your heads, when once again
We're put on trial. The dock of the accused
Is just a worn threshold to be trodden
For a world with no walls to begin. A land not a room.
There comes a time to hatch from the egg.
All birds know this. Even the hen.
This is known by the bird. The poet. And the word.
Even the ultimate sentence brings a freedom,
That cannot be revoked. If brushed by open air,
Don't look back on the walls, your life.
Birds die. And poets. The blow of an axe
Can't fell a word that's said before death.
A word that's been spoken can't be annulled.
Like a swallow in the sky, it can't be run to ground.

Words, my words, spare your pity!
The ground that supports the harvest
Is not to be pitied by the seed.
With no new shoots, no ploughshare, the soil grows thin.
Hack deeper, painfully, for new thought to thrive.
Come praise or punishment: it's not your worry.
When the poem is done, the gates between us close.
Go on alone. I brought you forth to life,
And take full responsibility,
Words, my words...

Translated by Māra Rozītis

Everything's gone into hiding

Everything's gone into hiding. Buried itself in the ground,
So winter will feel it's victorious, in charge.
The tulip sleeps in the bulb. And the earth will not reveal
What the white roots are up to, lying in black ambush.

My toads too are asleep between two summers,
Their breath gone quiet under the sheltering soil.
In vain Jack Frost—that sullen sleepwalker—goes in pursuit
Of secret thoughts of spring.

Between two darknesses, like the gold of toad
Eyes, my heart sleeps: Nothing can touch it,
Patiently it saves up their opening to the light.
While winter thinks it's victorious, in charge.

Bird cherry trinity


The bird cherry shows sharp green claws—
Any time now it's going to draw blood,
Any time now the pungency of its sudden bloom
Will pour into the wound it has torn.

The warning of the green claws
Is piercing and brief:
Don't stand on the roots of a bird cherry
That wants to get into heaven.

Only when twilight's eyes are watching
The bud bursts open.
The bird cherry can wait no longer,
The branches all tremble.

Go in peace—the wounds of blooming
Are hard to heal.
The bird cherry's green claws are raised—
Ready to strike.


And then let the coldness of bird cherry blossoms come over me,
White and hostile: Don't touch.
Fragile branches. With nothing but a light hand
You can pick a whole armful.
But your head will ache, and your ears
Will boom with the scorn of the bird cherry blossoms.
Break all you want. You'll be too weak
To keep what you've picked.
This is bird cherry blossom land. Even a wilting branch
Has no yielding in it, no gentleness.
... Like swans northbound on cool wings,
Rustle, oh bird cherry blossom winds, past my cheek...


A nightingale whipped the darkness,
Struck her own blows, was her own undoing.
In black, hollow drops night dissolved.
She was the one who kissed, and then rebuffed,
Watched her own reflection in the mirror of her own pain,
Forged exaltation on an anvil
Of apple blossoms. Wept and laughed like one demented,
Made dizzy by the bird cherry trees' white poison.
Somewhere a lump of soft earth shuddered.
A red flame blazed up from its prison,
Strung on a green and bitter stalk
Under the tree the bleeding heart
Began to blossom.

Translated by Ilze Klavina-Mueller

“Medieval Motif: Inquisition”

I believe. But the symbol of faith is—a cross.
Dissent, a cry between earth's lateral plot
And the line that reaches directly for heaven.
Dissent, a silence between the dark root
And the bloom that reaches for the sun.
I hang by nails. Becoming blood—the cross.
My happiness and torment. Reward and punishment.
I believe, only as a heretic

Translated by J.C. Todd