I get softer as I get older. The oddest things bring a lump to my throat: a family story on the Antiques Roadshow, or watching some inspired teenager playing their heart out on the BBC Young Musician of the Year.
Poems? Much less often, I find. However powerful they are, the effect is usually too complex for such a direct response, however terrible the subject.
This poem is the exception. I came across it in the fabulous new Bloodaxe Anthology celebrating 50 years of Modern Poetry in Translation – Centres of Cataclysm. I hadn’t read far into the volume before finding this from Olga Berggolts.
Late One Melancholy February Night (for Galina)
Late one melancholy February night
a friend knocked at my door:
‘Olga, I’ve just buried my son!
I cannot cry out, cannot even sigh.
Tell me, don’t hide anything –
you yourself have lost children –
will the tears come soon,
will this terrible darkness lighten?
All night I spoke with my friend,
Soothing her, comforting her.
So my grief was turned to good use,
my inconsolable grief.
Translated from the Russian by Daniel Weissbort