Late one melancholy February night

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


Late one melancholy February night