Boris Pasternak

This death of a man, this sudden stop of life,
Such total end, or such a faring forth
Into what regions? Then, if so, what light
Returning on our world? We pause, we strain
To catch some signal from the furthest stars.

Where now are you, whose crumbling body lies
By Moscow, in the churchyard of your choice,
Turning to Russian earth? While from that earth
Mushrooms a power to probe the universe,
To prick the moon, lasso the sun, explode
In space, to break the bands of earth, burst free –
But not to bind the spirit of a man.

You said, The rule of numbers is at an end,
And when those numbers, fanged and fiery-eyed,
Came round you for the kill, across the snow,
You faced them with your back against a tree.

In the crescendo of collective birth
You grieved apart, and would not name messiah.
You said, But the beginning was not here,
Was in the life once nourished by a girl,
Not self-begotten, but a breath breathed in –
That was a word they could not bear to hear
And, angry, strove to tear you from your soil.

But then you stood, willing to be struck down
But not uprooted from the earth where sprang
Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, where you grew,
Where unextinguished under silent ash
Burned on in heart and hearth a sacred fire
The promise of your people and your land
To all mankind. So you believed, so stood.
The lightning faltered. You rode out the gale,
To fall entire, unbroken, at the end.

Stout heart, lie still; bold spirit, wander free
About this planet where your bones are laid,
Or else beyond the nebulae, beyond
The flagged moon and the rocket-riddled stars
Orbit, until the breaking of that eve When
History cries aloud, It is fulfilled,
All men made brothers by one only Man
And holy Russia lifting up the world.


  • Relativity

    “Boy killed on Bicycle”; smallest print, four lines
    Islanded in a tossing sea of type,

  • Surmise

    My little son, whose face I never saw,
    Who could not wait to bless your father ’s eyes

  • Coming into the Clyde

    Part of me for ever is the January morning
    Coming into the Clyde in the frosty moonlight

  • For Yarmuk, Elder of the Ulupna Tribe

    A worn-out body laid in quiet earth,
    Attendant trees, a wattle’s throb of gold,

  • For James Ralph Darling

    In that keen morning it was good to wake.
    The sun that roused the swans on the lagoon

  • Boris Pasternak

    This death of a man, this sudden stop of life,
    Such total end, or such a faring forth
    Into what regions?

  • Post-mortem

    When a man dies
    We find that suddenly there’s time to praise him.

  • A Message to my Grandson

    You chose a marvellous morning to be born,
    The orange edge of dawn, the stars paling,

  • Bamboo: A Portrait

    The bamboo cut to suit you from our garden
    Has become your favourite stick – dried and varnished

  • Fragment of a Chinese Classic

    Catching the distinctive T’ang of old China
    She chooses for herself the character of Punctual Autumn

  • The Honey Man

    Like liquid silk in golden eddies
    the honey laps into my tin.

  • For my brother: Ave atque Vale

    Brother fare well, journeying to that Kingdom
    Of faithful servants, and of work fulfilled

  • Farewell to Skye

    Little death of a little dog
    In a death-wish world of news by body-count

  • Ballad of Old Sox

    They’re burning Old Sox’s shack
    Just two weeks since he died.

  • A Lambeth Garland

    A garden gracious, serene and spacious at Lambeth –
    This is the dream, the vision that shall be its crown

  • Banquet

    ..You they found fallen, holding a garden hose,
    Where, year on year, you watered, weeded, nurtured things to grow.

  • Anna-versary

    Anna is one
    What fun, what fun

  • Taking Leave

    Ninety years youthful, questing through generations,
    historian of two hemispheres, quickener of other minds,

  • Fred Hollows

    Raged, raged against the death of others’ light,
    Toiled, fought, till sick and blind received their sight.

  • Yudina

    I praise a heroine of the Soviet Union,
    pianist Yudina, through Moscow’s gloom
    spelling a Mozart magical concerto.

  • Letter to Judith Wright

    ..apartness conquered by the power of love.
    Carry us with you as you journey on.

  • For Nkosi Johnson

    His question ranged the echoing galaxies
    of empty cold unanswering space, returning
    home to our earth.