Peter Russell

Peter Russell Poems

Sleep, sleep, with thy broken keys
Till Pilate wash his hands -
The time is cracked and memory flees
Bright afternoons of other lands.

The apple-trees of my delight
The cherry-trees of my despair
Drop silently their blossoms bright
On my bent back and my grey hair

You took some empty, watery, colourless space
And placed some pink and blue to make a flower;
Light-green for stalk, and emerald at the base
For grass, black earth - but MAGIC made your shower;

The moon has crossed the path of the sun
And all is darkness in the day.
A lone red fox crosses the road
But all the owls are hid away.

Pause on the bridge where Nietzsche paused perhaps,
Rapt in delight as you behold,
Leaning on iron rails or stone,
The winter sun gilding the Salute.

In this circle that I've drawn
I place the gentle ox's horn.
My life's all worship, praise and prayer -
I do not mourn, I do not care!

I am the wind that rushes in your ears
I am the wave that wraps your island round
I am the water pulsing in your brain
I am the rock that jags your body's rock

Where is now the wandering stag
And the drunken friendly faun?
The prophet wrapped in his woolen rag
And the hare that lives on the moon?

A stag keeps walking in my dreams
He is not what he seems

I saw a red and hollow skull
That looked like blood upon my door;
It was perhaps some ancestor
Buried long since beneath the floor.

Grass is growing on the moon
And dew is falling from the grass
Drought dries the earth, but soon
Will pass

In the deep valley
Dew drops from heaven
In the brain and belly
The paths shall be even

In the castle cats are singing
Frogs discoursing in the well
Crows reciting verses
While the drunkard rings the bell.


Temple of womb and dolphin
Delphi of Muse and mice
Cypress and pin-cone - sunlight!
- And the Greek guards playing dice.

Blind Homer, sniggered at by the ignorant soldiery
Invented Olympus, propped among the mules;
And Greece exploded into golden flames, and Europe
Slowly grew out of his long hexameters.

She wanders through the streets at night,
A prostitute perhaps or saint -
Resplendent when the moon is bright,
Mysterious when it's faint.

Never by lightning struck
The lovely lady Laurel stands -
Poets alone that green may pluck
And hold her Wisdom in their hands

Sea-foam, flower of prolific ocean -

Rainy tears - so much love -
Your hair, a waterfall;
The sky, the ceiling and the stars above
Seem about to fall.

I lay in fetters linked with bronze,
I begged a gift of the White Dove,
The silver chains that bind the swans,
The golden chain that binds my Love.

Peter Russell Biography

Irwin Peter Russell was a British poet, translator and critic. He spent the first half of his life—apart from war service—based in Kent and London, being the proprietor of a series of bookshops, editing the influential literary magazine Nine and being part of the literary scene. Bankruptcy and divorce led to several years of travel which took him to Berlin, Venice, British Columbia and Iran, amongst other places. After the Iranian Revolution he settled permanently in Italy, where he spent the rest of his life. He lived in considerable financial hardship and throughout all he lived a life dedicated to poetry. His work never became mainstream, but it is highly regarded in some circles. Russell was born in Bristol and educated at Malvern College. During World War II he served in the Royal Artillery as an intelligence officer in India and Burma, he left the army with the rank of major. After the war, he studied English at Queen Mary College, London. He left without taking a degree. In 1948 Russell set up an "Ezra Pound Circle' which met once a fortnight in a London pub. Arthur Moore encouraged him, passing on advice from Pound: "E.P. thinks you might do as he used to half a century ago ... arrange to be at a given eating place at a given hour each week ... It must be cheap enough so anyone can afford it, and at a place where such a gathering would be made comfortable." That summer Russell went to Italy and met Olga Rudge at Siena, met Pound's friend John Drummond in Rome, and visited Rapallo where he met D. D. Paige who was staying in Pound's old flat engaged in the arduous task of compiling the first selection of Pound's letters. In 1951 Russell married Marjorie Keeling-Bloxam. Her brother-in-law was Albion Harman, son of the self-proclaimed king of Lundy, the largest island in the Bristol Channel. In the 1950s Russell often visited Lundy, and enjoyed bird-watching there. In 1949 Russell founded the literary magazine Nine (named after the Nine Muses) which in its eleven issues published many notable poets including George Barker, Basil Bunting, Roy Campbell, Ronald Duncan, Paul Eluard, William Empson, David Gascoyne, Robert Graves, Michael Hamburger. The following year he started The Pound Press. Russell published work by Pound's friends, An Examination of Ezra Pound (1950), but also the first English translations of Mandelstam, Pasternak and Borges. Russell ran the Grosvenor Bookshop in Tunbridge Wells from 1951 to 1959. Both Nine and the Pound Press ceased operation in 1956, and later that year Russell met the young William Cookson and in 1958 introduced him to Krystyna and Czesław Bednarczyk of The Poets' and Painters' Press and suggested that Cookson found his own journal, which was to be the long-running Agenda. Russell introduced him to the works of Hugh McDiarmid and Tom Scott. Cookson saw Agenda as in part a continuation of what Russell had done with Nine. In 1995 Agenda brought out one of its dedicated issues: 'A Tribute to Peter Russell'. In 1959 the Grosvenor Bookshop went out of business, and he opened the Gallery Bookshop in Soho, London. He finally went bankrupt in 1963 and with the collapse of his marriage, he moved to Berlin. In 1965 he relocated to Venice. He had rooms in the Campo de la Bragola. In the mid 1970s he held a writing fellowship as poet in residence at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, where he met his second wife, Lana Sue Long, who was around 30 years his junior. Two daughters, Kathleen and Chris, were born to the couple in 1975 and 1976. After leaving Canada, the family moved to Tehran, where Russell taught and studied at the Imperial Academy of Philosophy. Their third child, a son, Peter George, was born there in 1977. They remained in Iran until the 1979 revolution, when they returned to Italy, where they lived together under considerable financial hardship. In 1989 Lana returned with the three children to North America, settling in Jackpot, Nevada, and the couple divorced in the 1990s. Tuscany was Russell's home for the last forty years of his life. In 1983 he moved into an old mill — "La Turbina" — in Pian di Scò, in the Valdarno near Arezzo. Life at the mill was rudimentary, and there was hardly any furniture, although there were thousands of books in a variety of languages, and a supply of whisky and cigarettes. Russell essentially lived in the kitchen, the most habitable and only warm room of the house. From 1990 her began editing the Marginalia Newsletter, which appeared alternately in English (odd numbered issues) and Italian (even numbered issues). In the early 1990s he began working with his son, now a teenager, on the translations in his bilingual collections of his poems. In April 2001 serious health problems associated with a gastric ulcer led to three months in hospital, followed by a further three months in a sanatorium for the elderly. Around this time he became effectively completely blind. Russell translated varied works from several European languages, he also worked in Persian and Arabic; he was the first English translator of Osip Mandelstam. His close friends included Kathleen Raine and Leonello Rabatti. He was a cousin of Bertrand Russell. He died in the hospital at San Giovanni Valdarno, only 15 minutes or so by car from Pian di Scò. Dana Gioia has described Russell as "a poet of striking contradictions. He is an immensely learned writer with an anti-academic temperament, a Modernist bewitched by classicism, a polyglot rooted in demotic English, an experimentalist in love with strict traditional forms, a natural democrat suspicious of the Left, and a mystic committed to clarity.")

The Best Poem Of Peter Russell

In The Campo De La Bragola

Sleep, sleep, with thy broken keys
Till Pilate wash his hands -
The time is cracked and memory flees
Bright afternoons of other lands.

What were thy once-tuned strings,
Childhood and fluting boy? -
Mornings of swift protecting wings,
Noons flecked with joy.

Blindly the hunter bat the twilight scours
In the dark enclosure of the Square;
Green fissured bronze rings out the hours -
The crowding ghosts halt on the stair.

Barbarian night creeps on the town.
The Councillors sit late.
Tiresias has rent his gown,
And the sentries closed the gate.

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