The Donkey by G. K. Chesterton

When fishes flew and forests walked

And figs grew upon thorn,

Some moment when the moon was blood

Then surely I was born.

 

With monsterous head and sickening cry

And ears like errant wings,

The devil’s walking parody

On all four-footed things.

 

The tattered outlaw of the earth,

Of ancient crooked will;

Starve, scourge,  deride me: I am dumb,

I keep my secret still.

 

Fools! For I also had my hour;

One far fierce hour and sweet:

There was a shout about my ears,

And palms before my feet.

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After Plodding Year After Year by Georgy Ivanov

After plodding year after year

through towns in an alien land,

we have ground enough to despair –

and despair is where we must end.

 

For despair is our final refuge –

as if, midwinter, we had come

from Vespers in a nearby church,

through Russian snow, to our home.

 

by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)

(1958)

by Robert Chandler

Snow Baby by Mike Jenkins

You were a snow baby. We should’ve called you Eira. You were almost marooned in hospital: jaundiced face yellow as egg-yolk, clutched head the shape of a shell.

You grew to your name, Bethan, grew round. Your plum cheeks swelled to its sound.

And now in town you let the flakes settle in your long hair, saying ‘Ne’ mind. I like ’em there.’

I played you Ommadawn: layers of cloud frost, hail and sun climbing till that lightning moment when you were born.

Wrapped still throught frozen nights, layers of a nest taken from the strands of our house: broken violin string, discarded lace and strap of a watch you never wore.

Your dreams hatch and drift with feathers of the pillow-bird you believe in no more.

 

by Mike Jenkins

from Red Landscapes

 


Fun Fact: Mike Jenkins’ daughter is the Welsh politician Bethan Jenkins AM, (born 9 December 1981), who has represented the South Wales West Region for Plaid Cymru as a Member of the National Assembly for Wales since 2007.

Journey Of The Magi by T. S. Eliot

‘A cold coming we had of it.

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.’

And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,

Lying down in the melting snow.

There were times we regretted

The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces.

And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

 

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling

And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,

And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,

And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly

And the villages dirty and charging high prices:

A hard time we had of it.

At the end we preferred to travel all night,

Sleeping in snatches,

With the voices singing in our ears, saying

That this was all folly.

 

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,

Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation,

With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,

And three trees on the low sky.

And an old white horse galloping away in the meadow.

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,

Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,

And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.

But there was no information, and so we continued

And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon

Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

 

All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

 

by T. S. Eliot (1885-1965)

from Ariel Poems

In Memory Of Mikhail Bulgakov by Anna Akhmatova

This, not graveyard roses, is my gift;

And I won’t burn sticks of incense:

You died as unflinchingly as you lived,

With magnificent defiance.

Drank wine, and joked – were still the wittiest,

Choked on the stifling air.

You yourself let in the terrible guest

 

And stayed alone with her.

Now you’re no more. And at your funeral feast

We can expect no comment from the mutes

On your high, stricken life. One voice at least

Must break the silence, like a flute.

O, who would have believed that I who have been tossed

On a slow fire to smoulder, I, the buried days’

Orphan and weeping mother, I who have lost

Everything, and forgotten everyone, half-crazed –

Would be recalling one so full of evergy

And will, and touched by that creative flame,

Who only yesterday, it seems, chatted to me,

Hiding the illness crucifying him.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(House on the Fontanka, 1940)

from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

The Hearth by R. S. Thomas

In front of the fire

With you, the folk song

Of the wind in the chimney and the sparks’

Embroidery of the soot – eternity

Is here in this small room

In intervals that our love

Widens; and outside

Us is time and the victims

Of time, travellers

To a new Bethlehem, statesmen

And scientists with their hands full

Of the gifts that destroy.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from H’m (1972)

The Lake Isle Of Innisfree by W. B. Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:

Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,

And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

 

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;

There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,

And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

 

I will arise and go now, for always night and day

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;

While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,

I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

 

by W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)