Shrine at Cape Clear by R.S. Thomas

She is more white than the sea’s

Purest spray, and colder

To touch. She is nourished

By salt winds, and the prayers

Of the drowned break on her. She smiles

At the stone angels, who have turned

From the sea’s truth to worship

The mystery of her dumb child.

The bay brings her the tribute

Of its silences. The ocean has left

An offering of the small flowers

Of its springs; but the men read,

Beyond the harbour on the horizon,

The fury of its obituaries

by R. S. Thomas

from Not That He Brought Flowers (1968)


Fun fact: The poem refers to Cape Clear Island off the coast of Ireland. Clear Island or Cape Clear Island (officially known by its Irish name: Cléire, and sometimes also called Oileán Chléire) lies south-west of County Cork in Ireland. It is the southernmost inhabited part of the island of Ireland and has a population of over 100 people. Officially it is a Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking area), and most inhabitants speak Irish and English. Archaeological sites on the island include a prehistoric cup-marked stone (moved to the island’s museum), a fulacht fiadh at Gort na Lobhar, a neolithic passage tomb at Cill Leire Forabhain, several standing stones around the island, a promontory fort at Dún an Óir, and a signal tower dating from the Napoleonic Wars. The island also has a number of early Christian sites, and is reputed to be the birthplace of Saint Ciarán of Saigir. The ruins of 12th century church are close to the main pier.

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A Dream of Horses by Gillian Clarke

I dreamed a gallop across sand

in and out the scallop of the tide

on a colourless horse as cold as a seal.

 

My hair and the mane of the horse

are the long white manes of the sea.

Every breath is a gulp of salt.

 

Now we are ocean. His hoof-prints

are pools, his quivering skin

the silk in the trough of the wave.

 

His muscular ellipses are

the sinuous long water of the sea

and I swim with the waves in my arms.

 

by Gillian Clarke

from New Poems

Kneeling by R.S. Thomas

Moments of great calm,

Kneeling before an altar

Of wood in a stone church

In summer, waiting for the God

To speak; the air a staircase

For silence; the sun’s light

Ringing me, as though I acted

A great rôle. And the audiences

Still; all that close throng

Of spirits waiting, as I,

For the message.

Prompt me, God;

But not yet. When I speak,

Though it be you who speak

Through me, something is lost.

The meaning is in the waiting.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Not That He Brought Flowers (1968)

‘He Loved Light, Freedom and Animals’ by Mike Jenkins

An inscription on the grave of one of the children who died in the Aberfan disaster of October 21st, 1966

 

No grave could contain him.

He will always be young

in the classroom

waving an answer

like a greeting.

 

Buried alive –

alive he is

by the river

skimming stones down

the path of the sun.

 

When the tumour on the hillside

burst and the black blood

of coal drowned him,

he ran forever

with his sheepdog leaping

for sticks, tumbling together

in windblown abandon.

 

I gulp back tears

because of a notion of manliness.

After the October rain

the slag-heap sagged

its greedy coalowner’s belly.

 

He drew a picture of a wren,

his favourite bird for fraility

and determination. His eyes gleamed

as gorse-flowers do now

above the village.

 

His scream was stopped mid-flight.

Black and blemished

with the hill’s sickness

he must have been,

like a child collier

dragged out of one of Bute’s mines –

a limp statistic.

 

There he is, climbing a tree,

mimicking an ape, calling out names

at classmates. Laughs springing

down the slope. My wife hears them

her ears attuned as a ewe’s in lambing,

and I try to foster the inscription,

away from its stubborn stone.

 

by Mike Jenkins

from Empire of Smoke


Not so Fun facts: This poem refers to the Aberfan disaster the catastrophic collapse of a colliery spoil tip at 9.15 am on 21 October 1966. The tip had been created on a mountain slope above the Welsh village of Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil and overlaid a natural spring. A period of heavy rain led to a build-up of water within the tip which caused it to suddenly slide downhill as a slurry, killing 116 children and 28 adults as it engulfed the local junior school and other buildings. The tip was the responsibility of the National Coal Board (NCB), and the subsequent inquiry placed the blame for the disaster on the organisation and nine named employees.

I’ve been to the town and it’s still a very quiet place to this day as a generation of the community was lost in that disaster. Where the junior school once stood there is now a memorial garden.

Come to our Revival Meeting by Idris Davies

And this is the sordid dream of the drunkard creeping to prayer,

And the maddened mob drowning the noise of the birds

Frightened and fluttering in the dusty trees,

And all the hysterical converts insulting the heavens,

The brown pond sticky with the thighs of the damned;

And here comes a fellow to shake your liver

For out of his nightmare he leapt

When the moon crept up behind the Iron Bridge

And the garage heap, where the trollop sat waiting

To sell her filth to the fool. And I saw

All this shabby mockery of April

As a neurotic’s delirium, his hallucination

Of apes and angels and dog-headed ghosts

Mingling and whirling and circling and dancing

Among the decaying boughs that laced like serpents

The ripped edges of the darkening sky.

 

O Lord God, save us from tinned donkey,

From Soviet scientific magazines,

From the Scottish Sabbath, from American war films,

From the demagogues of Aberdare and abadan,

And above all, O Lord God, save us from the Pentecostals.

 

by Idris Davies


Fun facts: There are a number of iron bridges in the Aberdare area due to its industrial heritage but it is perhaps the one across the Aberdare Canal being referred to.

The Scottish Sabbath is the practise of doing nothing on a Sunday including all shops and other businesses being closed to keep the sabbath sacred.

Aberdare is a town in the Cynon Valley area of Rhondda Cynon Taf, Wales, at the confluence of the Rivers Dare (Dâr) and Cynon. Aberdare is 4 miles (6 km) south-west of Merthyr Tydfil, 20 miles (32 km) north-west of Cardiff and 22 miles (35 km) east-north-east of Swansea. During the 19th century it became a thriving industrial settlement, which was also notable for the vitality of its cultural life and as an important publishing centre.

Abadan, famous for its oil refinery, was the site of the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran, also known as the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Persia, was the joint invasion of Iran in 1941 during the Second World War by the British Commonwealth and the Soviet Union. The invasion lasted from 25 August to 17 September 1941 and was codenamed Operation Countenance. Its purpose was to secure Iranian oil fields and ensure Allied supply lines (through the Persian Corridor) for the USSR, fighting against Axis forces on the Eastern Front.

Pentecostalism or Classical Pentecostalism is a renewal movement within Protestant Christianity that places special emphasis on a direct personal experience of God through baptism with the Holy Spirit. The term Pentecostal is derived from Pentecost, the Greek name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks. For Christians, this event commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the followers of Jesus Christ, as described in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.

Ritual by R.S. Thomas

Not international

renown, but international

vocabulary, the macaronics

of time: μοίρα, desiderium,

brad, la vida

breve, despair – I am the bone

on which all have beaten out

their message to the mind

that would soar. Faithful

in translation, its ploy was to evade

my resources. It saw

me dance through the Middle

Ages, and wrote its poetry

with quilled pen. What

so rich as the language

to which the priests

buried me? They have exchanged

their vestments for white coats,

working away in their bookless

laboratories, ministrants

in that ritual beyond words

which is the Last Sacrament of the species.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)


Fun fact: The greek word μοίρα means fate. Desiderium means desire. La vida breve means ‘the short life’ or ‘life is short’ in Spanish but is also the title of an opera.