This is pain's landscape.
A savage agriculture is practised
Here; every farm has its
Grandfather or grandmother, gnarled hands
On the cheque-book, a long, slow
Pull on the placenta about the neck.
Old lips monopolise the talk
When a friend calls. The children listen
From the kitchen; the children march
With angry patience against the dawn.
They are waiting for someone to die
Whose name is as bitter as the soil
They handle. In clear pools
In the furrows they watch themselves grow old
To the terrible accompaniment of the song
Of the blackbird, that promises them love.
By R.S. Thomas
from Not That He Brought Flowers (1968)
Beneath the willow, wound round with ivy,
We take cover from the worst
Of the storm, with a greatcoat round
Our shoulders and my hands around your waist.
I've got it wrong. That isn't ivy
Entwined in the bushes round
The wood, but hops. You intoxicate me!
Let's spread the greatcoat on the ground.
By Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к
(Boris Leonidovich Pasternak)
translated by Jon Stallworthy and Peter France
This poem, along with a number of others, was featured in Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago.
Here is a recital of the poem in Russian.
The original Russian version of the poem in Cyrillic text.
Под ракитой, обвитой плющем,
От ненастья мы ищем защиты.
Наши плечи покрыты плащем,
Вкруг тебя мои руки обвиты.
Я ошибся. Кусты этих чащ
Не плющем перевиты, а хмелем.
Ну, так лучше давай этот плащ
В ширину под собою расстелим.
Top left an angel
hovering. Top right the attendance
of a star. From both
bottom corners devils
look up, relishing
in prospect a divine
meal. How old at the centre
the child's face gazing
into love's too human
face, like one prepared
for it to have its way
and continue smiling?
By R. S. Thomas
from Counterpoint 2. Incarnation (1990)
The Nativity? No.
Something has gone wrong.
There is a hole in the stable
acid rain drips through
onto an absence. Beauty
is hoisted upside down.
The truth is Pilate not
lingering for an answer.
The angels are prostrate
'beaten into the clay'
as Yeats thundered. Only Satan beams down,
poisoning with fertilisers
the place where the child
lay, harrowing the ground
for the drumming of the machine-
gun tears of the rich that are
seed of the next war.
By R. S. Thomas
from Counterpoint (1990) 2. Incarnation
Getting up early on a Sunday morning
leaving them sleep for the sake of peace,
the lunch pungent, windows open
for a blackbird singing in Cyncoed.
Starlings glistening in the gutter come
for seed. I let the cats in from the night,
their fur already glossed and warm with March.
I bring the milk, newspaper, settle here
in the bay of the window to watch people
walking to church for Mothering Sunday.
A choirboy holds his robes over his shoulder.
The cats jump up on windowsills to wash
and tremble at the starlings. Like peaty water
sun slowly fills the long brown room.
Opening the paper I admit to this
the water-shriek and starved stare
of a warning I can't name.
By Gillian Clarke
from Letter from a Far Country (1982)
Cyncoed is a community in the north of the city of Cardiff, capital of Wales. Located to the north east of the city, Cyncoed is one of the most affluent suburbs of Cardiff. It has some of the highest property prices in Wales. Cyncoed is a short distance from the city centre and boasts beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. It is also just a short walk from the well known Roath Park.
Not love, but rabid fury, has led
God's servant to the truth. Her pride
is justified - first high-born lady
to seek a convict's fate.
Gripping her Old Believer's cross
tight as a whip between her hands,
she thunders out her final curses;
the sleigh slips out of sight.
So this is how God's saints are born...
Her hate more ardent than her love,
she runs dry fingers through her dry,
already frost-chilled hair.
by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)
translated by Robert Chandler
The poem refers to Feodosia Prokopiyevna Morozova (Russian: Феодо́сия Проко́пьевна Моро́зова) (21 May 1632 – 1 December 1675) was one of the best-known partisans of the Old Believer movement. She was perceived as a martyr after she was arrested and died in prison.
She became a household name after being discussed by important Russian writers and depicted by Vasily Surikov. She was also taken as a heroine by some radical groups, who saw her as a symbol of resistance to state power. The People’s Will revolutionary movement promoted her, and her virtues were praised by writers of the Soviet era such as Anna Akhmatova, Varlam Shalamov and Fazil Iskander, who “symbolically enlisted her in their own causes of resistance”.
Below is the full Russian version in Cyrillic.
Попрощаться с сонною Москвою
Женщина выходит на крыльцо.
Бердыши тюремного конвоя
Отражают хмурое лицо.
И широким знаменьем двуперстным
Осеняет шапки и платки.
Впереди – несчитанные версты,
И снега – светлы и глубоки.
Перед ней склоняются иконы,
Люди – перед силой прямоты
Неземной – земные бьют поклоны
И рисуют в воздухе кресты.
С той землей она не будет в мире,
Первая из русских героинь,
Знатная начетчица Псалтыри,
Сторож исторических руин.
Возвышаясь над толпой порабощенной,
Далеко и сказочно видна,
Непрощающей и непрощеной
Покидает торжище она.
Это – веку новому на диво
Показала крепость старина,
Чтобы верил даже юродивый
В то, за что умрет она.
Не любовь, а бешеная ярость
Водит к правде Божию рабу.
Ей гордиться – первой из боярынь
Встретить арестантскую судьбу.
Точно бич, раскольничье распятье
В разъяренных стиснуто руках,
И гремят последние проклятья
С удаляющегося возка.
Так вот и рождаются святые,
Ненавидя жарче, чем любя,
Ледяные волосы сухие
Пальцами сухими теребя.
And one voice says: Come
Back to the rain and manure
Of Siloh, to the small talk,
Of the wind,and the chapel's
Temptation; to the pale,
Sickly half-smile of
The daughter of the village
Grocer. The other says: Come
To the streets, where the pound
Sings and the doors open
To its music, with life
Like an express train running
To time. And I stay
Here, listening to them, blowing
On the small soul in my
Keeping with such breath as I have.
by R. S. Thomas
from H'm (1972)
Siloh is a hamlet in Llandovery, Carmarthenshire.