That sanity be kept by Dylan Thomas

That sanity be kept I sit at open windows,
Regard the sky, make unobtrusive comment on the moon.
Sit at open windows in my shirt,
And let the traffic pass, the signals shine,
The engines run, the brass bands keep in tune,
For sanity must be preserved.

Thinking of death, I sit and watch the park
Where children play in all their innocence.
And matrons on the littered grass
Absorb the daily sun.

The sweet suburban music from a hundred lawns
Comes softly to my ears. The English mowers mow and mow.

I mark the couples walking arm in arm.
Observe their smiles,
Sweet invitations and inventions,
See them lend love illustration
By gesture and grimace.
I watch them curiously, detect beneath the laughs
What stands for grief, a vague bewilderment
At things not turning right.

I sit at open windows in my shirt,
Observe, like some Jehovah of the westerners
What passes by, that sanity be kept.

by Dylan Thomas
(1933)

Additional information: This was one of his first poems published in ‘Poet’s Corner’ of the Sunday Referee.

Recited to music by Cerys Matthews (Welsh musician and broadcaster)

‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower’ by Dylan Thomas

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.

The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman’s lime.

The lips of time leech to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather’s wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.

And I am dumb to tell the lover’s tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.

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By Dylan Thomas
(1934)
from 18 Poems

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Additional information: ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower’ is the poem that made Dylan Thomas famous. Written in 1933, when Thomas was nineteen, it was first published in his 1934 collection, 18 Poems. Like the other poems in the collection, which belong to what has been called Thomas’s ‘womb-tomb period‘, it deals with “creation, both physical and poetic, and the temporal process of birth, death, and rebirth“.

A recorded recital of the poem by Dylan Thomas himself.
Richard Burton reciting the poem.

Epigram about Stalin [extract] by Osip Mandelstam

Horseshoe-heavy, he hurls his decrees low and high:

In the groin, in the forehead, the eyebrow, the eye.

Executions are what he likes best.

Broad is the highlander’s chest.

 

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)

(Autumn, 1933)

translated by Alexandra Berlina


Interesting additon: In  the Autumn of 1933 Mandelstam composed an epigram about Stalin, which he performed at seven small gatherings in Moscow, which ends with the above lines. Mandelstam was arrested six months later but instead of being executed (by being shot) he was exiled to the Northern Urals. Why was this considering ‘executions’ are what [Stalin] loves best’? A cruel irony or possibly that this relative leniency was due to Stalin taking a personal interest in Mandelstam’s case and being concerned about his own place in Russian literary history? After Mandelstam’s attempted suicide the usual sentence was commuted to one of being banished from the largest cities in Russia. Mandelstam and his wife, Nadezhda, settled in Voronezh where he went on to write the three Voronezh Notebooks. In May 1938 he was arrested again and sentenced to five years in the Gulag. He died in a transit camp near Vladivostok on 27 December 1938.

On The Ills Of Smoking by Daniil Kharms

You should quit smoking in order to boast of your will power.

It would be nice, not having smoked for a week and having acquired confidence in yourself that you will be able to hold back from smoking, to come into the company of Lipavsky, Oleinikov, and Zabolotsky, so that they would notice on their own that all evening you haven’t been smoking.

And when they ask, “Why aren’t you smoking?” you would answer, concealing the frightful boasting inside you, “I quit smoking.”

A great man must not smoke.

It is good and useful to employ the fault of boastfulness to rid yourself of the fault of smoking.

The love of wine, gluttony, and boastfulness are lesser faults than smoking.

A man who smokes is never at the height of his circumstance, and a smoking woman is capable of just about anything. And so, comrades, let us quit smoking.

 

by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)

(1933)

translated by Matvei Yankelevich


Fun facts: Lipavsky refers to Leonid Lipavsky, Oleinikov to Nikolay Oleynikov, and Zabolotsky to Nikolay Zabolotsky.

Zabolotsky was part of OBERIU (ОБэРИу) a short-lived avant-garde collective of Russian Futurist writers, musicians, and artists in the 1920s and 1930s. The group coalesced in the context of the “intense centralization of Soviet Culture” and the decline of the avant garde culture of Leningrad, as “leftist” groups were becoming increasingly marginalized.

Lipavsky and Oleynikov belonged to a later grouping, which had no public outlet, is generally called the “chinari” (i.e. “the titled ones”) group in Russian literary scholarship, though it is uncertain that they ever formalized a name for the group, nor that they called themselves “chinari” with any consistency. Thus, the names “OBERIU” and “chinari” are somewhat interchangeable in the scholarship. The borders between the two groups are (and were) permeable, and the only basic continuity is the presence of Kharms and Alexander Vvedensky.

О.Л.С. (F.L.F.) by Daniil Kharms

The forest sways its tippy-tops,

people walk around with pots,

catching water from air with them.

In the sea, water bends.

But fire will not bend to the very end.

Fire loves airy freedom.

 

by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)

(21/22 August 1933)

translated by Matvei Yankelevich


Fun facts: The original Russian title, О.Л.С., is an acronym of three of the last lines four words – огонь любит воздушную свободу (Ogon’ Liubit vozdushnuyu Svobodu) i.e. Fire Loves airy Freedom.