Ravens by R. S. Thomas

It was the time of the election.

The ravens loitered above the hill

In slow circles; they had all air

To themselves. No eyes heard

Them exulting, recalling their long

History, presidents of the battles

of flesh, the sly connoisseurs

Of carrion; desultory flags

Of darkness, saddening the sky

At Catraeth and further back,

When two, who should have been friends,

Contended in the innocent light

For the woman in her downpour of hair.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Pietà (1966)


Fun Fact: The poem refers to the Battle of Catraeth and the medieval Welsh poem Y Gododdin.

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Leaving Cardiff by Dannie Abse

I wait in the evening air.

Sea-birds drop down to the sea.

I prepare to sail from where

the docks’ derelictions are.

 

I stand on the deck and stare,

slack hammocks of waves below,

while black shapes upon the pier

make the furthest star seem near.

 

Now the funnel’s negations blow

and my eyes, like spaces, fill,

and the knots of water flow,

pump to my eyes and spill.

 

For what who would choose to go

when who sailing made no choice?

Not for one second, I know,

can I be the same man twice.

 

The straw coloured flames flare still,

spokes over the long horizon,

and the boats under the hill

of Penarth, unload and move on.

 

by Dannie Abse

from Tenants of the House (1957)


Fun facts: This was written in 1957 and the former working docks, which by the time of the poem were ‘derelict’ and I myself recall in childhood walking through along the barrage, were redeveloped (‘gentrified’ wouldn’t be an understatement) in recent years into the Cardiff Bay area filled with bars, restaurants, the Wales Millennium Centre, the Senedd and BBC buildings amongst many other developments. Penarth is an affluent town, within walking distance along the coastline, south west of Cardiff .

Paper and Sticks by Dylan Thomas

Paper and sticks and shovel and match

Why won’t the news of the old world catch

And the fire in a temper start

 

Once I had a rich boy for myself

I loved his body and his navy blue wealth

And I lived in his purse and his heart

 

When in our bed I was tossing and turning

All I could see were his brown eyes burning

By the green of a one pound note

 

I talk to him as I clean the grate

O my dear it’s never too late

To take me away as you whispered and wrote

 

I had a handsome and well-off boy

I’ll share my money and we’ll run for joy

With a bouncing and silver spooned kid

 

Sharp and shrill my silly tongue scratches

Words on the air as the fire catches

You never did and he never did.

 

by Dylan Thomas


 

Fun fact: This was the only poem left out of Dylan Thomas’ ‘Collected Poems 1934 – 1952‘ because he disliked it. The book was published on 10 November 1952 by Dylan’s usual publishers Dent of London, which gathered together all the poems from his three previous volumes of poetry (’18 Poems’, ‘Twenty Five Poems’ and ‘Deaths and Entrances’), plus a further six written since 1946, to make a total of 90.

Moorland by R. S. Thomas

It is beautiful and still;

the air rarified

as the interior of a cathedral

 

expecting a presence. It is where, also,

the harrier occurs,

materialising from nothing, snow –

 

soft, but with claws of fire,

quartering the bare earth

for the prey that escapes it;

 

hovering over the incipent

scream, here a moment, then

not here, like my belief in God.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)

‘The Souls Of Those I Love…’ by Anna Akhmatova

The souls of those I love are on high stars.

How good that there is no-one left to lose

And one can weep. Tsarskoye Selo’s

Air was made to repeat songs.

 

By the river bank the silver willow

Touches the bright September waters.

Rising from the past, my shadow

Comes silently to meet me.

 

So many lyres, hung on branches, here,

But there seems a place even for my lyre.

And this shower, drenched with sun and rare,

Is consolation and good news.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1921?)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas


Fun fact: Though the poem is dated as being written in the 1940s it is more likely it was written just after her husband Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov‘s execution in 1921.

High Flight (An Airman’s Ecstacy) by John Gillespie Magee Jr

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of; wheeled and sored and swung

High in the sun-lit silence. Hovering there

I’ve chased the shouting wing along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air;

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue

I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,

Where never lark nor even eagle flew;

And while, with silent lifting mind I’ve trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

 

by John Gillespie Magee Jr (1922-1941)

Spring by Afanasy Fet

I come again with greetings new,

to tell you day is well begun;

to say the leaves are fresh with dew

and dappled in the early sun;

 

to tell you how the forest stirs

in every branch of every brake,

and what an April thirst is hers,

with every whistling bird awake;

 

to say, as yesterday, once more,

with love as passionate and true,

my heart is ready as before

for serving happiness and you;

 

to tell how over every thing

delight is blowing on the air –

I know not yet what I shall sing;

I only know the song is there.

 

by Афанасий Афанасьевич Фет (Afanasy Afanasyevich Fet)

a.k.a. Шеншин (Shenshin)

(1843)

translated by Frances Cornford and Esther Polianowsky Salaman