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
There was a girl riding a white pony
Which seemed an elemental part
Of the snow. A crow cut a clean line
Across the hill, which we grasped as a rope
to pull us up the pale diagonal.
The point was to be first at the top
Of the mountain. Our laughter bounced far
Below us like five fists full of pebbles. About us
Lay the snow, deep in the hollows,
Very clean and dry, untouched.
I arrived breathless, my head breaking
The surface of the glittering light, thinking
No place could claim more beauty, white
Slag tips like cones of sugar spun
By the pit wheels under Machen mountain.
I sat on a rock in the sun, watching
My snowboys play. Pit villages shine
Like anthracite. Completed, the pale rider
Rode away. I turned to him and saw
His joy fall like the laughter down a dark
Crack. The black crow shadowed him.
by Gillian Clarke
from The Sundial (Gwasg Gomer, 1978)
Machen mountain mentioned in this poem is Mynydd Machen which is a 362-metre-high (1,188 ft) hill lying between the town of Risca and the village of Machen in Caerphilly County Borough in south Wales. Its summit is crowned by a trig point and a mast. The poem was written when Wales still had a coal mining industry and there were slag heaps, refuse from the mines and quarries, outside communities across the country.
Loving, I am still dumbfounded
by the world and its beauty,
and nothing will make me renounce
the sweetness you grant me.
However hard my breath come,
while I stand here on earth
the sound of new life will be welcome
wherever it stirs.
Submissive to the sun’s rays,
roots go down into the grave
to seek from death the strength
to meet spring days.
by Афанасий Афанасьевич Фет (Afanasy Afanasyevich Fet)
a.k.a. Шеншин (Shenshin)
translated by Robert Chandler
Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendor, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! The very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!
by William Wordsworth
from Poems, in Two Volumes
Fun Fact: This poem is also known as ‘Upon Westminster Bridge’.
You are there also
at the foot of the precipice
of water that was too steep
for the drowned: their breath broke
and they fell. You have made an altar
out of the deck of the lost
trawler whose spars
are your cross. The sand crumbles
like bread; the wine is
the light quietly lying
in its own chalice. There is
a sacrament there more beauty
than terror whose ministrant
you are and the aisles are full
of the sea shapes coming to its celebration.
by R. S. Thomas
from Frequencies (1978)
Over the empty fields a black kite hovers,
and circle after circle smoothly weaves.
In the poor hut, over her son in a cradle
a mother grieves:
‘There suck my breast: there, grow and take our bread,
and learn to bear your cross and bow your head.’
Time passes. War returns. Rebellion rages.
The farms and villages go up in flame,
and Russia in her ancient tear-stained beauty,
is yet the same,
unchanged through all the ages. How long will
the mother grieve and the kite circle still?
by Александр Александрович Блок (Alexander Alexandrovich Blok)
(22 March 1916)
translated by Frances Cornford and Esther Polianowsky Salaman
Fun fact: As you can tell from the date this was written into the lead up to the Russian Revolution. To be more exact, during the early months of 1916, there were increasing food and fuel shortages and increasingly high prices. Thus the Progressive Bloc was formed. Despite successes in the Brusilov offensive, the Russian war effort was still characterised by shortages, poor command, death and desertion. Away from the front, the conflict caused starvation, inflation and a torrent of refugees. Both soldiers and civilians blamed the incompetence of the Tsar and his government. This lead, later in the year, to increasing strikes which are supported by the military who declare they won’t protect the Tsar from a revolution – which would be successful in October 1917 after many further events and internal conflicts.
A recital of the poem in Russian:
The original Russian text in Cyrillic:
Чертя за кругом плавный круг,
Над сонным лугом коршун кружит
И смотрит на пустынный луг. —
В избушке мать над сыном тужит:
«На́ хлеба, на́, на́ грудь, соси,
Расти, покорствуй, крест неси».
Идут века, шумит война,
Встаёт мятеж, горят деревни,
А ты всё та ж, моя страна,
В красе заплаканной и древней. —
Доколе матери тужить?
Доколе коршуну кружить?
And to be able to put at the end
Of the letter Anthens, Florence – some name
That the spirit recalls from earlier journeys
Through the dark wood, seeking the path
To the bright mansions; cities and towns
Where the soul added depth to its stature.
And not to worry about the date,
The words being timeless, concerned with truth,
Beauty, love, misery even,
Which has its seasons in the long growth
From seed to flesh, flesh to spirit.
And laying aside the pen, dipped
Not in tear’s volatile liquid
But in black ink of the heart’s well,
To read again what the hand has written
To the many voices’ quiet diction.
by R. S. Thomas
from Poetry for Supper (1958)