Winged God by R. S. Thomas

All men. Or shall we say,
not chauvinistic, all
people, it is all
people? Beasts manure
the ground, nibble to
promote growth; but man,
the consumer, swallows
like the god of mythology
his own kind. Beasts walk
among birds and never
do the birds scare; but the human,
that alienating shadow
with the Bible under the one
arm and under the other
the bomb, as often
drawn as he is repelled
by the stranger waiting for him
in the mirror – how
can he return home
when his gaze forages
beyond the stars? Pity him,
then, this winged god, rupturer
of gravity's control
accelerating on and
outward in the afterglow
of a receding laughter?

by R. S. Thomas
from No Truce With The Furies (1995)
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Rhyme [extract] by Yevgeny Baratynsky

You, like the faithful dove, bring back

a green branch to the waiting ark

and place it in his eager hand;

you only with your echoing voice

give inspiration a human face

and bring his dream to land.

 

by Евгений Абрамович Баратынский (Yevgeny Abramovich Baratynsky)

(1840-43)

translated by Peter France


Fun fact: This extract refers to Genesis 8:11 where a a dove was released by Noah after the flood in order to find land; it came back carrying a freshly plucked olive leaf – a sign of life after the Flood and of God’s bringing Noah, his family and the animals to land.

The Cry of Elisha after Elijah by R. S. Thomas

The chariot of Israel came,

And the bold, beautiful knights,

To free from his close prison

The friend who was my delight;

Cold is my cry over the vast deep shaken,

Bereft was I, for he was taken.

 

Through the straight places of Baca

We went with an equal will,

Not knowing who would emerge

First from that gloomy vale;

Cold is my cry; our bond was broken,

Bereft was I, for he was taken.

 

Where, then, came they to rest,

Those steeds and that car of fire?

My understanding is darkened,

It is no gain to enquire;

Better to await the long night’s ending,

Till the light comes, far truths transcending.

 

I yield, since no wisdom lies

In seeking to go his way;

A man without knowledge am I

Of the quality of his joy;

Yet living souls, a prodigious number,

Bright-faced as dawn, invest God’s chamber.

 

The friends that we loved well,

Though they vanished far from our sight,

In a new country were found

Beyond this vale of night;

O blest are they, without pain or fretting

In the sun’s light that knows no setting.

 

by R. S. Thomas (From the Welsh of Thomas William, Bethesda’r Fro)

from The Stones in the Fields (1946)

The Lay Preacher Ponders by Idris Davies

‘Isn’t the violet a dear little flower? And the daisy, too.

What nice little thoughts arise from a daisy!

If I were a poet now – but no, not a poet,

For a poet is a wild and blasphemous man;

He talks about wine and women too much for me

And he makes mad songs about old pagans, look you.

Poets are dangerous men to have in chapel,

And it is bad enough in chapel as it is

with all the quarelling over the organ and the deacons;

The deacons are not too nice to saintly young men like me.

(Look at Jenkins John Jones, the old damn scoundrel!)

They know I can pray for hours and hours,

They know what a righteous young man I am,

They know how my Bible is always in my pocket

And Abraham and Jonah like brothers to me,

But they prefer the proper preacher with his collar turned around;

They say he is more cultured than I am,

And what is culture but palaver and swank?

I turn up my nose at culture.

I stand up for faith, and very simple faith,

And knowledge I hate because it is poison.

Think of this devilish thing they call science,

It is Satan’s new trick to poison men’s minds.

When I shall be local councillor and a famous man –

I  look forward to the day when I shall be mayor –

I will put my foot down on clever palaver,

And show what a righteous young man I am.

And they ought to know I am that already,

For I give all my spare cash to the chapel

And all my spare time to God.’

 

by Idris Davies

He Who Gave The Wind Its Weight by Semyon Lipkin

He who gave the wind its weight,

and gave measure to the water,

pointed lightning on its path,

and showed rain what rules to follow –

he once told me with quiet joy:

‘No one’s ever going to kill you:

How can dust be broken down?

Who has power to ruin beggars?’

 

by Семён Израилевич Липкин (Semyon Izrailevich Lipkin)

(1981)

translated by Robert Chandler


Lipkin is renowned as a literary translator and often worked from the regional languages which Stalin tried to obliterate. Lipkin hid a typescript of his friend Vasily Grossman‘s magnum opus, Life and Fate, from the KGB and initiated the process that brought it to the West.

Lipkin’s importance as a poet was achieved once his work became available to the general reading public after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the many years prior, he was sustained by the support of his wife, poet Inna Lisnianskaya and close friends such as Anna Akhmatova, Joseph Brodsky and Alexander Solzhenitsyn (who thought him a genius and championed his poetry). Lipkin’s verse includes explorations of history and philosophy and exhibits a keen sense of peoples’ diverse destinies. His poems include references to his Jewish heritage and to the Bible. They also draw on a first-hand awareness of the tragedies of Stalin’s Great Purge and World War II. Lipkin’s long-standing inner opposition to the Soviet regime surfaced in 1979-80, when he contributed in the uncensored almanac “Metropol” and then he and Lisnianskaya left the ranks of the official Writer’s Union of the USSR.