The moon is born
and a child is born,
lying among white clothes
as the moon among clouds
They both shine, but
the light from the one
is abroad in the universe
as among broken glass.
by R. S. Thomas
from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)
There are white churches there, and the crackle of icicles,
The cornflower eyes of my son are blossoming there.
Diamond nights above the ancient town, and yellower
Than lime-blossom honey is the moon’s sickle.
From plains beyond the river dry snow-storms fly in,
And the people, like the angels in the fields, rejoice.
They have tidied the best room, lit in the icon-case
The tiny lamps. On an oak table the Book is lying.
There stern memory, so ungiving now,
Threw open her tower-rooms to me, with a low bow;
But I did not enter, and I slammed the fearful door;
And the town rang with the news of the Child that was born.
– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (26 December 1921)
– from Anno Domini MCMXXI
translation by D. M. Thomas
In December 1921, during visits to her imprisoned son at Slepnyovo, Akhmatova was tormented, while passing by the ancient town of Bezhetsk nearby, with memories of happier times she shared with Gumilev when she would visit this area.
‘A cold coming we had of it.
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces.
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation,
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky.
And an old white horse galloping away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
by T. S. Eliot (1885-1965)
from Ariel Poems