They came over the snow to the bread's
pure snow, fumbled it in their huge
hands, put their lips to it
like beasts, stared into the dark chalice
where the wine shone, felt it sharp
on their tongue, shivered as at a sin
remembered, and heard love cry
momentarily in their hearts' manager.
They rose and went back to their poor
holdings, naked in the bleak light
of December. Their horizon contracted
to the one small, stone-riddled field
with its tree, where the weather was nailing
the appalled body that had not asked to be born.
by R. S. Thomas
from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)
It was like a church to me.
I entered it on soft foot,
Breath held like a cap in the hand.
It was quiet.
What God was there made himself felt,
Not listened to, in clean colours
That brought a moistening of the eye,
In movement of the wind over grass.
There were no prayers said. But stillness
Of the heart’s passions – that was praise
Enough; and the mind’s cession
Of its kingdom. I walked on,
Simple and poor, while the air crumbled
And broke on me generously as bread.
by R. S Thomas
from Pietà (1966)
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)
My friends and my road-fellows, pity the nation
that is full of beliefs and empty of religion.
“Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave…
eats bread it does not harvest…
and drinks a wine that flows not from its own winepress.
“Pity the nation that acclaims the bully as a hero,
and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful.
“Pity the nation that raises not its voice save when it
walks in a funeral, boasts not except among its ruins,
and will rebel not save when its neck is laid between
the sword and the block.
“Pity the nation whose statesman is a fox, whose
philosopher is a juggler, and whose art is the art of
patching and mimicking.
“Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with
trumpetings, and farewells him with hooting, only to
welcome another with trumpeting again.
“Pity the nation divided into fragments, each fragment
deeming itself a nation.”
by Kahlil Gibran
Alive not by bread alone,
I dip a crust of sky,
in the morning chill,
in the stream flowing by.
by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)
translated by Robert Chandler