Funeral by R. S. Thomas

They stand about conversing

In dark clumps, less beautiful than trees.

What have they come here to mourn?

There was a death, yes; but death’s brother,

Sin, is of more importance.

Shabbily the teeth gleam,

Sharpening themselves on reputations

That were firm once. On the cheap coffin

The earth falls more cleanly than tears.

What are these red faces for?

This incidence of pious catarrh

At the grave’s edge? He has returned

Where he belongs; this is acknowledged

By all but the lonely few

Making amends for the heart’s coldness

He had from them, grudging a little

The simple splendour of the wreath

Of words the church lays on him.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from The Bread of Truth (1963)

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Today by Gillian Clarke

Kate in full day in the heat of the sun

looks into the grave, sees in that unearthing

of a Roman settlement, under a stone

only the shadow of a skeleton.

 

Gwyn on his back in the dark, lying

on the lawn dry from months of drought,

finds in the sky through the telescope

the fuzzy dust of stars he had been searching.

 

Imprint of bones is a constellation

shining against silence, against darkness,

and stars are the pearly vertebrae

of water-drops against the drought, pelvis,

 

skull, scapula five million light years old

wink in the glass, and stardust is all we hold

of the Roman lady’s negative

in the infinite dark of the grave.

 

by Gillian Clarke

from New Poems

Twenty-four Years by Dylan Thomas

Twenty-four years remind the tears of my eyes.

(Bury the dead for fear that they walk to the grave in labour.)

In the groin of the natural doorway I crouched like a tailor

Sewing a shroud for a journey

By the light of the meat-eating sun.

Dressed to die, the sensual strut begun,

With my red veins full of money,

In the final direction of the elementary town

I advance for as long as forever is.

 

by Dylan Thomas


 

Fun fact: Because of his almost obsessive preoccupation with death, each birthday was a milestone that called for a celebration, and on several occasions Thomas composed a poem that expresses his sense of where he stood as a man and an artist. “Twenty-four Years” is his earliest significant version of this celebratory mode, and it is full of both the exuberance of early manhood and his already familiar feeling that death was imminent.

Still He Lay Without Moving, As If, After Some Difficult… by Vasily Zhukovsky

Still he lay without moving, as if, after some difficult

task, he had folded his arms. Head quietly bowed, I stood

still for a long time, looking attentively into the dead man’s

eyes. These eyes were closed. Nevertheless, I could

see on that face I knew so well a look I had never

glimpsed there before. It was not inspiration’s flame,

nor did it seem like the blade of his wit. No, what I could

see there,

wrapped round his face, was thought, some deep, high

thought.

Vision, some vision, I thought must have come to home. And I

wanted to ask, ‘What is it? What do you see?’

 

by Василий Андреевич Жуковский (Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky)

(1837)

translated by Robert Chandler


 

Fun fact: Ivan Bunin, the Nobel Prize winning Russian emigre author, is related to him.

[ Excerpt from] Night In A Trench by Velimir Khlebnikov

We need flowers to lay on coffins,

but coffins tell us we are flowers

and last no longer than a flower.

 

by Велимир Хлебников (Velimir Khlebnikov)

a.k.a. Виктор Владимирович Хлебников

(Viktor Vladimirovich Khlebnikov)

(1920)

translated by Robert Chandler