Hero of his village by Nigel Heseltine

Though you are missing from the shelf
where your family coffins rot in the vault,
your cross is on the church wall
decorated with a button or two from your coat.

So the children coming with the hymn-
books in their hands see that you died
for liberty or some cause and hang
above where the parish magazine is displayed.

Though there is nothing of you but the buttons,
those in the cricket-team you taught to bowl
remember you; the girls you looked aside from
lest you become entangled, married now
look beyond their solid husbands, remember you well.

Though you left no child, nor a wife
nor ploughed land save once on leave
as relaxation; though the parson leaving
his church in a hurry now never sees
your cross, yet given a proper occasion the man
could preach a sermon on your dying that would make
futile in comparison the longest life.

by Nigel Heseltine

Additional Information: Nigel Heseltine (3 July 1916 – 1995) was an English author of travel books, short storiesplays, and poetry, as well as an agronomist for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Heseltine was born in London in 1916, the son of composer Philip Heseltine, better known as Peter Warlock, and Minnie Lucy Channing, an occasional model for Augustus John, nicknamed “Puma”. In his memoir Capriol for Mother, however, Heseltine claims that his mother was a Swiss woman, a friend of Juliette Huxley.

He spent most of his childhood in Wales with Warlock’s mother and Welsh stepfather at Cefyn Bryntalch and attended Shrewsbury School. This led to the misconception that Heseltine himself was Welsh. (I found this poem in a Welsh poetry anthology on the theme of war so, apparently, that misconception was alive and well in 2002).

In 1937 he travelled on foot across Albania and wrote of his experience in Scarred Background. In 1938 he married Natalia Borisovna Galitzine or Galitzina, an aristocrat in Budapest. He married four more times. During World War II he was in Dublin, working as a playwright for the Olympia Theatre company of Shelagh Richards (1903–1985).

He has nothing to do with Lord Michael Heseltine, who ironically is of Welsh heritage and was born in Swansea, as far as I’m aware.

‘Top left an angel’ by R.S. Thomas

 Top left an angel
hovering. Top right the attendance
of a star. From both
bottom corners devils
look up, relishing
in prospect a divine
meal. How old at the centre
the child's face gazing
into love's too human
face, like one prepared
for it to have its way
and continue smiling?



By R. S. Thomas
from Counterpoint 2. Incarnation (1990)

‘The Nativity? No’ by R.S. Thomas

Text above the poem in the book
 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

The Un-born by R. S. Thomas

I have seen the child in the womb,
neither asking to be born
or not to be born, biding its time
without the knowledge of time,
model for the sulptor who would depict
the tranquility that inheres
before thought, or the purity of thought
without language. Its smile forgave
the anachronism of the nomenclature
that would keep it foetal. Its hand
opened delicately as flowers
in innocency's grave.
Was its part written? I have seen
it waiting breathlessly in the wings
to come forth on to a stage
of soil or concrete, where wings
are a memory only or an aspiration.

by R. S. Thomas
from Mass for Hard Times (1992)

‘After Midnight Clean Out Of Your Hands’ by Osip Mandelstam

After midnight, clean out of your hands,

the heart seizes a sliver of silence.

It lives on the quiet, it’s longing to play;

like it or not, there’s nothing quite like it.

 

Like it or not, it can never be grasped;

so why shiver, like a child off the street,

if after midnight the heart holds a feast,

silently savouring a silvery mouse?

 

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)

(1931)

translated by Robert Chandler