‘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

Questions to the Prophet by R. S. Thomas

How will the lion remain a lion

if it eat straw like the ox?

 

Where will the little child lead them

who has not been there before?

 

With our right hand off, with what

shall we beg forgiveness in the kingdom?

 

How shall the hare know it has not won,

dying before the tortoise arrive?

 

Did Christ crying ‘Neither do I condemn thee’,

condemn the prostitute to be good for nothing?

 

If he who increases riches increases sorrow

why are his tears more like pearls than the swine’s tusks?

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Mass for Hard Times (1992)

Foghorns by Gillian Clarke

When Catrin was a small child

She thought the foghorn moaning

Far out at sea was the sad

Solitary voice of the moon

Journeying to England.

She heard it warn “Moon, Moon”,

As it worked the Channel, trading

Weather like rags and bones.

 

Tonight, after the still sun

And the silent heat, as haze

Became rain and weighed glistening

In brimful leaves, and the last bus

Splashes and fades with a soft

Wave-sound, the foghorns moan, moon –

Lonely and the dry lawns drink.

This dimmed moon, calling still,

Hauls sea-rags through the streets.

 

by Gillian Clarke

from The Sundial (Gwasg Gomer, 1978)

Nightride by Gillian Clarke

The road unwinding under our wheels

New in the headlamps like a roll of foil.

The rain is a recorder writing tunes

In telegraph wires, kerbs and cats’ eyes,

Reflections and the lights of little towns.

 

He turns his head to look at me.

“Why are you quiet?” Shiny road rhythm,

Rain rhythm, beat of the windscreen wipers,

I push my knee against his in the warmth

And the car thrusts the dark and rain away.

 

The child sleeps, and I reflect, as I breathe

His brown hair, and watch the apple they gave him

Held in his hot hands, that a tree must ache

With the sweet weight of the round rosy fruit,

As I with Dylan’s head, nodding on its stalk.

 

by Gillian Clarke

from The Sundial, Gwasg Gomer, 1978)

Amen by R. S. Thomas

It was all arranged:

the virgin with child, the birth

in Bethlehem, the arid journey uphill

to Jerusalem. The prophets foretold

it, the scriptures conditioned him

to accept it. Judas went to his work

with his sour kiss; what else

could he do?

A wise old age,

the honours awarded for lasting,

are not for a saviour. He had

to be killed; salvation acquired

by an increased guilt. The tree,

with its roots in the mind’s dark,

was divinely planted, the original fork

in existence. There is no meaning in life,

unless men can be found to reject

love. God needs his martyrdom.

The mild eyes stare from the Cross

in perverse triumph. What does he care

that the people’s offerings are so small?

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)

Prayer by Anna Akhmatova

Grant me years of sickness and fever;

make me sleepless for months at a time.

Take away my child and my lover

and the mysterious gift of rhyme.

As the air grows ever more sultry,

this is the prayer I recite:

and may the storm cloud over my country

be shot through with rays of light.

 

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(11 May 1915, Day of the Holy Spirit), St Petersburg

translation by Robert Chandler

Ap Huw’s Testament by R. S. Thomas

There are four verses to put down

For the four people in my life,

Father, mother, wife

 

And the one child. Let me begin

With her of the immaculate brow

My wife; she loves me. I know how.

 

My mother gave me the breast’s milk

Generously, but grew mean after,

Envying me my detached laughter.

 

My father was a passionate man,

Wrecked after leaving the sea

In her love’s shallows. He grieves in me.

 

What shall I say of my boy,

Tall, fair? He is young yet;

Keep his feet free of the world’s net.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Poetry for Supper (1958)