Easter. I go to church
to proclaim with my fellows
I believe in the Ressurection -
of what? Here everything
is electric and automatic.
In April a myriad bulbs
are switched on as flowers
incandesce; a new generation
of creatures rehearses
its genetic code. All this is easy.
Earth is a self-regulating
machine; everything happens
because it must. My faith
is in the inevitability
of creation. There will come a day -
dust under a dry sun,
ashes under its incineration...
is there somewhere in all
the emptiness of the universe
a fertile star where the old
metaphors wil apply, where
the bugling daffodil will sound
abroad not the last post, but
a gush of music out of an empty tomb?
by R.S. Thomas
from Unpublished Poems
The church is like the prow
Of a smoky ship, moving
On the down channel currents
To the open sea. A stone
Figurehead, the flowing light
Streams from it. From everywhere
You can see Top Church, remote
As high church is from chapel.
Church high on the summit
Of the climbing town
Where I was a child, where rain
Runs always slantingly
On streets like tilted chutes
Of grey sliding on all sides
From the church, to sea and dock,
To shopping streets and home.
Bresting the cloud, its stone
Profile of an ancient priest
In the face of turning tides.
by Gillain Clarke
from The Sundial (Gwasg Gomer, 1978)
Information: St Augustine’s Church is a Grade I listed Gothic Revival nineteenth-century parish church in Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan, Wales. Wales has, historically, had a strong chapel community in the valleys where small community cogregations, with their lay preachers, were far more common than larger organised churches.
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)
Returning from a raid,
just missed the tower
where, over the West Door
the Wild Man with oak leaves
wound round his body
faces the Dragon
wreathed in vines.
Crash landed at Church Farm,
ploughing itself in,
churning up the loam.
Two crew dead.
The Flight Engineer
the old country, resuming
his portion of the pasture.
by Jeremy Hooker
from ‘Debris‘ a sequence of poems
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)
I have seen it standing up grey,
Gaunt, as though no sunlight
Could ever thaw out the music
Of its great bell; terrible
In its own way, for religion
Is like that. There are times
When a black frost is upon
One’s whole being, and the heart
In its bone belfry hangs and is dumb.
But who is to know? Always,
Even in winter in the cold
Of a stone church, on his knees
Someone is praying, whose prayers fall
Steadily through the hard spell
Of weather that is between God
And himself. Perhaps they are warm rain
That brings the sun and afterwards flowers
On the raw graves and throbbing of bells.
by R. S. Thomas
from Pietà (1966)
And God said, I will build a church here
And cause this people to worship me,
And afflict them with poverty and sickness
In return for centuries of hard work
And patience. And its walls shall be hard as
Their hearts, and its windows let in the light
Grudgingly, as their minds do, and the priest’s words be drowned
By the wind’s caterwauling. All this I will do,
Said God, and watch the bitterness in their eyes
Grow, and their lips suppurate with
Their prayers. And their women shall bring forth
On my altars, and I will choose the best
Of them to be thrown back into the sea.
And that was only on one island.
by R. S. Thomas
from H’m (1972)
Land of my mothers, how shall my brothers praise you?
With timbrels or rattles or tins?
How shall we praise you on the banks of the rhymneying waters,
On the smokey shores and the glittering shores of Glamorgan,
On wet mornings in the bare fields behind the Newport docks,
On fine evenings when lovers walk by Bedwellty Church,
When the cuckoo calles to miners coming home to Rhymney Bridge,
When the wild rose defies the Industrial Revolution
And when the dear old drunken lady sings of Jesus and a little shilling.
Come down, O girls of song, to the bank of the coal canal
At twilight, at twilight
When mongrels fight
And long rats bite
Under the shadows of pit-head light,
And dance, you daughters of Gwenllian,
Dance in the dust in the lust of delight.
And you who have prayed in the golden pastures
And oiled the wheels of the Western Tradition
And trod where bards have danced to church,
Pay a penny for this fragment of a burning torch.
It will never go out.
It will gather unto itself all the fires
That blaze between the heavens above and the earth beneath
Until the flame shall frighten each mud-hearted hypocrite
And scatter the beetles fattened on the cream of corruption,
The beetles that riddle the ramparts of Man.
Pay a penny for my singing torch,
O my sisters, my brothers of the land of my mothers,
The land of our fathers, our troubles, our dreams,
The land of Llewellyn and Shoni bach Shinkin,
The land of the sermons that peddle the streams,
The land of the englyn and Crawshay’s old engine,
The land that is sometimes as proud as she seems.
And the sons of the mountains and sons of the valleys
O lift up your hearts, and then
lift up your feet.
by Idris Davies
Shape ships to seek some shining shore,
or, if you choose, chirp chants in churches.
But seize your chance – shout one shy cheer,
and shoot up starwards, sharp and sheer…
I shift the chairs – a cheerless chore…
What tosh you chunter in these searches
for shoes and spectacles, to be sure!
by Владислав Фелицианович Ходасевич (Vladislav Felitsianovich Khodasevich)
translated by Michael Frayn