Then there is the clock's
commentary, the continuing
prose that is the under-current
of all poetry. We listen
to it as, on a desert island,
men do to the subdued
music of their blood in a shell.
Then take my hand that is
of the bone the island
is made of, and looking at
me say what time it is
on love's face, for we have
no business here other than
to disprove certainties the clock knows.
by R. S. Thomas
from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)
I am a man now.
Pass your hand over my brow,
You can feel the place where the brains grow.
I am like a tree,
From my top boughs I can see
The footprints that led up to me.
There is blood in my veins
That has run clear of the stain
Contracted in so many loins.
Why, then, are my hands red
With the blood of so many dead?
Is this where I was misled?
Why are my hands this way
That they will not do as I say?
Does no God hear when I pray?
I have nowhere to go.
The swift satellites show
The clock of my whole being is slow.
It is too late to start
For destinations not of the heart.
I must stay here with my hurt.
by R. S. Thomas
from Tares (1961)
No, not the moon – the bright face of a clock
glimmers to me. How is it my fault
that I perceive the feeble stars as milky?
And I hate Batyushkov’s unbounding arrogance:
What time is it? Someone simply asked –
and he replied to them: eternity!
by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
translated by Boris Dralyuk
Fun fact: Such an exchange did occur between Konstanin Batyushkov and his doctor and in his poem ‘For The Tombstone of a Little Girl’ he imagined a dead baby saying to her parents ‘Dear ones, don’t cry! / Envy my ephemerality; / I did not know this life, / And know eternity’ (translation by Peter France).