Remembrance Day, Aberystwyth by Sally Robert Jones

Spray by the castle hurls across the rail;

The mermaid stares forever across the sea,

Dry-eyed; they lay their poppies at her feet,

But she looks away, to the movement of a sail

Far over breakers; knows not their fallen dead,

Hears not their autumn hymn or the signal guns.

Spray by the castle, spray in November air,

Yearn for the land as she for the empty waves,

(As the dead, perhaps, for their lost and silent home).

Everything empty: castle and crowd and wreaths

Seperate beings; and over them, kissing the rain,

The shape of a fish in bronze, without speech, without soul.

On Sundays remember the dead, but not here.

This is another country, another lord

Rules in its acres, who has no respect for love.

Always the sea sucks at the stones of the wall,

Always the mermaid leans to the distant sail;

Already the wreaths are limp and the children wail.

By Sally Roberts Jones


Additional information:

Aberystwyth ( literally “Mouth of the Ystwyth [river]“) is a historic market town, administrative centre, community, and holiday resort within Ceredigion, Wales, often colloquially known as Aber. It is located near the confluence of the rivers Ystwyth and Rheidol. Historically part of Cardiganshire, since the late 19th century, Aberystwyth has also been a major Welsh educational centre, with the establishment of a university college there in 1872.

The mermaid mentioned in this poem is a bronze statue at the base of the Aberystwyth town war memorial which is considered by some to be one of the finest in Britain. Contemporary reports record that the top figure represents Victory and the figure at the base, i.e. the mermaid, represents Humanity emerging from the effects of war.  It records the names of 111 Aberystwyth men who died as a result of action during the First World war and 78 men and women who died during the Second World War. It is one of a number in the town: others are in chapels, places of work and schools.

Aberystwyth Castle (Welsh: Castell Aberystwyth) is a Grade I listed Edwardian fortress located in Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, Mid Wales. It was built in response to the First Welsh War in the late 13th century, replacing an earlier fortress located a mile to the south. During a national uprising by Owain Glyndŵr, the Welsh captured the castle in 1404, but it was recaptured by the English four years later. In 1637 it became a Royal mint by Charles I, and produced silver shillings. The castle was slighted by Oliver Cromwell in 1649.

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‘How bare the countryside! What dearth’ by Fyodor Tyutchev

How bare the countryside! What dearth

How stark the  hamlets’ desolation…

Long-suffering country of my birth,

poor homeland of the Russian nation.

 

Never will the stranger’s gaze

look deeper to perceive or guess

what hidden light there is that plays

and shimmers through your nakedness.

 

In servant’s guise the King of Heaven,

beneath the cross in anguish bent,

has walked the length and breadth of Russia,

blessing her people as he went.

 

by Фёдор Иванович Тютчев (Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev)

(1855)

translated by Avril Pyman


Fun fact: Counted amongst the admirers of Tyutchev’s works were Dostoevsky and Tolstoy along with Nekrasov and Fet. Then later Osip Mandelstam who, in a passage approved of by Shalamov, believed that a Russian poet should not have copy of Tyutchev in his personal library – he should know all of Tyutchev off by heart.

Lucky Strike by Jeremy Hooker

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

periodically revisits

the old country, resuming

his portion of the pasture.

 

by Jeremy Hooker

from ‘Debris‘ a sequence of poems

Маки (Poppies) by Innokenty Annensky

The gay day flames. The grass is still.

Like greedy impotence, poppies rise,

like lips that lust and poison fill,

like wings of scarlet butteflies.

 

The gay day flames… The garden now

is empty. Lust and feast are done.

Like heads of hags, the poppies bow

beneath the bright cup of the sun.

 

by Иннокентий Фёдорович Анненский (Innokenty Fyodorovich Annensky)

(1910)

translated by C. M. Bowra


 

Fun extra: Here is the poem performed in Russian.

I’m Not Of Those Who Left…’ by Anna Akhmatova

I’m not of those who left their country

For wolves to tear it limb from limb.

Their flattery does not touch me.

I will not give my songs to them.

 

Yet I can take the exile’s part,

I pity all among the dead.

Wanderer, your path is dark,

Wormwood is the stranger’s bread.

 

But here in the flames, the stench,

The murk, where what remains

Of youth is dying, we don’t flinch

As the blows strike us, again and again.

 

And we know there’ll be a reckoning,

An account for every hour… There’s

Nobody simpler than us, or with

More pride, or fewer tears.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1922)

– from Anno Domini MCMXXI translation by D. M. Thomas

Out Of The Sighs by Dylan Thomas

Out of the sighs a little comes,
But not of grief, for I have knocked down that
Before the agony; the spirit grows,
Forgets, and cries;
A little comes, is tasted and found good;
All could not disappoint;
There must, be praised, some certainty,
If not of loving well, then not,
And that is true after perpetual defeat.

After such fighting as the weakest know,
There’s more than dying;
Lose the great pains or stuff the wound,
He’ll ache too long
Through no regret of leaving woman waiting
For her soldier stained with spilt words
That spill such acrid blood.

Were that enough, enough to ease the pain,
Feeling regret when this is wasted
That made me happy in the sun,
And, sleeping, made me dream
How much was happy while it lasted,
Were vagueness enough and the sweet lies plenty,
The hollow words could bear all suffering
And cure me of ills.

Were that enough, bone, blood, and sinew,
The twisted brain, the fair-formed loin,
Groping for matter under the dog’s plate,
Man should be cured of distemper.
For all there is to give I offer:
Crumbs, barn, and halter.

 

by Dylan Thomas