Land of my Mothers by Idris Davies

Land of my mothers, how shall my brothers praise you?

With timbrels or rattles or tins?

With fire.

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

Middle Age by Mike Jenkins

Middle-age is when

you begin to get sensitive

about the crowd swearing at bald refs.

 

It’s when your daughter’s

History homework’s on Dunkirk

and she asks ‘Were you around then?’

 

You look in the mirror every morning

glad that you’re short-sighted

and haven’t got your glasses on.

 

Certain nouns slip out of memory

to be replaced by verbs

like ‘to sleep’ and ‘to lie’.

 

It’s when you want time

to go rapidly to the next holiday,

yet halt completely before you die.

 

It’s when your appalling flatulence

is exposed to your spouse

and you don’t even bother to say ‘Pardon!’

 

You acquire irritable and incurable

ailments in corners of your body

and consider using herbal remedies.

 

You decide you need a new challenge:

working without a tie, your naked

adam’s apple is swallowed by the boss’s eyes.

 

Middle-age is when you take yourself for granted:

treat your dreams as pieces of furniture,

get rid of them on a skip.

 

It’s when you’re addicted to routine

and you don’t admit it, keep on taking it

till you O.D. on those same old scenes.

 

by Mike Jenkins

from This House, My Ghetto

Rachel by Anna Akhmatova

A man met Rachel, in a valley. Jacob

Bowed courteously, this wanderer far from home.

Flocks, raising the hot dust, could not slake their

Thirst. The well was blocked with a huge stone.

Jacob wrenched the stone from the well

Of pure water, and the flocks drank their fill.

 

But the heart in his breast began to grieve,

It ached like an open wound.

He agreed that in Laban’s fields he should serve

Seven years to win the maiden’s hand.

For you, Rachel! Seven years in his eyes

No more than seven dazzling days.

 

But silver-loving Laban lives

In a web of cunning, and is unknown to grace.

He thinks: every deceit forgives

Itself to the glory of Laban’s house.

And he led Leah firmly to the tent

Where Jacob took her, blind and innocent.

 

Night drops from on high over the plains,

The cool dews pour,

And the youngest daughter of Laban groans,

Tearing the thick braids of her hair.

She curses her sister and reviles God, and

Begs the Angel of Death to descend.

 

And Jacob dreams the hour of paradise:

In the valley the clear spring,

The joyful look in Rachel’s eyes,

And her voice like a bird’s song.

Jacob, was it you who kissed me, loved

Me, and called me your black dove?

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1921)

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

Marina by T. S. Eliot

“Quis hic locus, quae regio, quae mundi plaga?”

 

What seas what shores what grey rocks and what islands

What water lapping the bow

And scent of pine and the woodthrush singing through the fog

What images return

O my daughter.

 

Those who sharpen the tooth of the dog, meaning

Death

Those who glitter with the glory of the hummingbird, meaning

Death

Those who sit in the style of contentment, meaning

Death

Those who suffer the ecstasy of the animals, meaning

Death

 

Are become unsubstantial, reduced by a wind.

A breath of pine, and the woodsong fog

By this grace dissolved in place

 

What is this face, less clear and clearer

The pulse in the arm, less strong and stronger –

Given or lent? more distant than stars and nearer than the eye

 

Whispers and small laughter between leaves and hurrying feet

Under sleep, where all the waters meet.

Bowsprit cracked with ice and paint cracked with heat.

 

I made this, I have forgotten

And remember.

The rigging weak and the canvas rotten

Between one June and another September.

Made this unknowing, half conscious, unknown, my own.

The garboard strake leaks, the seams need caulking

This form, this face, this life

Living to live in a world of time beyond me; let me

Resign my life for this life, my speech for that unspoken,

The awakened, lips parted, the hope, the new ships.

 

What seas what shores what granite islands towards my timbers

And woodthrush calling through the fog

My daughter.

 

by T. S. Eliot

First published September 25, 1930 in Ariel Poems.