Hero of his village by Nigel Heseltine

Though you are missing from the shelf
where your family coffins rot in the vault,
your cross is on the church wall
decorated with a button or two from your coat.

So the children coming with the hymn-
books in their hands see that you died
for liberty or some cause and hang
above where the parish magazine is displayed.

Though there is nothing of you but the buttons,
those in the cricket-team you taught to bowl
remember you; the girls you looked aside from
lest you become entangled, married now
look beyond their solid husbands, remember you well.

Though you left no child, nor a wife
nor ploughed land save once on leave
as relaxation; though the parson leaving
his church in a hurry now never sees
your cross, yet given a proper occasion the man
could preach a sermon on your dying that would make
futile in comparison the longest life.

by Nigel Heseltine

Additional Information: Nigel Heseltine (3 July 1916 – 1995) was an English author of travel books, short storiesplays, and poetry, as well as an agronomist for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Heseltine was born in London in 1916, the son of composer Philip Heseltine, better known as Peter Warlock, and Minnie Lucy Channing, an occasional model for Augustus John, nicknamed “Puma”. In his memoir Capriol for Mother, however, Heseltine claims that his mother was a Swiss woman, a friend of Juliette Huxley.

He spent most of his childhood in Wales with Warlock’s mother and Welsh stepfather at Cefyn Bryntalch and attended Shrewsbury School. This led to the misconception that Heseltine himself was Welsh. (I found this poem in a Welsh poetry anthology on the theme of war so, apparently, that misconception was alive and well in 2002).

In 1937 he travelled on foot across Albania and wrote of his experience in Scarred Background. In 1938 he married Natalia Borisovna Galitzine or Galitzina, an aristocrat in Budapest. He married four more times. During World War II he was in Dublin, working as a playwright for the Olympia Theatre company of Shelagh Richards (1903–1985).

He has nothing to do with Lord Michael Heseltine, who ironically is of Welsh heritage and was born in Swansea, as far as I’m aware.

Cuckoo by Dic Edwards

Again the soldiers fill the valley.
Driven by necessity
The men forge cannon
And the women spin cloth for uniforms in their parlours
Soon, the snowdrops.
Young wives weave boots from palmetto fronds
And aunts save their piss
For the nitre that makes
All the sloshing about in tears
And furnishes the men in war.

Soon, the primrose.
The children in the little games
Have nothing to say of war
But die.
The older girls knit socks for the dying.
The young men cut up the bodies playfully
Notwithstanding history’s immanence
And not yet fearful of the waking
From their drunk and bloody spell.

Soon, the cuckoo
And the cuckoo-flower;
Cuckoo-pint:
Arum and wake-robin
And navelwort and pennywort
And all the crazy flowering
Of even the monocotyledonous plants.
And in the lacunae between horrors
Much is fulfilled as the comedian entertains
And flaps the colours of war hanging
From rope made of Spanish moss.

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By Dic Edwards

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Information: Dic Edwards (born 1948) is a British playwright, poet and teacher of creative writing. His writing often touches upon political and social issues, nationalism and democracy.

On Transcience by Gavrila Derzhavin

Time’s river in its rushing course

carries away all human things,

drowns in oblivion’s abyss

peoples and kingdoms and their kings.

 

And if the trumpet or the lyre

should rescue something, small or great,

eternity will gulp it down

and it will share the common fate.

 

by Гавриил ”Гаврила” Романович Державин (Gavriil ”Gavrila” Romanovich Derzhavin)

July 1816 – written on a slate a few days or possibly only hours before Derzhavin’s death on 20 July 1816.

Translated by Peter France


 

Fun fact: Read as an acrostic the first letter of each line forms the phrase ‘руина чти‘ which translates as ‘ruin of honour’, ‘honour the ruin’ or ‘read the ruin’.

Although his works are traditionally considered literary classicism, his best verse is rich with antitheses and conflicting sounds in a way reminiscent of John Donne and other metaphysical poets.

An alternate translation of this, presumably, unfinished fragment found on his table after his death is:

The current of Time’s river
Will carry off all human deeds
And sink into oblivion
All peoples, kingdoms and their kings.
And if there’s something that remains
Through sounds of horn and lyre,
It too will disappear into the maw of time
And not avoid the common pyre… <lines broken>

January by R. S. Thomas

The fox drags its wounded belly

Over the snow, the crimson seeds

Of blood burst with a mild explosion,

Soft as excrement, bold as roses.

 

Over the snow that feels no pity,

Whose white hands can give no healing,

The fox drags its wounded belly.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Song At The Year’s Turning (1955)

Журавли (Cranes) by Rasul Gamzatov

Sometimes I think soldiers, who have never

come back to us from the blood-covered plains,

escaped the ground and didn’t cross the River,

but turned instead into white screeching cranes.

 

And since that time the flock is flying, narrow

or wide, or long – and maybe that is why

so often and with such a sudden sorrow

we stop abruptly, staring at the sky.

 

On flies the wedge trespassing every border –

a sad formation, ranks of do-re-mi,

and there’s a gap in their open order:

it is the space they have reserved for me.

 

The day will come: beneath an evening cloud

I’ll fly, crane on my right, crane on my left,

and in a voice like theirs, shrill and loud,

call out, call out to those on earth I’ve left.

 

by Расул Гамзатович Гамзатов (Rasul Gamzatovich Gamzatov) (1968)

translated by Irina Mashinski

 


 

This poem was set to music, first performed in 1969, soon becoming one of the most famous Russian songs about World War II.

 

 

The poem’s publication in the journal Novy Mir caught the attention of the famous actor and crooner Mark Bernes who revised the lyrics and asked Yan Frenkel to compose the music. When Frenkel first played his new song, Bernes (who was by then suffering from lung cancer) cried because he felt that this song was about his own fate: “There is a small empty spot in the crane flock. Maybe it is reserved for me. One day I will join them, and from the skies I will call on all of you whom I had left on earth.” The song was recorded from the first attempt on 9 July 1969. Bernes died a month after the recording on 16 August 1969, and the record was played at his funeral. Later on, “Zhuravli” would most often be performed by Joseph Kobzon. According to Frenkel, “Cranes” was Bernes’ last record, his “true swan song.”