Top left an angel
hovering. Top right the attendance
of a star. From both
bottom corners devils
look up, relishing
in prospect a divine
meal. How old at the centre
the child's face gazing
into love's too human
face, like one prepared
for it to have its way
and continue smiling?
By R. S. Thomas
from Counterpoint 2. Incarnation (1990)
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 know the colour rose, and it is lovely,
but not when it ripens in a tumour;
and healing greens, leaves and grass, so springlike,
in limbs that fester are not springlike.
I have seen red-blue tinged with hirsute mauve
in the plum-skin face of a suicide.
I have seen white, china white almost, stare
from behind the smashed windscreen of a car.
And the criminal, multi-coloured flash
of an H-bomb is no more beautiful
than an autopsy when the belly’s opened –
to show cathedral windows never opened.
So in the simple blessing of a rainbow,
in the bevelled edge of a sunlit mirror,
I have seen, visible, Death’s artifact
like a soldier’s ribbon on a tunic tacked.
by Dannie Abse
from a small desperation (1968)
Bane of the gorgeous summer, meddlesome fly, why must you
torture me, ducking and weaving, clinging to face and to fingers?
Who was it gave you that sting that has power to cut short at will
thought on its albatross wings or the burning kisses of love?
You make of the peaceable thinker, bred on the pleasures of Europe,
a barbarous Scythian warrior, thirsting for enemy blood.
by Евгений Абрамович Баратынский (Yevgeny Abramovich Baratynsky)
translated by Peter France
Still he lay without moving, as if, after some difficult
task, he had folded his arms. Head quietly bowed, I stood
still for a long time, looking attentively into the dead man’s
eyes. These eyes were closed. Nevertheless, I could
see on that face I knew so well a look I had never
glimpsed there before. It was not inspiration’s flame,
nor did it seem like the blade of his wit. No, what I could
wrapped round his face, was thought, some deep, high
Vision, some vision, I thought must have come to home. And I
wanted to ask, ‘What is it? What do you see?’
by Василий Андреевич Жуковский (Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky)
translated by Robert Chandler
Fun fact: Ivan Bunin, the Nobel Prize winning Russian emigre author, is related to him.
Love me. I am pitch black,
sinful, blind, confused.
But if not you, then who else
is going to love me? Face
to face, and fate to fate.
See how stars shine bright
in the dark sky. Love me
simply, simply, as day
loves night and night loves day.
You have no choice. I am
pure night, and you – pure light.
by Мария Сергеевна Петровых (Maria Sergeyevna Petrovykh)
translated by Robert Chandler
A complete rendition though this version uses shorter, irregular, lines in its translation.
O make me a mask and a wall to shut from your spies
Of the sharp, enamelled eyes and the spectacled claws
Rape and rebellion in the nurseries of the face,
Gag of a dumbstruck tree to block from bare enemies
The bayonet tongue in this undefended prayerpiece,
The present mouth, and the sweetly blown trumpet of lies,
Shaped in old armour and oak the counternance of a dunce
To shield the glistening brain and blunt the examiners,
And a tear-stained widower grief drooped from the lashes
To veil belladonna and let the dry eyes perceive
Others betray the lamenting lies of their losses
By the curve of the nude mouth or the laugh up the sleeve.
by Dylan Thomas
(Notebook version March 1933; rephrased and severely shortened November 1937)
He seeks to defend his inner privacy against the sharp examination of strangers and critics.