Yes, that's how I was,
I know that face,
That bony figure
Of flesh or limb;
In health happy,
Careless of the claim
Of the world's sick
Or the world's poor;
In pain craven -
Lord, breathe once more
On that sad mirror,
Let me be lost
In mist for ever
Rather than own
Such bleak reflections,
Let me go back
On my two knees
Slowly to undo
The knot of life
That was tied there.
By R. S. Thomas
from Tares (1961)
And I standing in the shade
Have seen it a thousand times
Happen: first theft, then murder;
Rape; the rueful acts
Of the blind hand. I have said
New prayers, or said the old
In a new way. Seeking the poem
In the pain, I have learned
Silence is best, praying for it
With my conscience. I am eyes
Merely, witnessing virtue's
Defeat; seeing the young born
Fair, knowing the cancer
Awaits them. One thing I have asked
Of the disposer of the issues
Of life: that truth should defer
To beauty. It was not granted.
by R. S. Thomas
from H'm (1972)
Easter. I go to church
to proclaim with my fellows
I believe in the Ressurection -
of what? Here everything
is electric and automatic.
In April a myriad bulbs
are switched on as flowers
incandesce; a new generation
of creatures rehearses
its genetic code. All this is easy.
Earth is a self-regulating
machine; everything happens
because it must. My faith
is in the inevitability
of creation. There will come a day -
dust under a dry sun,
ashes under its incineration...
is there somewhere in all
the emptiness of the universe
a fertile star where the old
metaphors wil apply, where
the bugling daffodil will sound
abroad not the last post, but
a gush of music out of an empty tomb?
by R.S. Thomas
from Unpublished Poems
One man fell asleep a believer but woke up an atheist.
Luckily, this man kept medical scales in his room, because he was in the habit of weighing himself every morning and every evening. And so, going to sleep the night before, he had weighed himself and had found out he weighed four poods and 21 pounds. But the following morning, waking up an atheist, he weighed himself again and found out that now he weighed only four poods thirteen pounds. “Therefore,” he concluded, “my faith weighed approximately eight pounds.”
by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)
a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)
translated by Eugene Ostashevsky
Here I think of the centuries,
six million of them, they say.
Yesterday a fine rain fell;
today the warmth has brought out the crowds.
After Christ, what? The molecules
are without redemption. My shadow
sunning itself on this stone
remembers the lava. Zeus looked down
on a brave world, but there was
no love there; the architecture
of their temples was less permanent
than these waves. Plato, Aristotle,
all those who furrow the calmness
of their foreheads are responsible
for the bomb. I am charmed here
by the serenity of the reflections
in the sea's mirror. It is a window
as well. What I need
now is a faith to enable me to out-stare
the grinning faces of the inmates of its asylum,
the failed experiments God put away.
by R. S. Thomas
from Frequencies (1978)
Don’t tempt me with your tender ruses,
with the return of passion’s blaze:
a disenchanted man refuses
inveiglements of former days!
My faith in faithfulness has faded,
my faith in love has passed its prime;
I won’t indugle another time
in dreams degrading and degraded.
Let blind despair not increase,
the things that were, pray, do not mention,
and, caring friend! allow the patient
to doze in long, untroubled peace.
I sleep, and sweet is relaxation;
let bygone dreams be laid to rest:
you will awaken agitation,
not love, in my tormented breast.
by Евгений Абрамович Баратынский (Yevgeny Abramovich Baratynsky)
translated by Boris Dralyuk
It sailed across the startled town,
over chapels, over chimney-pots,
wind-blown above a block of flats
before it floated down.
Oddly, it landed where I stood,
and finding’s keeping, as you know.
I breathed on it, I polished it,
till it shone like living blood.
It was my shame, it was my joy,
it brought me notoriety.
From all of Wales the rude boy came,
it ceased to be a toy.
I heard the girls of Cardiff sigh
When my balloon, my red balloon,
soared higher like a happiness
towards the dark blue sky.
Nine months since, have I boasted of
my unique, my only precious;
but to no one dare I show it now
however long they swear their love.
‘It’s a Jew’s balloon,’ my best friend cried,
‘stained with our dear Lord’s blood.’
‘That I’m a Jew is true,’ I said,
said I, ‘that cannot be denied.’
‘What relevance?’ I asked, surprised,
‘what’s religion to do with this?’
‘Your red balloon’s a Jew’s balloon,
let’s get it circumcised.’
Then some boys laughed and some boys cursed,
some unsheathed their dirty knives:
some lunged, some clawed at my balloon,
but still it would not burst.
They bled my nose, they cut my eye,
half conscious in the street I heard,
‘Give up, give up your red balloon.’
I don’t know exactly why.
Father, bolt the door, turn the key,
lest those sad, brash boys return
to insult my faith and steal
my red balloon from me.
by Dannie Abse
from Poems, Golders Green (1962)
Fun facts: Dannie Abse was born in Cardiff, Wales, to a Jewish family. He was the younger brother of politician and reformer Leo Abse and the eminent psychoanalyst, Wilfred Abse. Unusually for a middle-class Jewish boy, Dannie Abse attended St Illtyd’s College, a working-class Catholic school in Splott.
And he grasps him by the hair
With innocent savagery.
And the son’s face is calm;
There is trust there.
And the beast looks on.
This is what art could do,
With serene chisel.
The resistant stone
Is quiet as our breath,
And is accepted.
by R. S. Thomas
from The Bread of Truth (1963)
Fun fact: Souillac is a small market town, and is the hub for the area. This is an agricultural region which is known for its walnuts, strawberries and quiet, rural way of life. Thomas visited the abbey church of Sainte-Marie in this town and that is the subject of this poem. The domed roofs are similar to but rather smaller than those of Périgueux Cathedral. Fragments of the original Romanesque sculptures are grouped just inside the west door.
It’s a long way off but inside it
There are quite different things going on:
Festivals at which the poor man
Is king and the consumptive is
Healed; mirrors in which the blind look
At themelves and love looks at them
Back; and industry is for mending
The bent bones and the minds fractured
By life. It’s a long way off, but to get
There takes no time and admission
Is free, if you will purge yourself
Of desire, and present yourself with
Your need only and the simple offering
Of your faith, green as a leaf.
by R. S. Thomas
from H’m (1972)