Directions by R.S. Thomas

In this desert of language

we find ourselves in,

with the sign-post with the word ‘God’

worn away

and the distance… ?

 

Pity the simpleton

with his mouth open crying:

How far is it to God?

 

And the wiseacre says: Where you were,

friend.

You know the smile

glossy

as the machine that thinks it has outpaced

belief?

I am one of those

who sees from the arms opened

to embrace the future

the shadow of the Cross fall

on the smoothest of surfaces

causing me to stumble.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Between Here and Now (1981)

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The Bright Field by R.S. Thomas

I have seen the sun break through

to illuminate a small field

for a while, and gone my way

and forgotten it. But that was the pearl

of great price, the one field that had

the treasure in it. I realize now

that I must give all that I have

to possess it. Life is not hurrying

 

on to a receding future, nor hankering after

an imagined past. It is the turning

aside like Moses to the miracle

of the lit bush, to a brightness

that seemed as transitory as your youth

once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)

Marx and Heine and Dowlais by Idris Davies

I used to go to St John’s Wood

On Saturday evenings in summer

To look on London behind the dusty garden trees,

And argue pleasantly and bitterly

About Marx and Heine, the iron brain and the laughing sword;

And the ghost of Keats would sit in a corner,

Smiling slowly behind a summer of wine,

Sadly smiling at the fires of the future.

And late in the summer night

I heard the tall Victorian critics snapping

Grim grey fingers at London Transport,

And sober, solemn students of James Joyce,

Dawdling and hissing into Camden Town.

 

But now in the winter dusk

I go to Dowlais Top

and stand by the railway bridge

Which joins the bleak brown hills,

And gaze at the streets of Dowlais

Lop-sided on the steep dark slope,

A bettered bucket on a broken hill,

And see the rigid phrases of Marx

Bold and black against the steel-grey west,

Riveted along the sullen skies.

And as for Heine, I look on the rough

Bleak, colourless hills around,

Naked and hard as flint,

Romance in a rough chemise.

 

by Idris Davies


Fun facts:

Dowlais is a village and community of the county borough of Merthyr Tydfil, in Wales. Dowlais is notable within Wales and Britain for its historic association with ironworking; once employing, through the Dowlais Iron Company, roughly 5,000 people, the works being the largest in the world at one stage.

Marx, I assume, refers to Karl Marx (5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) the German philosopher, economist, historian, political theorist, sociologist, journalist and revolutionary socialist.

Heine, refers to Christian Johann Heinrich Heine (13 December 1797 – 17 February 1856) was a German poet, journalist, essayist, and literary critic. He is best known outside of Germany for his early lyric poetry, which was set to music in the form of Lieder (art songs) by composers such as Robert Schumann and Franz Schubert. Heine’s later verse and prose are distinguished by their satirical wit and irony. He is considered part of the Young Germany movement. His radical political views led to many of his works being banned by German authorities, which however only added to his fame. Heine spent the last 25 years of his life as an expatriate in Paris.

James Augustine Aloysius Joyce (2 February 1882 – 13 January 1941) was an Irish novelist, short story writer, and poet. He contributed to the modernist avant-garde and is regarded as one of the most influential and important authors of the 20th century. Joyce is best known for Ulysses (1922), a landmark work in which the episodes of Homer’s Odyssey are paralleled in a variety of literary styles, most famously stream of consciousness. Other well-known works are the short-story collection Dubliners (1914), and the novels A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Finnegans Wake (1939). His other writings include three books of poetry, a play, his published letters and occasional journalism.

Roots by Dannie Abse

A man with no roots is lost

like the darkness in the forest.

Heart, my heart, what red voices cry

centuries of suffering in my flowing hands?

 

Love lasts as long as there are

two people, however silent the word.

Love, my love, how may I meet your eyes,

how may I meet the eyes that I will close?

 

Future, my future, on whose arms

will my hands be planted?

Love, my love, be assured your eyes

will live after you like children.

 

by Dannie Abse

from Early Poems

The Jolt by Anna Prismanova

The jolt must come from far away:

the start of bread is in the grain.

A stream, although still underground,

aspires to reflect the sky.

 

A future Sunday’s distant light

reaches us early in the week.

The jolt must come from far away

to trigger earthquakes in the heart.

 

A shoulder alien to me

controls the movement of my hand.

In order to acquire such strength,

the jolt must come from far away.

 

by Анна Семёновна Присманова (Anna Semyonovna Prismanova)

a.k.a. Анна Симоновна Присман (Anna Simonovna Prisman)

(late 1930s or early 1940s)

translated by Boris Dralyuk


 

Fun fact: She is considered comparable to her contemporary, the American poet, Louise Bogan.

Living in the Moment by Piet Hein

To live in the moment’s a well-worn routine

that most of the world has perfected;

for some, it’s the moment that’s already been,

for others, the one that’s expected.

 

Yet no sort of magic can kindle anew

a past that is over forever,

nor summon the future before it is due:

our moment is now – or it’s never.

 

So brief is the moment in which we may live,

and future or past it isn’t.

Whoever would know of what life hast to give

must gratefully welcome the present.

 

by Piet Hein a.k.a Kumbel (1905-1996), Denmark

No More Europe, No More America by Georgy Ivanov

No more Europe, no more America.

The end of Tsarskoye, of Moscow, too.

A fit of nuclear hysteria –

life atomized into a radiant blue.

 

Transparent, all-forgiving haze will stretch

over the seas. And he who could have done

something yet chose not to, will be left

in the expanse of pre-eternity, alone.

 

by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)

(1953)

by Robert Chandler