Petition by R. S. Thomas

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)
Advertisements

Night Sky by R.S. Thomas

What they are saying is
that there is life there, too;
that the universe is the size it is
to enable us to catch up.

They have gone on from the human;
that shining is a reflection
of their intelligence. Godhead
is the colonisation by mind

of untenanted space. It is its own
light, a statement beyond language
of conceptual truth. Every night
is a rinsing myself of the darkness

that is in my veins. I let the stars inject me
with fire, silent as it is far,
but certain in its cauterising
of my despair. I am a slow

traveller. But there is more than time
to arrive. Resting in the intervals
of my breathing, I pick up the signals
relayed to me from a periphery I comprehend.

by R. S. Thomas
from Frequencies (1978)

The Film of God by R.S. Thomas

Sound, too? The recorder
that picks up everything picked
up nothing but the natural
background. What language
does the god speak? And the camera's
lens, as sensitive to
an absence as to a presence,
saw what? What is the colour
of his thought?
It was blank, then,
the screen, as far as he
was concerned? It was a bare
landscape and harsh, and geological
its time. But the rock was
bright, the illuminated manuscript
of the lichen. And a shadow,
as we watched, fell, as though
of an unseen writer bending over
his work.
It was not cloud
because it was not cold,
and dark only from the candlepower
behind it. And we waited
for it to move, silently
as the spool turned, waited
for the figure that cast it
to come into view for us to
identify it, and it
didn't and we are still waiting.


By R.S. Thomas
from Frequencies (1978)

Бог (God) by Boris Slutsky

 Once we all used to abide
together with God, side by side,
He didn't dwell in the sky,
we'd see him from time to time
alive, on the mausoleum.
He was much more clever and evil
than that other God, the old one,
known to the world as Jehovah,
whom he overthrew with a crash
and reduced to a heap of ash,
then subsequently restored
and recruited to serve the cause.
For once we all used to abide
together with God, side by side.

One day as I wandered around in
the Arbat, I met God on parade
with five limousines and surrounded
by guards wearing mousy grey
overcoats, hunched in dread.
It was early and late – overhead
the grey light of morning was showing
as he grazed with his cruel, all-knowing
eyes through the hearts of men,
unmasking deviants and traitors.

For we lived in an era when
God himself was our neighbour.


by Борис Абрамович Слуцкий (Boris Abramovich Slutsky)
(1955)
translated by Stephen Capus
A recital of the poem in Russian by Alla Demidova (from 1:11 onwards after she briefly introduces it).

Here is the poem in the original Cyrillic Russian.

 Бог


Мы все ходили под богом.
У бога под самым боком.
Он жил не в небесной дали,
Его иногда видали
Живого. На мавзолее.
Он был умнее и злее
Того — иного, другого,
По имени Иегова,
Которого он низринул,
Извел, пережег на уголь,
А после из бездны вынул
И дал ему стол и угол.

Мы все ходили под богом.
У бога под самым боком.
Однажды я шел Арбатом.
Бог ехал в пяти машинах.
От страха почти горбата,
В своих пальтишках мышиных
Рядом дрожала охрана.
Было поздно и рано.
Серело. Брезжило утро.
Он глянул жестоко, мудро
Своим всевидящим оком,
Всепроницающим взглядом.

Мы все ходили под богом.
С богом почти что рядом.

Additional information: Slutsky was an atheist but he didn’t forget his Jewish cultural roots regarding not only Yiddish but also the Hebrew he had learned as a child which remained important to him even if only as deeply felt absences. This poem can be read as Slutsky reflecting on how the cult of persona arose in the Soviet era. Communist iconography of Lenin replaced Imperial Russia’s religious iconography in the day to day lives of Russian citizens in Moscow’s historical Arbat street and the surrounding area. Then he reflects, in the second part of the poem, how imagery of Stalin eventually replaced Lenin’s image and he was even worse than him.

Message by R.S. Thomas

 A message from God
delivered by a bird
at my window, offering friendship.
Listen, such language!
Who said God was without
speech? Every word an injection
to make me smile. Meet me,
it says, to-morrow here
at the same time and you will remember
how wonderful to-day
was: no pain, no worry;
irrelevant the mystery, if
unsolved. I gave you the X-ray
eye for you to use not
to prospect, but to discover
the un-malignancy of love's
growth. You were a patient, too,
anaesthetised on truth's table
with life operating on you
with a green scalpel. Meet me, I say,
to-morrow and I will sing it for you
all over again, when you have come to.


By R.S. Thomas


from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)

Боярыня Морозова (Boyarynya Morozova) [Excerpt] by Varlam Shalamov

Not love, but rabid fury, has led
God's servant to the truth. Her pride
is justified - first high-born lady
to seek a convict's fate.

Gripping her Old Believer's cross
tight as a whip between her hands,
she thunders out her final curses;
the sleigh slips out of sight.

So this is how God's saints are born...
Her hate more ardent than her love,
she runs dry fingers through her dry,
already frost-chilled hair.


by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)
(1950)
translated by Robert Chandler

The poem refers to Feodosia Prokopiyevna Morozova (Russian: Феодо́сия Проко́пьевна Моро́зова) (21 May 1632 – 1 December 1675) was one of the best-known partisans of the Old Believer movement. She was perceived as a martyr after she was arrested and died in prison.

She became a household name after being discussed by important Russian writers and depicted by Vasily Surikov. She was also taken as a heroine by some radical groups, who saw her as a symbol of resistance to state power. The People’s Will revolutionary movement promoted her, and her virtues were praised by writers of the Soviet era such as Anna Akhmatova, Varlam Shalamov and Fazil Iskander, who “symbolically enlisted her in their own causes of resistance”.

Below is the full Russian version in Cyrillic.

 Боярыня Морозова

Попрощаться с сонною Москвою
Женщина выходит на крыльцо.
Бердыши тюремного конвоя
Отражают хмурое лицо.

И широким знаменьем двуперстным
Осеняет шапки и платки.
Впереди – несчитанные версты,
И снега – светлы и глубоки.

Перед ней склоняются иконы,
Люди – перед силой прямоты
Неземной – земные бьют поклоны
И рисуют в воздухе кресты.

С той землей она не будет в мире,
Первая из русских героинь,
Знатная начетчица Псалтыри,
Сторож исторических руин.

Возвышаясь над толпой порабощенной,
Далеко и сказочно видна,
Непрощающей и непрощеной
Покидает торжище она.

Это – веку новому на диво
Показала крепость старина,
Чтобы верил даже юродивый
В то, за что умрет она.

Не любовь, а бешеная ярость
Водит к правде Божию рабу.
Ей гордиться – первой из боярынь
Встретить арестантскую судьбу.

Точно бич, раскольничье распятье
В разъяренных стиснуто руках,
И гремят последние проклятья
С удаляющегося возка.

Так вот и рождаются святые,
Ненавидя жарче, чем любя,
Ледяные волосы сухие
Пальцами сухими теребя.

Eschatology by R. S. Thomas

It was our last inter-glacial:
the flies, people,
the one as numerous
as the other. We talked
peace, and brought our arms up to date.
The young ones professed
love, embarassing themselves
with their language. As though
coming round on a new
gyre, we approached God
from the far side, an extinct concept.
no one returned from our space
probes, yet still there were
volunteers, believing that as
gravity slackened its hold
on the body, so would time
on the mind. Our scientists,
immaculately dressed not
conceived, preached to us
from their space-stations, calling us
to consider the clockwork birds
and fabricated lilies, how they
also, as they were conditioned to
do, were neither toiling nor spinning.


by R. S. Thomas
from Mass for Hard Times (1992)E

Christian eschatology is a major branch of study within Christian theology dealing with the “last things.” Eschatology, from two Greek words meaning “last” (ἔσχατος) and “study” (-λογία), is the study of ‘end things’, whether the end of an individual life, the end of the age, the end of the world and the nature of the Kingdom of God. Broadly speaking, Christian eschatology is the study concerned with the ultimate destiny of the individual soul and the entire created order, based primarily upon biblical texts within the Old and New Testament. The part of theology concerned with death, judgement, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.

Thomas approaches this with a cynical mindset having lived through the threat of a nuclear winter during the Cold War, hippies during the Summer of Love and diminishing church attendance as people favour logic over faith. He bitterly reflects that science is no closer to answering the great questions of existence, posed by eschatology, than theology yet one is dismissed while the other embraced.

Throughout the poem he plays with Christian terminology and imagery to indicate the substitution of Christ with scientists, everlasting life after death with an effort to achieve immortality during this life instead and how to him it is, in comparison, an artificial form of true enlightenment and surpassing our mortal bonds.