Hill Christmas by R. S. Thomas

They came over the snow to the bread's

pure snow, fumbled it in their huge

hands, put their lips to it

like beasts, stared into the dark chalice

where the wine shone, felt it sharp

on their tongue, shivered as at a sin

remembered, and heard love cry

momentarily in their hearts' manager.


They rose and went back to their poor

holdings, naked in the bleak light

of December. Their horizon contracted

to the one small, stone-riddled field

with its tree, where the weather was nailing

the appalled body that had not asked to be born.


by R. S. Thomas

from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)

Hallowe’en by R.S. Thomas

Outside a surfeit of planes.

Inside the hunger of the departed

to come back. ‘Ah, erstwhile humans,

would you make your mistakes

over again? In life, as in love,

the second time around is

no better.’

I confront their expressions

in the embers, on grey walls:

faces among the stones watching

me to see if this night

of all nights I will make sacrifice

to the spirits of hearth and of

roof-tree, pouring a libation.

 

‘Stay where you are,’ I implore.

‘This is no world for escaped beings

to make their way back into.

The well that you took your pails

to is polluted. At the centre

of the mind’s labyrinth to machine howls

for the sacrifice of the affections;

vocabulary has on a soft collar

but the tamed words are not to be trusted.

As long as the flames hum, making

their honey, better to look in

upon truth’s comb than to

take off as we do on fixed wings

for depollinated horizons.’

 

by R. S Thomas

from No Truce with the Furies (1995)

Shrine at Cape Clear by R.S. Thomas

She is more white than the sea’s

Purest spray, and colder

To touch. She is nourished

By salt winds, and the prayers

Of the drowned break on her. She smiles

At the stone angels, who have turned

From the sea’s truth to worship

The mystery of her dumb child.

The bay brings her the tribute

Of its silences. The ocean has left

An offering of the small flowers

Of its springs; but the men read,

Beyond the harbour on the horizon,

The fury of its obituaries

by R. S. Thomas

from Not That He Brought Flowers (1968)


Fun fact: The poem refers to Cape Clear Island off the coast of Ireland. Clear Island or Cape Clear Island (officially known by its Irish name: Cléire, and sometimes also called Oileán Chléire) lies south-west of County Cork in Ireland. It is the southernmost inhabited part of the island of Ireland and has a population of over 100 people. Officially it is a Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking area), and most inhabitants speak Irish and English. Archaeological sites on the island include a prehistoric cup-marked stone (moved to the island’s museum), a fulacht fiadh at Gort na Lobhar, a neolithic passage tomb at Cill Leire Forabhain, several standing stones around the island, a promontory fort at Dún an Óir, and a signal tower dating from the Napoleonic Wars. The island also has a number of early Christian sites, and is reputed to be the birthplace of Saint Ciarán of Saigir. The ruins of 12th century church are close to the main pier.

A Life by R.S. Thomas

Lived long; much fear, less

courage. Bottom in love’s school

of his class; time’s reasons

too far back to be known.

Good on his knees, yeilding,

vertical, to petty temptations.

A mouth thoughts escaped

from unfledged. Where two

were company, he the unwanted

third. A Narcissus tortured

by the whisperers behind

the mirror. Visionary only

in his perception of an horizon

beyond the horizon. Doubtful

of God, too pusillanimous

to deny him. Saving his face

in verse from the humiliations prose

inflicted on him. One of life’s

conscientious objectors, conceding

nothing to the propaganda of death

but a compulsion to volunteer.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)

 

Pietà by R. S. Thomas

Always the same hills

Crowd the horizon,

Remote witnesses

Of the still scene.

 

And in the foreground

The tall Cross,

Sombre, untenanted,

Aches for the Body

That is back in the cradle

Of a maid’s arms.

 

By R. S. Thomas

from Pietà (1966)

Leaving Cardiff by Dannie Abse

I wait in the evening air.

Sea-birds drop down to the sea.

I prepare to sail from where

the docks’ derelictions are.

 

I stand on the deck and stare,

slack hammocks of waves below,

while black shapes upon the pier

make the furthest star seem near.

 

Now the funnel’s negations blow

and my eyes, like spaces, fill,

and the knots of water flow,

pump to my eyes and spill.

 

For what who would choose to go

when who sailing made no choice?

Not for one second, I know,

can I be the same man twice.

 

The straw coloured flames flare still,

spokes over the long horizon,

and the boats under the hill

of Penarth, unload and move on.

 

by Dannie Abse

from Tenants of the House (1957)


Fun facts: This was written in 1957 and the former working docks, which by the time of the poem were ‘derelict’ and I myself recall in childhood walking through along the barrage, were redeveloped (‘gentrified’ wouldn’t be an understatement) in recent years into the Cardiff Bay area filled with bars, restaurants, the Wales Millennium Centre, the Senedd and BBC buildings amongst many other developments. Penarth is an affluent town, within walking distance along the coastline, south west of Cardiff .

The Line Of The Horizon by Maria Petrovykh

It’s just how it is, it’s the way of the ages;

years pass away, and friends pass away

and you suddenly realize the world is changing

and the fire of your heart is fading away.

 

Once the horizon was sharp as a knife,

a clear frontier between different states,

but now low mist hangs over the earth –

and this gentle cloud is the mercy of fate.

 

Age, I suppose, with its losses and fears,

age that silently saps our strength,

has blurred with the mist of unspilt tears

that clear divide between life and death.

 

So many you loved are no longer with you,

yet you chat to them as you always did.

You forget they’re no longer among the living;

that clear frontier is now shrouded in mist.

 

The same sort of woodland, same sort of field –

you probably won’t even notice the day

you chance to wander across the border,

chatting to someone long passed away.

 

by Мария Сергеевна Петровых (Maria Sergeyevna Petrovykh)

(1957)

translated by Robert Chandler