Return by Malcolm Lewis

Here is the soldier home from the War,
sailing into Cardiff. He’s startled after Palestine
by the colours on the ridge,
dead bracken, glossy, like wet army cottons,
purple coppice he can’t identify,
the mossy green of fir trees that weren’t there
when he volunteered.

The cold cuts through the suit
bought from the tallest of the Lascars,
the cuffs, inches short of his wrists,
expose his skin, now as dark as theirs,
but collier-white before he went. He looks
like them, but Christ, he’d hardly kept up.
Only pennies rub in his pocket –
the captain had skint him, the Scotch bastard.

Posted missing back at Easter,
he’d not written, couldn’t risk
the censor checking on his letter.
He’ll stay on board till it’s dark,
jump the wall, thread the back streets north,
then – the freedom of the frozen tracks –
up and over the top, past the hill farms’ yowling sentries,
down to the town where ghosts parade.

by Malcolm Lewis

‘And so I keep going’ by Varlam Shalamov

And so I keep going;

death remains close;

I carry my life

in a blue envelope.

 

The letter’s been ready

ever since autumn:

just one little word –

it couldn’t be shorter.

 

But I still don’t know

where I should send it;

if I had the address,

my life might have ended.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1955?)

translated by Robert Chandler

The Letter by R. S. Thomas

And to be able to put at the end

Of the letter Anthens, Florence – some name

That the spirit recalls from earlier journeys

Through the dark wood, seeking the path

To the bright mansions; cities and towns

Where the soul added depth to its stature.

 

And not to worry about the date,

The words being timeless, concerned with truth,

Beauty, love, misery even,

Which has its seasons in the long growth

From seed to flesh, flesh to spirit.

 

And laying aside the pen, dipped

Not in tear’s volatile liquid

But in black ink of the heart’s well,

To read again what the hand has written

To the many voices’ quiet diction.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Poetry for Supper (1958)

By Candlelight by Varlam Shalamov

By candlelight,

in midday dark, I’ll warm

your words beside the stove;

frost’s bitten them.

 

Frost’s wordless spell

had made your letter dumb.

The letters melt, drip tears;

calling me home.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1952?)

translated by Robert Chandler