One Day by R.S. Thomas

In that day language

shall expose its sores,

begging for the alms

we can not give. ‘Leave it’

we shall say, ‘on the pavement

of the quotidian.’ There is

a cause there is nobody

to plead, yet whose sealed lips

are its credentials. What

does the traveller to your door

ask, but that you sit down

and share with him that

for which there are no words?

I look forward to the peace

conferences of the future

when lies, hidden behind speeches,

shall have their smiles blown away

by the dove’s wings, fanning in silence.

 

by R. S. Thomas

Mass for Hard Times (1992)

Advertisements

Roncesvalles by Varlam Shalamov

I was captivated straight away,

tired of the lies all around me,

by that proud, tragic tale

of a warrior’s death in the mountains.

 

And it may have been Roland’s horn

that called me, like Charlemagne,

to a silent pass where the boldest

of many bold fighters lay slain.

 

I saw a sword lying shattered

after long combat with stone –

a witness to forgotten battles

recorded by stone alone.

 

And those bitter splinters of steel

have dazzled me many a time.

That tale of helpless defeat

can’t help but overwhelm.

 

I have held that horn to my lips

and tried more than once to blow,

but I cannot call up the power

of that ballad from long ago.

 

There may be some skill I’m lacking –

or else I’m not bold enough

to blow in my shy anguish

on Roland’s rust-eaten horn.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1950?)

translated by Robert Chandler


Fun facts: Shalamov references one of his favourite poems by Marina Tsvetaeva by mentioning Roland’s Horn calling to him.

Roncesvalles is famous in history and legend for the defeat of Charlemagne and the death of Roland in 778, during the battle of Roncevaux Pass, when Charlemagne‘s rear guard was destroyed by Basque tribes. Among those killed in the battle was a relatively obscure Frankish commander, Roland, whose death elevated him and the paladins, the foremost warriors of Charlemagne’s court, into legend, becoming the quintessential role model for knights and also greatly influencing the code of chivalry in the Middle Ages. There are numerous written works about the battle, some of which change and exaggerate events. The battle is recounted in the 11th century The Song of Roland, the oldest surviving major work of French literature, and in Orlando Furioso, one of the most celebrated works of Italian literature.

‘Memory Has Veiled Much Evil…’ by Varlam Shalamov

Memory has veiled

much evil;

her long lies leave nothing

to believe.

 

There may be no cities

or green gardens;

only fields of ice

and salty oceans.

 

The world may be pure snow,

a starry road;

just northern forest

in the mind of God.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1952?)

translated by Robert Chandler

O Make Me A Mask by Dylan Thomas

O make me a mask and a wall to shut from your spies

Of the sharp, enamelled eyes and the spectacled claws

Rape and rebellion in the nurseries of the face,

Gag of a dumbstruck tree to block from bare enemies

The bayonet tongue in this undefended prayerpiece,

The present mouth, and the sweetly blown trumpet of lies,

Shaped in old armour and oak the counternance of a dunce

To shield the glistening brain and blunt the examiners,

And a tear-stained widower grief drooped from the lashes

To veil belladonna and let the dry eyes perceive

Others betray the lamenting lies of their losses

By the curve of the nude mouth or the laugh up the sleeve.

 

by Dylan Thomas

(Notebook version March 1933; rephrased and severely shortened November 1937)


 

He seeks to defend his inner privacy against the sharp examination of strangers and critics.

I Have Longed To Move Away by Dylan Thomas

I have longed to move away

From the hissing of the spent lie

And the old terrors’ continual cry

Growing more terrible as the day

Goes over the hill into the deep sea;

I have longed to move away

From the repetition of salutes,

For there are ghosts in the air

And ghostly echoes on paper,

And the thunder of calls and notes.

 

I have longed to move away but am afraid;

Some life, yet unspent, might explode

Out of the old lie burning on the ground,

And, crackling into the air, leave me half-blind.

Neither by night’s ancient fear,

The parting of hat from hair,

Pursed lips at the receiver,

Shall I fall to death’s feather.

By these I would not care to die,

Half convention and half lie.

 

by Dylan Thomas