Yes, that's how I was,
I know that face,
That bony figure
Of flesh or limb;
In health happy,
Careless of the claim
Of the world's sick
Or the world's poor;
In pain craven -
Lord, breathe once more
On that sad mirror,
Let me be lost
In mist for ever
Rather than own
Such bleak reflections,
Let me go back
On my two knees
Slowly to undo
The knot of life
That was tied there.
By R. S. Thomas
from Tares (1961)
Spray by the castle hurls across the rail;
The mermaid stares forever across the sea,
Dry-eyed; they lay their poppies at her feet,
But she looks away, to the movement of a sail
Far over breakers; knows not their fallen dead,
Hears not their autumn hymn or the signal guns.
Spray by the castle, spray in November air,
Yearn for the land as she for the empty waves,
(As the dead, perhaps, for their lost and silent home).
Everything empty: castle and crowd and wreaths
Seperate beings; and over them, kissing the rain,
The shape of a fish in bronze, without speech, without soul.
On Sundays remember the dead, but not here.
This is another country, another lord
Rules in its acres, who has no respect for love.
Always the sea sucks at the stones of the wall,
Always the mermaid leans to the distant sail;
Already the wreaths are limp and the children wail.
By Sally Roberts Jones
Aberystwyth ( literally “Mouth of the Ystwyth [river]“) is a historic market town, administrative centre, community, and holiday resort within Ceredigion, Wales, often colloquially known as Aber. It is located near the confluence of the rivers Ystwyth and Rheidol. Historically part of Cardiganshire, since the late 19th century, Aberystwyth has also been a major Welsh educational centre, with the establishment of a university college there in 1872.
The mermaid mentioned in this poem is a bronze statue at the base of the Aberystwyth town war memorial which is considered by some to be one of the finest in Britain. Contemporary reports record that the top figure represents Victory and the figure at the base, i.e. the mermaid, represents Humanity emerging from the effects of war. It records the names of 111 Aberystwyth men who died as a result of action during the First World war and 78 men and women who died during the Second World War. It is one of a number in the town: others are in chapels, places of work and schools.
Aberystwyth Castle (Welsh: Castell Aberystwyth) is a Grade I listed Edwardian fortress located in Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, Mid Wales. It was built in response to the First Welsh War in the late 13th century, replacing an earlier fortress located a mile to the south. During a national uprising by Owain Glyndŵr, the Welsh captured the castle in 1404, but it was recaptured by the English four years later. In 1637 it became a Royal mint by Charles I, and produced silver shillings. The castle was slighted by Oliver Cromwell in 1649.
‘Lord, in broad daylight
apathy overcame me.
Allow me to lie down and fall asleep Lord,
and while I sleep fill me Lord
with your strength.
There is much I want to know,
but neither books nor people
will tell me this.
May You alone Lord enlighten me
by means of my verses.
Wake me strong for the battle with meaning,
swift in the arrangement of words
and zealous to praise the name of God
for ever and ever.
by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)
a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)
translated by Robert Chandler
It sailed across the startled town,
over chapels, over chimney-pots,
wind-blown above a block of flats
before it floated down.
Oddly, it landed where I stood,
and finding’s keeping, as you know.
I breathed on it, I polished it,
till it shone like living blood.
It was my shame, it was my joy,
it brought me notoriety.
From all of Wales the rude boy came,
it ceased to be a toy.
I heard the girls of Cardiff sigh
When my balloon, my red balloon,
soared higher like a happiness
towards the dark blue sky.
Nine months since, have I boasted of
my unique, my only precious;
but to no one dare I show it now
however long they swear their love.
‘It’s a Jew’s balloon,’ my best friend cried,
‘stained with our dear Lord’s blood.’
‘That I’m a Jew is true,’ I said,
said I, ‘that cannot be denied.’
‘What relevance?’ I asked, surprised,
‘what’s religion to do with this?’
‘Your red balloon’s a Jew’s balloon,
let’s get it circumcised.’
Then some boys laughed and some boys cursed,
some unsheathed their dirty knives:
some lunged, some clawed at my balloon,
but still it would not burst.
They bled my nose, they cut my eye,
half conscious in the street I heard,
‘Give up, give up your red balloon.’
I don’t know exactly why.
Father, bolt the door, turn the key,
lest those sad, brash boys return
to insult my faith and steal
my red balloon from me.
by Dannie Abse
from Poems, Golders Green (1962)
Fun facts: Dannie Abse was born in Cardiff, Wales, to a Jewish family. He was the younger brother of politician and reformer Leo Abse and the eminent psychoanalyst, Wilfred Abse. Unusually for a middle-class Jewish boy, Dannie Abse attended St Illtyd’s College, a working-class Catholic school in Splott.
Help me, O Lord, through this night.
I fear for life, your slave.
To live in Peter’s city is to sleep in a grave.
by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
translated by Robert Chandler
Lord, give them freedom who are weak,
and sanctify the people’s ways,
grant them their justice which they seek,
and bless their labouring days.
May freedom, but a seed at first,
untrammelled rise to flower and spread.
For knowledge let the people thirst,
and light the path ahead.
Lord, set your chosen followers free,
release them from their ancient bands,
entrust the flag of liberty
at last, to Russian hands.
by Николай Алексеевич Некрасов (Nikolay Alexeyevich Nekrasov)
translated by Frances Cornford and Esther Polianowsky Salaman
Recital in the original Russian:
Original Russian Cyrillic text:
Господь! твори добро народу!
Благослови народный труд,
Упрочь народную свободу,
Упрочь народу правый суд!
Чтобы благие начинанья
Могли свободно возрасти,
разлей в народе жажду знанья
И к знанью укажи пути!
И от ярма порабощенья
Твоих избранников спаси,
Которым знамя просвещенья,
Господь! ты вверишь на Руси…
Could Beatrice write with Dante’s passion,
Or Laura have glorified love’s pain?
Women poets – I set the fashion…
Lord, how to shut them up again!
by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)
from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)
translation by D. M. Thomas
Sir Fitz, gallant knight,
Rides over the plain
Wearly now, in darkness and rain.
His day has been full
Of incredible deeds;
A hot bath and bed
Are now just what he needs.
He’s not brought his mac,
And water’s got in at the front
And the back.
Lem, his horse, is exhausted –
He’s a great weight is Sir –
And he hardly responds
To the touch of the spur.
But look! Far ahead
There’s the sight of a light –
For Fitz and his gee gee
A right welcome sight.
‘It’s a castle!’ cries Fitz,
‘One last effort, old nag,
Think of warm stables,
And hay in a bag!’
Soon the drawbridge is lowered,
The portcullis grinds up,
And our heroes plod in
For a bite and a sup.
Can you picture their faces,
Can you see their dismay
When they’re told
By the Lord of the place
They can’t stay?
Sir Fitz, it appears,
Who kills rogues by the dozen,
Has knocked off, amongst them,
The Lord’s second cousin.
‘Besides,’ growls the Lord.
If you want further reason,
We’re full up with tourists
This time of season.’
‘We’re both whacked,’ pleads Sir Fitz,
‘And old Lem’s got a cough.’
But the Lord of the castle again says,
‘At least,’ says Sir Fitz
With desperate force,
‘Let old Lem stay with you,
And give me a fresh horse.’
‘We’ve no horses to spare:
None to lend, none to flog;
I’ll tell you what, though,
I can find you a dog.’
‘A dog to ride out on!’ snorts Fitz,
‘Not at all,’ roars the Lord,
Laughter making him choke.
And the servants bring on,
At his word, a huge cur –
A mean-looking creature
with coarse ginger fur,
Cross-eyed and lop-sided,
Face fixed in a leer,
With a stump for a tail
And only one ear.
‘Well, Sir Fitz,’ says the Lord,
‘Doggy’s raring to go;
Saddle up and get mounted.’
Fitz’s answer came slow:
‘What’s a stupid suggestion;
I’m not going – that’s flat.
You can’t send a knight out
On a dog like that.’
– by Eric Finney