All men. Or shall we say,
not chauvinistic, all
people, it is all
people? Beasts manure
the ground, nibble to
promote growth; but man,
the consumer, swallows
like the god of mythology
his own kind. Beasts walk
among birds and never
do the birds scare; but the human,
that alienating shadow
with the Bible under the one
arm and under the other
the bomb, as often
drawn as he is repelled
by the stranger waiting for him
in the mirror – how
can he return home
when his gaze forages
beyond the stars? Pity him,
then, this winged god, rupturer
of gravity's control
accelerating on and
outward in the afterglow
of a receding laughter?
by R. S. Thomas
from No Truce With The Furies (1995)
The smell of hay is on the field,
and singing as they go
the women toss the heavy yield
and spread it row by row.
And yonder where the hay is dry
each man his forkful throws,
until the wagon loaded high
is like a house that grows.
The poor old horse who draws the cart
stands rooted in the heat,
with sagging knees and ears apart,
asleep upon his feet.
But little zhuchka speeds away
in barking brave commotion,
to dip and flounder in the hay
as in a grassy ocean.
by Аполлон Николаевич Майков (Apollon Nikolayevich Maikov)
translated by Frances Cornford and Esther Polianowsky Salaman
Fun facts: Zhuchka means ‘Bug’, as in a small insect using diminutive terminology as жучка (zhuchka) is a diminutive of жук (Zhuk). In Russian, perhaps even more so than in English even due to it’s various tonal aspects and gendered form (which if you look at the original version below clearly has alternating hard and soft line endings (though only in the first and last stanzas does it have what might be considered Pushkin verse i.e. alternating masculine and feminine lines), diminutives are used within children’s works to create a gentler tone.
This used to be the first poem that Russian children would learn due to it’s simple words and easy rhyme scheme (when in the original Russian obviously though the above translation gives a good translation of it with a little necessary artistic license due to the differences in the language). Here is a recital of the poem in Russian.
Maikov was best known for his lyric verse showcasing images of Russian villages, nature, and history. His love for ancient Greece and Rome, which he studied for much of his life, is also reflected in his works. Maikov spent four years translating the epic The Tale of Igor’s Campaign (1870) into modern Russian. He translated the folklore of Belarus, Greece, Serbia and Spain, as well as works by Heine, Adam Mickiewicz and Goethe, among others. Several of Maykov’s poems were set to music by Russian composers, among them Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky.
Innokenty Annensky once wrote:
“a poet usually chooses their own, particular method of communication with nature, and often this sis sport. Poets of the future may be cyclists or aeronauts. Byron was a swimmer, Goethe a skater, Lermontov a rider, many others of our poets (Turgenev, both Tolstoys, Nekrasov, Fet, Yazykov) were hunters. Maikov was a passionate fisherman and this occupation was in perfect harmony with his contemplative nature, with his love for a fair, sunny day, all of which is so vividly expressed in his poetry.”
Here is the poem in it’s original form:
Пахнет сеном над лугами…
В песне душу веселя,
Бабы с граблями рядами
Ходят, сено шевеля.
Там – сухое убирают;
Мужички его кругом
На воз вилами кидают…
Воз растет, растет, как дом.
В ожиданьи конь убогий
Точно вкопанный стоит…
Уши врозь, дугою ноги
И как будто стоя спит…
Только жучка удалая
В рыхлом сене, как в волнах,
То взлетая, то ныряя,
Скачет, лая впопыхах.
It is a gesture against the wild,
The ungovernable sea of grass;
A place to remember love in,
To be lonely for a while;
To forget the voices of children
Calling from a locked room;
To substitute for the care
Of one querulous human
Hundreds of dumb needs.
It is the old kingdom of man.
Answering to their names,
Out of the soil the buds come,
The silent detonations
Of power weilded without sin.
by R. S. Thomas
from The Bread of Truth (1963)
We remember wartime
The leaves were red
And skies were tight.
Singers in uniform
Cracked burst buckled
The living the key workers
The throats of loyal trumpets
The minds of washed out cockpits
Our prayers were pistons
Our leaders in bunkers
As indestructable as rats
The tongues and necks
Of true survivors
In one cold wood
A headless boy
A thin man prays
In his own blood
On every side
Wait to be counted
In old blood
Are not doors
They are the walls
Of empty tombs
At stated times
By true survivors
by Emyr Humphreys
Fun fact: He registered as a conscientious objector in the Second World War, working on a farm, and later doing relief work in Egypt and Italy. After the war he worked as a teacher, as a radio producer at the BBC and later became a lecturer in drama at Bangor University.
Land of my mothers, how shall my brothers praise you?
With timbrels or rattles or tins?
How shall we praise you on the banks of the rhymneying waters,
On the smokey shores and the glittering shores of Glamorgan,
On wet mornings in the bare fields behind the Newport docks,
On fine evenings when lovers walk by Bedwellty Church,
When the cuckoo calles to miners coming home to Rhymney Bridge,
When the wild rose defies the Industrial Revolution
And when the dear old drunken lady sings of Jesus and a little shilling.
Come down, O girls of song, to the bank of the coal canal
At twilight, at twilight
When mongrels fight
And long rats bite
Under the shadows of pit-head light,
And dance, you daughters of Gwenllian,
Dance in the dust in the lust of delight.
And you who have prayed in the golden pastures
And oiled the wheels of the Western Tradition
And trod where bards have danced to church,
Pay a penny for this fragment of a burning torch.
It will never go out.
It will gather unto itself all the fires
That blaze between the heavens above and the earth beneath
Until the flame shall frighten each mud-hearted hypocrite
And scatter the beetles fattened on the cream of corruption,
The beetles that riddle the ramparts of Man.
Pay a penny for my singing torch,
O my sisters, my brothers of the land of my mothers,
The land of our fathers, our troubles, our dreams,
The land of Llewellyn and Shoni bach Shinkin,
The land of the sermons that peddle the streams,
The land of the englyn and Crawshay’s old engine,
The land that is sometimes as proud as she seems.
And the sons of the mountains and sons of the valleys
O lift up your hearts, and then
lift up your feet.
by Idris Davies