Looking Glass by R.S. Thomas

 There is a game I play
with a mirror, approaching
it when I am not there,
as though to take by surprise.

the self that is my familiar. It
is in vain. Like one eternally
in ambush, fast or slow
as I may raise my head, it raises

its own, catching me in the act,
disarming me by acquaintance,
looking full into my face as often
as I try looking at it askance.


by R. S. Thomas
from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)

Pre-Cambrian by R. S. Thomas

Here I think of the centuries,

six million of them, they say.

Yesterday a fine rain fell;

today the warmth has brought out the crowds.

After Christ, what? The molecules

are without redemption. My shadow

sunning itself on this stone

remembers the lava. Zeus looked down

on a brave world, but there was

no love there; the architecture

of their temples was less permanent

than these waves. Plato, Aristotle,

all those who furrow the calmness

of their foreheads are responsible

for the bomb. I am charmed here

by the serenity of the reflections

in the sea's mirror. It is a window

as well. What I need

now is a faith to enable me to out-stare

the grinning faces of the inmates of its asylum,

the failed experiments God put away.


by R. S. Thomas

from Frequencies (1978)

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)

 

‘People, Years and Nations’ by Velimir Khlebnikov

People, years and nations

run away forever

like a flowing river.

In nature’s supple mirror

We’re the fish,

dark’s ghosts are gods,

and the constellations

knot night’s nets.

 

by Велимир Хлебников (Velimir Khlebnikov)

a.k.a. Виктор Владимирович Хлебников

(Viktor Vladimirovich Khlebnikov)

(1915)

translated by Robert Chandler


Fun fact: This was written shortly before the centenary of Derzhavin’s death, continuing the theme’s of his last poem.

‘Let Any, Who Will, Still Bask In The South…’ by Anna Akhmatova

“You are with me once more, Autumn my friend!”

Annensky

 

Let any, who will, still bask in the south

On the paradisal sand,

It’s northerly here – and this year of the north

Autumn will be my friend.

 

I’ll live, in a dream, in a stranger’s house

Where perhaps I have died,

Where the mirrors keep something mysterious

To themselves in the evening light.

 

I shall walk between black fir-trees,

Where the wind is at one with the heath,

And a dull splinter of the moon will glint

Like an old knife with jagged teeth.

 

Our last, blissful unmeeting I shall bring

To sustain me here –

The cold, pure, light flame of conquering

What I was destined for.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1957)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

The Cat and the Sea by R. S. Thomas

It is a matter of a black cat

On a bare cliff top in March

Whose eyes anticipate

The gorse petals;

 

The formal equation of

A domestic purr

With the cold interiors

Of the sea’s mirror.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Poetry for Supper (1958)

Epic Motifs [extract] by Anna Akhmatova

I would gaze anxiously, as if into a mirror,

at the grey canvas, and with every week

my likeness to my new depiction grew

more strange and bitter…

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1914-1916)

translation by Boris Dralyuk and Margo Shohl Rosen


This extract is about a well known potrait of Akhmatova by Nathan Altman (1914) presented above for ease of reference. Nathan Isaevich Altman was a Jewish-Russian, Soviet, avant-garde artist, Cubist painter, stage designer and book illustrator.