‘God’s fool, God’s jester’ by R. S. Thomas

God’s fool, God’s jester

capering at his right hand

in torment, proving the fallacy

of the impassible, reminding

him of omnipotence’s limits.

.

I have seen the figure

on our human tree, burned

into it by thought’s lightning

and it writhed as I looked.

.

A god had no alternative

but himself. With what crown

plurality but with thorns?

Whose is the mirthless laughter

at the beloved irony

at his side? The universe over,

omniscience warns, the crosses

are being erected from such

material as is available

to remorse. What are the stars

but time’s fires going out

before ever the crucified

can be taken down?

Today

there is only this one option

before me. Remembering,

as one goes out into space,

on the way to the sun,

how dark it will grow,

I stare up into the darkness

of his countenance, knowing it

a reflection of the three days and nights

at the back of love’s looking-

glass even a god must spend.

.

.

by R. S. Thomas

from Counterpoint; 3. Crucifixion (1990)

‘You’re not alone. You haven’t died’ by Osip Mandelstam

You're not alone. You haven't died,
while you still,beggar-woman at your side,
take pleasure in the grandeur of the plain,
the gloom, the cold,the whirlwinds of snow.


In sumptuous penury, in mighty poverty
live comforted and at rest -
your days and nights are blest,
your sweet-voiced labour without sin.


Unhappy he, a shadow of himself,
whom a bark astounds and the wind mows down,
and to be pitied he, more dead than alive,
who begs handouts from a ghost.


by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam.)
His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
(1937)
translated by Andrew Davis

Hallowe’en by R.S. Thomas

Outside a surfeit of planes.

Inside the hunger of the departed

to come back. ‘Ah, erstwhile humans,

would you make your mistakes

over again? In life, as in love,

the second time around is

no better.’

I confront their expressions

in the embers, on grey walls:

faces among the stones watching

me to see if this night

of all nights I will make sacrifice

to the spirits of hearth and of

roof-tree, pouring a libation.

 

‘Stay where you are,’ I implore.

‘This is no world for escaped beings

to make their way back into.

The well that you took your pails

to is polluted. At the centre

of the mind’s labyrinth to machine howls

for the sacrifice of the affections;

vocabulary has on a soft collar

but the tamed words are not to be trusted.

As long as the flames hum, making

their honey, better to look in

upon truth’s comb than to

take off as we do on fixed wings

for depollinated horizons.’

 

by R. S Thomas

from No Truce with the Furies (1995)

‘Drawing the youthful Goethe to their breast’ by Osip Mandelstam

Drawing the youthful Goethe to their breast,

those Roman nights took on the weight of gold…

I’ve much to answer for, yet still am graced;

an outlawed life has depths yet to be told.

 

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)

(1935)

translated by Robert Chandler

Theme for a Story by Daniil Kharms

A certain engineer made up his mind to build a giant brick wall across all of Petersburg. He thinks over how this is to be accomplished, he doesn’t sleep nights reasoning it out. Gradually a club of thinker-engineers forms and a plan for building the wall is produced. It is decided that the wall will be built during the night and in such a way that the whole thing is put up in one night, so that it would appear as a surprise to all. Workers are rounded up. The job is divided up. The city authorities are lured away, and finally the night comes when the wall is to be built. Only four people know of the building of the wall. The engineers and workers are given exact orders as to where each should go and what each should do there. Thanks to exacting calculations, they’re able to build the wall in one night. The next day Petersburg is all commotion. The inventor of the wall himself is dispondent. What this wall was good for, he himself never knew.

 

by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)

(1930)

translated by Matvei Yankelevich