Some Fathers by Peter Gruffydd

They borrowed ten bob, sloped off
to the pub or club, grew potatoes,
caulis, leeks in dead-straight lines,
remembered, I mean, were in, the Second
World War, cracked jokes, jokes about Hitler,
Goebbels, Stalin, even Churchill,
did odd things, odd things, look after
old ladies in their rich incontinence,
or drew cartoons, sketched for small mags,
cartoons, sketched, drew, small mags.

They seemed to have lots of patience,
except when opening time loomed
over some petty duty, like work.
Mine had a second childhood, a red
scooter which he regularly came off,
half-pissed back from a country pub,
mistook a bush for a turning home.
He carried on until Mother nagged
him into giving-up his latecome
burn-ups, so went sketching no more.

I’m a father now, think my sons could
sometime achieve this state, make tea
like tar, maybe keep allotments, worry
about their kids, trudge to some bloody
boring jobs to feed the family’s faces,
swear with cronies, be hurt when kids
call them old fart, stupid sod, or worse,
wonder where they too went wrong,

Pray there’s no war to haunt their nights,
make them keep graveyard horrors at bay,
with favourite ales, quips and long tales,
Nuclear families, bowed with labels, stagger
on, sperm-count falling day by day,
Still I remember those fathers, leaning on
sticks, pint in hand, know they had a sense
of what it’s all about, a cod-code to keep
and a smile for outrageous stupidity
because it was to be expected.

by Peter Gruffydd

Further information: There is a PDF help-sheet discussing the poem line by line produced by Dr Jamie Harris (Aberystwyth University, August 2019) for CREW. The following is the biography provided at the start of that document.

Peter Gruffydd was born in Liverpool in 1935. He first moved to Wales at the age of five, following his evacuation in early 1941 (due to the Second World War). Having already learned Welsh, he then began studying English at Bangor University. His time living in Wales was brief, and he has spent most of his life in England, living in Liverpool, the West Midlands, and Bristol. Gruffydd was a member of Plaid Cymru and a Welsh nationalist (his movement into Welsh politics mirrors that of the Welsh intellectual Saunders Lewis, an ardent nationalist who was born in Liverpool). Gruffydd’s nationalist politics is evident in some of his poetry, such as ‘The Small Nation’, which Matthew Jarvis suggests ‘is substantially a lament for a Wales that the poem’s speaker sees as having lost courage’, and which foresees ‘The slow funeral of a small nation’.

Before he became known by the surname with which he appears in the Poetry 1900-2000 anthology, Gruffydd published under the name Peter M. Griffith (the English-spelling, but pronounced in a similar same way). In 1993, Gruffydd became a founder member of the Welsh Branch of PEN International (now Wales PEN Cymru), an organisation which advocates on behalf of writers across the world.

Although his poems have appeared in several poetry magazines, Gruffydd has one solitary collection to his name, 1972’s The Shivering Seed. His earliest significant poetry publication was in Triad, with two other notable Welsh ‘Second Flowering’ poets, Harri Webb and Meic Stephens.

Dr Jamie Harris (Aberystwyth University, August 2019) for CREW

‘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