Holy Spring by Dylan Thomas

O
Out of a bed of love
When that immortal hospital made one more moove to soothe
The curless counted body,
And ruin and his causes
Over the barbed and shooting sea assumed an army
And swept into our wounds and houses,
I climb to greet the war in which I have no heart but only
That one dark I owe my light,
Call for confessor and wiser mirror but there is none
To glow after the god stoning night
And I am struck as lonely as a holy marker by the sun

No
Praise that the spring time is all
Gabriel and radiant shrubbery as the morning grows joyful
Out of the woebegone pyre
And the multitude’s sultry tear turns cool on the weeping wall,
My arising prodgidal
Sun the father his quiver full of the infants of pure fire,
But blessed be hail and upheaval
That uncalm still it is sure alone to stand and sing
Alone in the husk of man’s home
And the mother and toppling house of the holy spring,
If only for a last time.

by Dylan Thomas
(November 1944)

Additional Information: In November 1944, waking from a marriage bed to a world at war Thomas rejoices in being alive and singing ‘if only’, as the poem says, ‘for a last time’.

Гражданская война (Civil War) by Maksimilian Voloshin

Some rose from the underground,
Some from exile, factories, mines,
Poisoned by suspicious freedom
And the bitter smoke of cities.
Others from military ranks,
From noblemen’s ravished nests,
Where to the country churchyard
They carried dead fathers and brothers.
In some even now is not extinguished
The intoxication of immemorial conflagrations;
And the wild free spirit of the steppe,
Of both the Razins and the Kudaiars, lives on.
In others, deprived of all roots, is
The torn fabric and sad discord of our days –
The putrefied spirit of the Neva capital,
Tolstoy and Chekhov, Dostoyevsky.
Some raise on placards
Their ravings about bourgeois evil,
About the radiant pure proletariat,
A Philistine paradise on earth.
In others is all the blossom and rot of empires,
All the gold, all the decay of ideas,
The splendor of all great fetishes,
And of all scientific superstition.
Some go to liberate
Moscow and forge Russia anew,
Others, after unleashing the elements,
Want to remake the entire world.
In these and in others war inspires
Anger, greed, the dark intoxication of wild outbursts –
And in a greedy pack the plunderer
Afterward steals to heroes and leaders
In order to break up and sell out to enemies
The wondrously beautiful might of Russia,
To let rot piles of wheat,
To dishonor her heavens,
To devour her riches, incinerate her forests,
And suck dry her seas and ore.
And the thunder of battles will not cease
Across all the expanses of the southern steppes
Amid the golden splendor
Of harvests trampled by horses.
Both here and there among the ranks
Resounds one and the same voice:
“Who is not with us is against us!”
“No one is indifferent, truth is with us!”
And I stand one among them
In the howling flame and smoke
And with all my strength
I pray for them and for the others.

by Максимилиа́н Алекса́ндрович Воло́шин
(Maksimilian Voloshin)
(22 November 1920)
from the cycle ‘Strife
with Wrangel
Koktebel, Crimea
translated by Albert C. Todd

Гражданская война

Одни восстали из подполий,
Из ссылок, фабрик, рудников,
Отравленные тёмной волей
И горьким дымом городов.

Другие — из рядов военных,
Дворянских разорённых гнёзд,
Где проводили на погост
Отцов и братьев убиенных.

В одних доселе не потух
Хмель незапамятных пожаров,
И жив степной, разгульный дух
И Разиных, и Кудеяров.

В других — лишённых всех корней —
Тлетворный дух столицы Невской:
Толстой и Чехов, Достоевский —
Надрыв и смута наших дней.

Одни возносят на плакатах
Свой бред о буржуазном зле,
О светлых пролетариатах,
Мещанском рае на земле…

В других весь цвет, вся гниль империй,
Всё золото, весь тлен идей,
Блеск всех великих фетишей
И всех научных суеверий.

Одни идут освобождать
Москву и вновь сковать Россию,
Другие, разнуздав стихию,
Хотят весь мир пересоздать.

В тех и в других война вдохнула
Гнев, жадность, мрачный хмель разгула,
А вслед героям и вождям
Крадётся хищник стаей жадной,
Чтоб мощь России неоглядной
Pазмыкать и продать врагам:

Cгноить её пшеницы груды,
Её бесчестить небеса,
Пожрать богатства, сжечь леса
И высосать моря и руды.

И не смолкает грохот битв
По всем просторам южной степи
Средь золотых великолепий
Конями вытоптанных жнитв.

И там и здесь между рядами
Звучит один и тот же глас:
«Кто не за нас — тот против нас.
Нет безразличных: правда с нами».

А я стою один меж них
В ревущем пламени и дыме
И всеми силами своими
Молюсь за тех и за других.

The poem, in it’s original Russian form, recited by Boris Chenitsa.

Addition information: Voloshin‘s poem – published on the centenary (plus one year) of the poem’s creation!

The ‘with Wrangel’ mentioned in the poem’s accreditation I believe refers to Pyotr Wrangel who was a Russian officer of Baltic German origin in the Imperial Russian Army. During the later stages of the Russian Civil War, he was commanding general of the anti-Bolshevik White Army in Southern Russia. After his side lost the civil war in 1920, he left Russia. He was known as one of the most prominent exiled White émigrés and military leader of the South Russia (as commander in chief).

Razin refers to Stepan (Stenka) Razin (ca. 1630 – 1671), a Don Cossack who led a peasant rebellion in 1670 – 1671. Celebrated in folk songs and folktales, he was captured and publicly quartered alive.

According to my book’s notes “Kudaiar refers to a legendary brigand celebrated in folk songs”. However translating it myself from the Russian root Кудеяр it is actually better Latinised/transliterated to Kudeyar regarding a Russian legendary folk hero whose story is told in Nikolay Kostomarov‘s 1875 novel of the same name. It should be noted there were apparently several Cossack robbers who adopted this name. In a letter to tsar Ivan IV a Muscovite boyar, from Crimea, reported that “there is only one brigand left here – the accursed Kudeyar“. The name is apparently Persian, composed of two elements standing for “God” and “man”.

The Neva capital refers to St Petersburg. Its location on the Neva River was the constant feature of the capital, whose name was changing from St Petersburg to Petrograd to Leningrad during the era.

Koktebel is an urban-type settlement and one of the most popular resort townlets in South-Eastern Crimea. It is situated on the shore of the Black Sea about halfway between Feodosia and Sudak and is subordinated to the Feodosia Municipality. It is best known for its literary associations as Voloshin made it his residence, where he entertained many distinguished guests, including Marina Tsvetayeva, Osip Mandelshtam, and Andrey Bely (who died there). They all wrote remarkable poems in Koktebel. Another prominent literary resident of Koktebel was Ilya Ehrenburg who lived there circa 1919 while escaping from anti-Semitic riots in Kiev.

Voloshin, whose real surname was Kirilenko-Voloshin, was born into a noble family that included Zaporozhskie Cossacks and Germans Russified in the seventeenth century. He studied law at Moscow University, though he was unable to complete a degree because of his participation in student protests in 1898. He continued to study extensively in Paris from 1903 to 1917 and traveled throughout Europe and Russia. Voloshin settled in Russia for good in 1917, just before the February Revolution, and spent the rest of his years in Koktebel in the Crimea.

Voloshin always stood alone against literary currents and intrigues. The hospitality of his home in Koktebel, which has been turned into a museum, was open to all; during the Civil War both a Red leader and a White officer found refuge in it. Voloshin’s position was neutral but not indifferent, for he condemned but the excesses of the Red Terror and the bloody actions of the White Guards. His response to the Revolution, however, never slipped into spite or petty argument or pessimism, as did the opinions of many of his literary colleagues. His response was much like Aleksandr Blok’s poem “The Twelve” (see page 71), in which a white apparition of Christ rises above the Red Guards marching through a blizzard.

Voloshin based his writing to a large extent on French poetic models, but in his best works – particularly in the Civil War period – he freed himself from literariness and plunged into the maelstrom of Russian events. In these poems he tried hard to stand above the conflict, “praying for the one side as much as for the other”. Nevertheless, his sympathies were not on the side of obsolete tsarism but with the future of Russia, its people, and its culture. His celebrated poem “Holy Russia” was misinterpreted by Proletkult critics as anti-Bolshevik; its lines “You yielded to passion’s beckoning call / And gave yourself to bandit and to thief” refer not only to the Bolsheviks but to the gangs of anarchist-bandits who roamed through Russia. Voloshin’s interpretation of Russian history is controversial, subjective, and sometimes mystical, but it always conveys an undoubting faith that Russia will emerge from its fiery baptism purified and renewed.

By the time of his return to Russia from Paris in 1917, Voloshin had become a sophisticated European intellectual, more philosophical, and more socially and historically minded. Enormous intellectual and artistic daring was needed for him to call Peter the Great the “first Bolshevik.” After his return, his poetry became viewed by Soviet critics with dogmatic narrowness and in the latter years of his life went unpublished. A single-volume Soviet edition of Voloshin’s work in 1977 unfortunately made him appear an aesthete, not the chronicler of the civil war of Russia. Yet it was in the latter role that he grew into a great poet; indeed, a series of definitions from his poem “Russia” could serve as a philosophic textbook for the study of the nation’s history. Voloshin made himself a great poet by never succumbing to indifference, by his understanding of the historical laws of a social explosion, and by his courage to bless and not to curse.

Biographical information about Voloshin, p.33 – 34, ‘Twentieth Century Russian Poetry’ (1993), compiled by Yevgeny Yevtushenko (ed. Albert C. Todd and Max Hayward) , published by Fourth Estate Limited by arrangement with Doubleday of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc.

Bomber by Ifor Thomas

After fifty-six years the aluminium is slate grey

And the ribs of the wings as light as bird bones.

Wind rattles through the remains of the bomber

that failed to clear the escarpment of Cwar y Cigfan.

 

The walkers rest here, throw stones for the dog

Drink beer, share a bag of crisps, lean against the rough memorial.

The wreaths of last November have moulted their poppies

There is a wooden cross jammed between stones.

 

It’s a long way home for the five Canadians

Whose names are now barely legible.

Above a hang glider hovers on the edge of a thermal

Then skitters into a mocking dive.

 

Clouds are solid enough to reach up and grab

like the craggy hand that pulled these airmen to earth

splattered their blood over the stones and sheep shit of Cwar y Cigfan.

Made them forever part of Wales.

 

By Ifor Thomas

Remembrance Day, Aberystwyth by Sally Roberts Jones

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


Additional information:

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.

O Make Me A Mask by Dylan Thomas

O make me a mask and a wall to shut from your spies

Of the sharp, enamelled eyes and the spectacled claws

Rape and rebellion in the nurseries of the face,

Gag of a dumbstruck tree to block from bare enemies

The bayonet tongue in this undefended prayerpiece,

The present mouth, and the sweetly blown trumpet of lies,

Shaped in old armour and oak the counternance of a dunce

To shield the glistening brain and blunt the examiners,

And a tear-stained widower grief drooped from the lashes

To veil belladonna and let the dry eyes perceive

Others betray the lamenting lies of their losses

By the curve of the nude mouth or the laugh up the sleeve.

 

by Dylan Thomas

(Notebook version March 1933; rephrased and severely shortened November 1937)


 

He seeks to defend his inner privacy against the sharp examination of strangers and critics.