Then there is the clock's
commentary, the continuing
prose that is the under-current
of all poetry. We listen
to it as, on a desert island,
men do to the subdued
music of their blood in a shell.
Then take my hand that is
of the bone the island
is made of, and looking at
me say what time it is
on love's face, for we have
no business here other than
to disprove certainties the clock knows.
by R. S. Thomas
from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)
It was all arranged:
the virgin with child, the birth
in Bethlehem, the arid journey uphill
to Jerusalem. The prophets foretold
it, the scriptures conditioned him
to accept it. Judas went to his work
with his sour kiss; what else
could he do?
A wise old age,
the honours awarded for lasting,
are not for a saviour. He had
to be killed; salvation acquired
by an increased guilt. The tree,
with its roots in the mind’s dark,
was divinely planted, the original fork
in existence. There is no meaning in life,
unless men can be found to reject
love. God needs his martyrdom.
The mild eyes stare from the Cross
in perverse triumph. What does he care
that the people’s offerings are so small?
by R. S. Thomas
from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)
What’s war? What’s plague? We know that they will pass,
Judgement is passed, we see an end to them.
But which of us can cope with this fear, this –
The terror that is named the flight of time?
by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)
Komarovo, 9 September (1964)
translation by D. M. Thomas
When the night’s stallion
approaches us over the yellowing fields,
we see shafts of lonliness
in his eyes. The last wild flowers
have gone with the mares
he whinnied to, over the high-barred gate.
A barbed mockery of thorn-trees
and the two of us – jesting to catch
leaves feathering down – share
the hillside with the coal-hewn stallion.
Once, he had broken free, his spine
bridging the moor and the village,
hooves clicking the tongues of sleep.
Now, pushing flanks against staked branches,
he mules his raked flesh.
by Mike Jenkins
from Invisible Times
Job Davies, eighty-five
Winters old, and still alive
After the slow poison
and treachery of the seasons.
Miserable? Kick my arse!
It needs more than the rain’s hearse,
Wind-drawn to pull me off
The great perch of my laugh.
What’s living but courage?
Paunch full of hot porridge,
Nerves strengthened with tea,
Peat-black dawn found me
Mowing where the grass grew,
Bearded with golden dew.
Rhythm of the long scythe
Kept this tall frame lithe.
What to do? Stay green.
Never mind the machine,
Whose fuel is human souls.
Live large, man, and dream small.
– by R.S. Thomas
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
– by William Shakespeare