There by R.S. Thomas

They are those that life happens to.

They didn’t ask to be born

In those bleak farmsteads, but neither

Did they ask not. Life took the seed

And broadcast it upon the poor,

Rush-stricken soil, an experiment

In patience.

What is a man’s

Price? For promises of a break

In the clouds; for harvests that are not all

Wasted; for one animal born

Healthy, where seven have died,

He will kneel down and give thanks

In a chapel whose stones are wrenched

From the moorland.

I have watched them bent

For hours over their trade,

Speechless, and have held my tongue

From its question. It was not my part

To show them, like a meddler from the town,

their picture, nor the audiences

That look at them in pity or pride.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Pietà (1966)

The Island by R. S. Thomas

And God said, I will build a church here

And cause this people to worship me,

And afflict them with poverty and sickness

In return for centuries of hard work

And patience. And its walls shall be hard as

Their hearts, and its windows let in the light

Grudgingly, as their minds do, and the priest’s words be drowned

By the wind’s caterwauling. All this I will do,

 

Said God, and watch the bitterness in their eyes

Grow, and their lips suppurate with

Their prayers. And their women shall bring forth

On my altars, and I will choose the best

Of them to be thrown back into the sea.

 

And that was only on one island.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from H’m (1972)

Aside by R. S. Thomas

Take heart, Prytherch.

Over you the planets stand,

And have seen more ills than yours.

This canker was in the bone

Before man bent to his image

In the pool’s glass. Violence has been

And will be again. Between better

And worse is no bad place

 

For a labourer, whose lot is to seem

Stationary in traffic so fast.

Turn aside, I said; do not turn back.

There is no forward and no back

In the fields, only the year’s two

Solstices, and patience between.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Pieta (1966)

‘Neither By Cart Nor Boat…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Neither by cart nor boat

Could you have got here.

On rotten snow

The deep water;

Farmsteads marooned and

Ah! that morose

Soul, that Robinson,

Is so close.

How often can

He inspect sledge and skis,

Return to the divan

To sit and wait for me?

And his short spur grinds

Sheer through the vile

Rug. Now mirrors learn

Not to expect smiles.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1916)

– from Белая стая (White Flock, 1917) translation by D. M. Thomas