Winged God by R. S. Thomas

All men. Or shall we say,
not chauvinistic, all
people, it is all
people? Beasts manure
the ground, nibble to
promote growth; but man,
the consumer, swallows
like the god of mythology
his own kind. Beasts walk
among birds and never
do the birds scare; but the human,
that alienating shadow
with the Bible under the one
arm and under the other
the bomb, as often
drawn as he is repelled
by the stranger waiting for him
in the mirror – how
can he return home
when his gaze forages
beyond the stars? Pity him,
then, this winged god, rupturer
of gravity's control
accelerating on and
outward in the afterglow
of a receding laughter?

by R. S. Thomas
from No Truce With The Furies (1995)
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Eschatology by R. S. Thomas

It was our last inter-glacial:
the flies, people,
the one as numerous
as the other. We talked
peace, and brought our arms up to date.
The young ones professed
love, embarassing themselves
with their language. As though
coming round on a new
gyre, we approached God
from the far side, an extinct concept.
no one returned from our space
probes, yet still there were
volunteers, believing that as
gravity slackened its hold
on the body, so would time
on the mind. Our scientists,
immaculately dressed not
conceived, preached to us
from their space-stations, calling us
to consider the clockwork birds
and fabricated lilies, how they
also, as they were conditioned to
do, were neither toiling nor spinning.


by R. S. Thomas
from Mass for Hard Times (1992)E

Christian eschatology is a major branch of study within Christian theology dealing with the “last things.” Eschatology, from two Greek words meaning “last” (ἔσχατος) and “study” (-λογία), is the study of ‘end things’, whether the end of an individual life, the end of the age, the end of the world and the nature of the Kingdom of God. Broadly speaking, Christian eschatology is the study concerned with the ultimate destiny of the individual soul and the entire created order, based primarily upon biblical texts within the Old and New Testament. The part of theology concerned with death, judgement, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.

Thomas approaches this with a cynical mindset having lived through the threat of a nuclear winter during the Cold War, hippies during the Summer of Love and diminishing church attendance as people favour logic over faith. He bitterly reflects that science is no closer to answering the great questions of existence, posed by eschatology, than theology yet one is dismissed while the other embraced.

Throughout the poem he plays with Christian terminology and imagery to indicate the substitution of Christ with scientists, everlasting life after death with an effort to achieve immortality during this life instead and how to him it is, in comparison, an artificial form of true enlightenment and surpassing our mortal bonds.

Пауль Клее (Paul Klee) by Arseny Tarkovsky

Over the meadows, beyond the mountains,
there once lived a painter called Klee,
and he sat on his own on a path
with various bright-coloured crayons.

He drew rectangles and he drew hooks,
an imp in a light-blue shirt,
Africa, stars, a child on a platform,
wild beasts where Sky meets Earth.

He never intended his sketches
to be like passport photos,
with people, horses, cities and lakes
standing up straight like robots.

He wanted these lines and these spots
to converse with one another
as clearly as cicadas in summer,
but then one morning a feather

materialized as he sketched.
A wing, the crown of ahead -
the Angel of Death. It was time
for Klee to part from his friends

and his Muse. He did.He died.
Can anything be more cruel?
Though had Paul Klee been any less wise,
his angel might have touched us all

and we too, along with the artist,
might have left the world behind
while that angel shook up our bones,
but – what help would that have been?

Me, I'd much rather walk through a gallery
than lie in some sad cemetery.
I like to loiter with friends by paintings -
yellow-blue wildlings, follies most serious.


by Арсений Александрович Тарковский
(Arseny Alexandrovich Tarkovsky)
(1957)
translated by Robert Chandler

Arseny was the father of the famous and highly influential film director Andrei Tarkovsky. His poetry was often quoted in his son’s films.

Paul Klee (18 December 1879 – 29 June 1940) was a Swiss German artist. His highly individual style was influenced by movements in art that included Expressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism. Klee was a natural draftsman who experimented with and eventually deeply explored color theory, writing about it extensively; his lectures Writings on Form and Design Theory (Schriften zur Form und Gestaltungslehre), published in English as the Paul Klee Notebooks, are held to be as important for modern art as Leonardo da Vinci’s A Treatise on Painting for the Renaissance. He and his colleague, Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, both taught at the Bauhaus school of art, design and architecture. His works reflect his dry humor and his sometimes childlike perspective, his personal moods and beliefs, and his musicality.

Here is a reading of the poem in Russian set to music featuring one of Klee’s artworks.

Beneath is the original Russian version of the poem.

Пауль Клее

Жил да был художник Пауль Клее
Где-то за горами, над лугами.
Он сидел себе один в аллее
С разноцветными карандашами,

Рисовал квадраты и крючочки,
Африку, ребенка на перроне,
Дьяволенка в голубой сорочке,
Звезды и зверей на небосклоне.

Не хотел он, чтоб его рисунки
Были честным паспортом природы,
Где послушно строятся по струнке
Люди, кони, города и воды.

Он хотел, чтоб линии и пятна,
Как кузнечики в июльском звоне,
Говорили слитно и понятно.
И однажды утром на картоне

Проступили крылышко и темя:
Ангел смерти стал обозначаться.
Понял Клее, что настало время
С Музой и знакомыми прощаться.

Попрощался и скончался Клее.
Ничего не может быть печальней.
Если б Клее был немного злее,
Ангел смерти был бы натуральней.

И тогда с художником все вместе
Мы бы тоже сгинули со света,
Порастряс бы ангел наши кости.
Но скажите мне: на что нам это?

На погосте хуже, чем в музее,
Где порой слоняются живые,
И висят рядком картины Клее -
Голубые, желтые, блажные…

Баллада о немецком цензоре (The Ballad of a German Censor) by David Samoylov

In Germany once lived a censor

of lowly rank and title.

He blotted, struck and cancelled

and knew no other no other calling.

 

He sniffed out harmful diction

and smeared it with Indian ink.

He guarded minds from infection

and his bosses valued his work.

 

On a winter day in forty-three

he was dispatched ‘nach Osten’.

And he stared from the train car’s window

at fields, graveyards, snowstorms.

 

It was cold without a fur coat.

He saw hamlets without homes or people.

Only charred chimneys were left,

creeping by, like lizards or camels.

 

And it seemed to him that Russia

was all steppe, Mongoloid, bare.

And he thought he was feeling ‘nostalgia’,

but it was really just the chill and fear.

 

He arrived at his field post office:

such-and-such region and number.

Table, chair, iron cot and mattress,

three walls – in the fourth, a window.

 

Russia’s short on Gemütlichkeit!

He had to climb over snowdrifts.

And the work? No shortage of that:

cutting, deleting, smearing.

 

Before him lay piles of letters,

lines and lines – some straight, some wavy.

Generals wrote to their comrades,

soldiers wrote to their families.

 

There were letters, messages, queries

from the living, from those who’d been killed.

There were words he judged ‘non-Aryan’,

but it was really just fear and chill.

 

He would read nearly all day round,

forgetting to eat or shave.

And inside his tired mind

something strange began to take place.

 

Words he’d blotted and excised

would come and torment him at night,

and, like some eerie circus,

would parade there before his eyes…

 

Lines, killed by black ink,

turned tyrannical, like a tirade:

‘In the East, the East, the East,

we will not, will not be spared…’

 

The text was composed of black mosaics;

each word clung fast to the next.

Not the greatest master of prose

could have come up with such a text.

 

Long thoughts, like wagon trains,

shook the joints and ridges

of his tired and weakened brain;

battered its fragile bridges.

 

He turned unfriendly to all his friends

and grew brusque, unsociable, sad.

He was brilliant for a few days

and then broke down and went bad.

 

He awoke, from the fear and chill…

with a wild, choking feeling.

The dark was impenetrable –

the window blacked out with ink.

 

He realised that bravado leads nowhere,

that existence is fragile,

and the black truth invaded his soul

and wiped away the white lie.

 

The poor censor was born a pedant.

He reached for a small notebook

and truthfully – that is, with talent –

set everything down, in order.

 

The next morning he took up, with seal,

his… No – a different task:

he underlined all that was real

and crossed out everything else.

 

Poor censor, he’d lost his mind!

Little man, like a grain of millet!

He informed on himself in a day

and was taken away that minute…

 

There once lived a censor in Germany.

His rank and title were low.

He died and was promptly buried,

and his grave fell under the plough.

 

by Давид Самойлов (David Samoylov)

pseudonym of Давид Самуилович Кауфман (David Samuilovich Kaufman)

(1961)

translated by Boris Dralyuk


Additional information: David Samoylov (Давид Самойлов), pseudonym of David Samuilovich Kaufman ( Давид Самуилович Кауфман; 1 June 1920 in Moscow — 23 February 1990 in Tallinn) was a notable poet of the War generation of Russian poets, considered one of the most important Russian poets of the post-World War II era as well.

‘Thought, yet more thought! Poor artist of the world’ by Yevgeny Baratynsky

Thought, yet more thought! Poor artist of the word,

thought’s priest! For you there can be no forgetting;

it’s all here, here are people and the world

and death and life and truth without a veil.

Ah! Chisel, cello, brush, happy the man

drawn to you by his senses, going no further.

He can drink freely at the world’s great feast!

But in your presence, thought, in your sharp rays,

before your unsheathed sword, our life grows pale.

 

by Евгений Абрамович Баратынский (Yevgeny Abramovich Baratynsky)

(1840)

translated by Peter France

Prayer before Sleep 28 March 1931 at Seven O’Clock in the Evening by Daniil Kharms

‘Lord, in broad daylight

apathy overcame me.

Allow me to lie down and fall asleep Lord,

and while I sleep fill me Lord

with your strength.

There is much I want to know,

but neither books nor people

will tell me this.

May You alone Lord enlighten me

by means of my verses.

Wake me strong for the battle with meaning,

swift in the arrangement of words

and zealous to praise the name of God

for ever and ever.

 

by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

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

(date unknown)

translated by Robert Chandler

О.Л.С. (F.L.F.) by Daniil Kharms

The forest sways its tippy-tops,

people walk around with pots,

catching water from air with them.

In the sea, water bends.

But fire will not bend to the very end.

Fire loves airy freedom.

 

by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

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

(21/22 August 1933)

translated by Matvei Yankelevich


Fun facts: The original Russian title, О.Л.С., is an acronym of three of the last lines four words – огонь любит воздушную свободу (Ogon’ Liubit vozdushnuyu Svobodu) i.e. Fire Loves airy Freedom.