The Chapel by R. S. Thomas

A little aside from the main road,

becalmed in a last-century greyness,

there is the chapel, ugly, without the appeal

to the tourist to stop his car

and visit it. The traffic goes by,

and the river goes by, and quick shadows

of clouds, too, and the chapel settles

a little deeper into the grass.

 

But here once on an evening like this,

in the darkness that was about

his hearers, a preacher caught fire

and burned steadily before them

with a strange light, so that they saw

the spendour of the barren mountains

about them and sang their amens

fiercely, narrow but saved

in a way that men are not now.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)

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The Passionate Shepherd To His Love by Christopher Marlowe

Come live with me and be my love,

And we will all the pleasures prove,

That Valleys, groves, hills, and fields,

Woods, or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the Rocks,

Seeing the Shepherds feed their flocks,

By shallow Rivers to whose falls

Melodious birds sing Madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of Roses

And a thousand fragrant posies,

A cap of flowers, and a kirtle

Embroidered all with leaves of Myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool

Which from our pretty Lambs we pull;

Fair lined slippers for the cold,

With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and Ivy buds,

With Coral clasps and Amber studs:

And if these pleasures may thee move,

Come live with me, and be my love.

The Shepherds’ Swains shall dance and sing

For thy delight each May-morning:

If these delights thy mind may move,

Then live with me, and be my love.

 

by Christopher ‘Kit’ Marlowe

(published 1599)


 

Fun fact: This was posted on the day of the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on 19 May 2018 which took place at Windsor Castle in England.

The poem was published six years after the poet’s death by stabbing. A warrant was issued for Marlowe’s arrest on 18 May 1593. No reason was given for it, though it was thought to be connected to allegations of blasphemy—a manuscript believed to have been written by Marlowe was said to contain “vile heretical conceipts”. On 20 May, he was brought to the court to attend upon the Privy Council for questioning. There is no record of their having met that day, however, and he was commanded to attend upon them each day thereafter until “licensed to the contrary”. Ten days later, he was stabbed to death by Ingram Frizer. Whether or not the stabbing was connected to his arrest remains unknown.

The poem was the subject of a well-known “reply” by Walter Raleigh, called “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd”. The interplay between the two poems reflects the relationship that Marlowe had with Raleigh. Marlowe was young, his poetry romantic and rhythmic, and in the Passionate Shepherd he idealises the love object (the Nymph). Raleigh was an old courtier and an accomplished poet himself. His attitude is more jaded, and in writing “The Nymph’s Reply,” it is clear that he is rebuking Marlowe for being naive and juvenile in both his writing style and the Shepherd’s thoughts about love. Subsequent responses to Marlowe have come from John Donne, C. Day Lewis, William Carlos Williams, Ogden Nash, W. D. Snodgrass, Douglas Crase and Greg Delanty, and Robert Herrick.

Target by R. S. Thomas

I look up at the sky at night

and see the archer, Sagittarius,

with his bow drawn, and realise

man is the arrow speeding,

 

not as some think infinitely

on, but because space is curved,

backwards towards the bowman’s heart

to deal him his unstaunched wound.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Mass for Hard Times (1992)

Poor Poet, Was That Really You’ by Sergey Yesenin

Poor poet, was that really you,

addressing the moon in rhyme?

My eyes were dulled so long ago

by love, by cards and wine.

 

The moon climbs through the window frame.

White light, so white it blinds you…

I bet on the Queen of Spades,

but I played the Ace of Diamonds.

 

by Сергей Александрович Есенин (Sergei Alexandrovich Yesenin)

a.k.a. Sergey Yesenin / Esenin

(1925)

translated by Boris Dralyuk

‘Not In Our Power To Foretell’ by Fyodor Tyutchev

Not in our power to foretell

what response our words will meet.

Fellow feeling, heaven’s grace –

mysteries we can’t predict.

 

by Фёдор Иванович Тютчев (Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev)

(1869)

translated by Robert Chandler


 

Fun Fact: Counted amongst the admirers of Tyutchev‘s works were Dostoevsky and Tolstoy along with Nekrasov and Fet then later Osip Mandelstam who, in a passage approved by Shalamov, believed that a Russian poet should not have copy of Tyutchev in his personal library – he should know all of Tyutchev off by heart.

Prayer by Anna Akhmatova

Grant me years of sickness and fever;

make me sleepless for months at a time.

Take away my child and my lover

and the mysterious gift of rhyme.

As the air grows ever more sultry,

this is the prayer I recite:

and may the storm cloud over my country

be shot through with rays of light.

 

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(11 May 1915, Day of the Holy Spirit), St Petersburg

translation by Robert Chandler