Yes, that's how I was,
I know that face,
That bony figure
Of flesh or limb;
In health happy,
Careless of the claim
Of the world's sick
Or the world's poor;
In pain craven -
Lord, breathe once more
On that sad mirror,
Let me be lost
In mist for ever
Rather than own
Such bleak reflections,
Let me go back
On my two knees
Slowly to undo
The knot of life
That was tied there.
By R. S. Thomas
from Tares (1961)
And I standing in the shade
Have seen it a thousand times
Happen: first theft, then murder;
Rape; the rueful acts
Of the blind hand. I have said
New prayers, or said the old
In a new way. Seeking the poem
In the pain, I have learned
Silence is best, praying for it
With my conscience. I am eyes
Merely, witnessing virtue's
Defeat; seeing the young born
Fair, knowing the cancer
Awaits them. One thing I have asked
Of the disposer of the issues
Of life: that truth should defer
To beauty. It was not granted.
by R. S. Thomas
from H'm (1972)
His fingers tell water like prayer.
He hears its voice in the silence
through fifty feet of rock
on an afternoon dumb with drought.
Under an old tin bath, a stone,
an upturned can, his copper pipe
glints with discovery. We dip our hose
deep into the dark, sucking its dryness,
till suddenly the water answers,
not the little sound we know,
but a thorough bass too deep
for the naked ear, shouts through the hose
a word we could not say, or spell, or remember,
something like “dŵr... dŵr.”
by Gillian Clarke
from Letter from a Far Country (1982)
Dŵr means 'water' in the Welsh language.
She is more white than the sea’s
Purest spray, and colder
To touch. She is nourished
By salt winds, and the prayers
Of the drowned break on her. She smiles
At the stone angels, who have turned
From the sea’s truth to worship
The mystery of her dumb child.
The bay brings her the tribute
Of its silences. The ocean has left
An offering of the small flowers
Of its springs; but the men read,
Beyond the harbour on the horizon,
The fury of its obituaries
by R. S. Thomas
from Not That He Brought Flowers (1968)
Fun fact: The poem refers to Cape Clear Island off the coast of Ireland. Clear Island or Cape Clear Island (officially known by its Irish name: Cléire, and sometimes also called Oileán Chléire) lies south-west of County Cork in Ireland. It is the southernmost inhabited part of the island of Ireland and has a population of over 100 people. Officially it is a Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking area), and most inhabitants speak Irish and English. Archaeological sites on the island include a prehistoric cup-marked stone (moved to the island’s museum), a fulacht fiadh at Gort na Lobhar, a neolithic passage tomb at Cill Leire Forabhain, several standing stones around the island, a promontory fort at Dún an Óir, and a signal tower dating from the Napoleonic Wars. The island also has a number of early Christian sites, and is reputed to be the birthplace of Saint Ciarán of Saigir. The ruins of 12th century church are close to the main pier.
And this is the sordid dream of the drunkard creeping to prayer,
And the maddened mob drowning the noise of the birds
Frightened and fluttering in the dusty trees,
And all the hysterical converts insulting the heavens,
The brown pond sticky with the thighs of the damned;
And here comes a fellow to shake your liver
For out of his nightmare he leapt
When the moon crept up behind the Iron Bridge
And the garage heap, where the trollop sat waiting
To sell her filth to the fool. And I saw
All this shabby mockery of April
As a neurotic’s delirium, his hallucination
Of apes and angels and dog-headed ghosts
Mingling and whirling and circling and dancing
Among the decaying boughs that laced like serpents
The ripped edges of the darkening sky.
O Lord God, save us from tinned donkey,
From Soviet scientific magazines,
From the Scottish Sabbath, from American war films,
From the demagogues of Aberdare and abadan,
And above all, O Lord God, save us from the Pentecostals.
by Idris Davies
The Scottish Sabbath is the practise of doing nothing on a Sunday including all shops and other businesses being closed to keep the sabbath sacred.
Aberdare is a town in the Cynon Valley area of Rhondda Cynon Taf, Wales, at the confluence of the Rivers Dare (Dâr) and Cynon. Aberdare is 4 miles (6 km) south-west of Merthyr Tydfil, 20 miles (32 km) north-west of Cardiff and 22 miles (35 km) east-north-east of Swansea. During the 19th century it became a thriving industrial settlement, which was also notable for the vitality of its cultural life and as an important publishing centre.
Abadan, famous for its oil refinery, was the site of the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran, also known as the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Persia, was the joint invasion of Iran in 1941 during the Second World War by the British Commonwealth and the Soviet Union. The invasion lasted from 25 August to 17 September 1941 and was codenamed Operation Countenance. Its purpose was to secure Iranian oil fields and ensure Allied supply lines (through the Persian Corridor) for the USSR, fighting against Axis forces on the Eastern Front.
Pentecostalism or Classical Pentecostalism is a renewal movement within Protestant Christianity that places special emphasis on a direct personal experience of God through baptism with the Holy Spirit. The term Pentecostal is derived from Pentecost, the Greek name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks. For Christians, this event commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the followers of Jesus Christ, as described in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.
The air is split into black branches,
like old glass.
Pray to Our Lady of Autumn!
The windows of autumn’s chapel,
smashed by a hurtling bullet,
A tree was burning,
a bright spill in the golden air.
It bends; it bows down.
Autumn’s flint and steel angrily
struck the sparks of golden days.
A forest at prayer. All at once
golden smells fell to the ground.
Trees stretch out – rakes
gathering armfuls of the sun’s hay.
Autumn’s tree resonantly evokes
a sketch of Russia’s railroads.
The golden autumn wind
has scattered me everywhere.
by Велимир Хлебников (Velimir Khlebnikov)
a.k.a. Виктор Владимирович Хлебников
(Viktor Vladimirovich Khlebnikov)
translated by Robert Chandler
‘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)
translated by Robert Chandler