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)

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‘Where Can I Look, Where Can I Go…’ by Georgy Ivanov

Where can I look, where can I go,

to find that almost Alpine snow,

all sacrificed so life can grow,

all turned by May to splash and flow,

to breath of dandelion and rose,

to mighty wave or shining billow –

into that foolish question posed

by François Villon long ago?

 

by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)

(1951)

translated by Robert Chandler


 

Fun fact: François Villon was born in Paris in 1431, disappeared from view in 1463 and is the best known French poet of the late Middle Ages. A ne’er-do-well who was involved in criminal behavior, had multiple encounters with law enforcement authorities and so wrote about some of these experiences in his poems.

Why East Wind Chills by Dylan Thomas

Why east wind chills and south wind cools

Shall not be known till windwell dries

And west’s no longer drowned

In winds that bring the fruit and rind

Of many a hundred falls;

Why silk is soft and the stone wounds

The child shall question all his days.

Why night-time rain and the breast’s blood

Both quench his thirst he’ll have a black reply.

 

When cometh Jack Frost? the children ask.

Shall they clasp a comet in their fists?

Not till, from high and low, their dust

Sprinkles in children’s eyes a long-last sleep

And dusk is crowded with the children’s ghosts,

Shall a white answer echo from the rooftops.

 

All things are known; the stars’ advice

Calls some content to travel with the winds,

Though what the stars ask as they round

Time upon time the towers of the skies

Is heard but little till the stars go out.

 

I hear content, and ‘Be content’

Ring like a handbell through the corridors,

And ‘Know no answer,’ and I know

No answer to the children’s cry

Of echo’s answer and the man of frost

And ghostly comets over the raised fists.

 

by Dylan Thomas

‘The Cuckoo I Asked…’ by Anna Akhmatova

The cuckoo I asked

How many years I would live… The

Pine tops shivered,

A yellow shaft fell to the grass.

In the fresh forest depths, no sound…

I am going

Home, and the cool wind

Caresses my hot brow.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1 June, 1919)

– from Подорожник (Plantain/Wayside Grass, 1921) translation by D. M. Thomas