There is a game I play
with a mirror, approaching
it when I am not there,
as though to take by surprise.
the self that is my familiar. It
is in vain. Like one eternally
in ambush, fast or slow
as I may raise my head, it raises
its own, catching me in the act,
disarming me by acquaintance,
looking full into my face as often
as I try looking at it askance.
by R. S. Thomas
from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)
Here I think of the centuries,
six million of them, they say.
Yesterday a fine rain fell;
today the warmth has brought out the crowds.
After Christ, what? The molecules
are without redemption. My shadow
sunning itself on this stone
remembers the lava. Zeus looked down
on a brave world, but there was
no love there; the architecture
of their temples was less permanent
than these waves. Plato, Aristotle,
all those who furrow the calmness
of their foreheads are responsible
for the bomb. I am charmed here
by the serenity of the reflections
in the sea's mirror. It is a window
as well. What I need
now is a faith to enable me to out-stare
the grinning faces of the inmates of its asylum,
the failed experiments God put away.
by R. S. Thomas
from Frequencies (1978)
The road unwinding under our wheels
New in the headlamps like a roll of foil.
The rain is a recorder writing tunes
In telegraph wires, kerbs and cats’ eyes,
Reflections and the lights of little towns.
He turns his head to look at me.
“Why are you quiet?” Shiny road rhythm,
Rain rhythm, beat of the windscreen wipers,
I push my knee against his in the warmth
And the car thrusts the dark and rain away.
The child sleeps, and I reflect, as I breathe
His brown hair, and watch the apple they gave him
Held in his hot hands, that a tree must ache
With the sweet weight of the round rosy fruit,
As I with Dylan’s head, nodding on its stalk.
by Gillian Clarke
from The Sundial, Gwasg Gomer, 1978)
I often call there.
There are no poems in it
for me. But as a gesture
of independence of the speeding
traffic I am a part
of, I stop the car,
turn down the narrow path
to the river, and enter
the church with its clear reflection
There are few services
now; the screen has nothing
to hide. Face to face
with no intermediary
between me and God, and only the water’s
quiet insistence on a time
older than man, I keep my eyes
open and am not dazzled,
so delicately does the light enter
my soul from the serene presence
that waits for me till I come next.
by R. S. Thomas
from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)
Llananno has a church and the screen mentioned in this poem has been restored. Here are some links if you want to learn about the poem’s subject:
Information with links to maps and more detailed information about the area: http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/wal/RAD/Llananno
Information about the church and its screen’s restoration: http://www.buildingconservation.com/articles/llananno-rood/llananno-rood.htm
It’s just how it is, it’s the way of the ages;
years pass away, and friends pass away
and you suddenly realize the world is changing
and the fire of your heart is fading away.
Once the horizon was sharp as a knife,
a clear frontier between different states,
but now low mist hangs over the earth –
and this gentle cloud is the mercy of fate.
Age, I suppose, with its losses and fears,
age that silently saps our strength,
has blurred with the mist of unspilt tears
that clear divide between life and death.
So many you loved are no longer with you,
yet you chat to them as you always did.
You forget they’re no longer among the living;
that clear frontier is now shrouded in mist.
The same sort of woodland, same sort of field –
you probably won’t even notice the day
you chance to wander across the border,
chatting to someone long passed away.
by Мария Сергеевна Петровых (Maria Sergeyevna Petrovykh)
translated by Robert Chandler