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)
The sleepy garden scatters beetles
Like bronze cinders from braziers.
Level with me and with my candle
There hangs a flowering universe.
As if into a new religion
I cross the threshold of this night,
Where the grey decaying poplar
Has veiled the moon's bright edge from sight,
Where the orchard surf whispers of apples,
Where the pond is an opened secret,
Where the garden hangs, as if on piles,
And holds the sky in front of it.
by Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к
(Boris Leonidovich Pasternak)
(1912 or 1913 depending on which source is cited)
translated by Jon Stallworthy and Peter France
Below is a recital of the poem in it’s original Russian:
Below is the poem in it’s original Russian cyrillic form:
Как бронзовой золой жаровень,
Жуками сыплет сонный сад.
Со мной, с моей свечою вровень
Миры расцветшие висят.
И, как в неслыханную веру,
Я в эту ночь перехожу,
Где тополь обветшало-серый
Завесил лунную межу.
Где пруд - как явленная тайна,
Где шепчет яблони прибой,
Где сад висит постройкой свайной
И держит небо пред собой.
One man fell asleep a believer but woke up an atheist.
Luckily, this man kept medical scales in his room, because he was in the habit of weighing himself every morning and every evening. And so, going to sleep the night before, he had weighed himself and had found out he weighed four poods and 21 pounds. But the following morning, waking up an atheist, he weighed himself again and found out that now he weighed only four poods thirteen pounds. “Therefore,” he concluded, “my faith weighed approximately eight pounds.”
by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)
a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)
translated by Eugene Ostashevsky
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.
It sailed across the startled town,
over chapels, over chimney-pots,
wind-blown above a block of flats
before it floated down.
Oddly, it landed where I stood,
and finding’s keeping, as you know.
I breathed on it, I polished it,
till it shone like living blood.
It was my shame, it was my joy,
it brought me notoriety.
From all of Wales the rude boy came,
it ceased to be a toy.
I heard the girls of Cardiff sigh
When my balloon, my red balloon,
soared higher like a happiness
towards the dark blue sky.
Nine months since, have I boasted of
my unique, my only precious;
but to no one dare I show it now
however long they swear their love.
‘It’s a Jew’s balloon,’ my best friend cried,
‘stained with our dear Lord’s blood.’
‘That I’m a Jew is true,’ I said,
said I, ‘that cannot be denied.’
‘What relevance?’ I asked, surprised,
‘what’s religion to do with this?’
‘Your red balloon’s a Jew’s balloon,
let’s get it circumcised.’
Then some boys laughed and some boys cursed,
some unsheathed their dirty knives:
some lunged, some clawed at my balloon,
but still it would not burst.
They bled my nose, they cut my eye,
half conscious in the street I heard,
‘Give up, give up your red balloon.’
I don’t know exactly why.
Father, bolt the door, turn the key,
lest those sad, brash boys return
to insult my faith and steal
my red balloon from me.
by Dannie Abse
from Poems, Golders Green (1962)
Fun facts: Dannie Abse was born in Cardiff, Wales, to a Jewish family. He was the younger brother of politician and reformer Leo Abse and the eminent psychoanalyst, Wilfred Abse. Unusually for a middle-class Jewish boy, Dannie Abse attended St Illtyd’s College, a working-class Catholic school in Splott.
It was all arranged:
the virgin with child, the birth
in Bethlehem, the arid journey uphill
to Jerusalem. The prophets foretold
it, the scriptures conditioned him
to accept it. Judas went to his work
with his sour kiss; what else
could he do?
A wise old age,
the honours awarded for lasting,
are not for a saviour. He had
to be killed; salvation acquired
by an increased guilt. The tree,
with its roots in the mind’s dark,
was divinely planted, the original fork
in existence. There is no meaning in life,
unless men can be found to reject
love. God needs his martyrdom.
The mild eyes stare from the Cross
in perverse triumph. What does he care
that the people’s offerings are so small?
by R. S. Thomas
from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)
I have seen it standing up grey,
Gaunt, as though no sunlight
Could ever thaw out the music
Of its great bell; terrible
In its own way, for religion
Is like that. There are times
When a black frost is upon
One’s whole being, and the heart
In its bone belfry hangs and is dumb.
But who is to know? Always,
Even in winter in the cold
Of a stone church, on his knees
Someone is praying, whose prayers fall
Steadily through the hard spell
Of weather that is between God
And himself. Perhaps they are warm rain
That brings the sun and afterwards flowers
On the raw graves and throbbing of bells.
by R. S. Thomas
from Pietà (1966)