Stopped the car, asked a man the way
To some place; he rested on it
Smiling, an impression of charm
As of ripe fields; talking to us
He held a reflection of sky
In his brushed eyes. We lost interest
In the way, seeing him old
And content, feeling the sun's warmth
In his voice, watching the swallows
Above him – thirty years back
To this summer. Knowing him gone,
We wander the same flower-bordered road,
Seeing the harvest ripped from the land,
Deafened by the planes' orchestra;
Unable to direct the lost travellers
Or convince them this is a good place to be.
by R. S. Thomas
from H'm (1972)
I used to go to St John’s Wood
On Saturday evenings in summer
To look on London behind the dusty garden trees,
And argue pleasantly and bitterly
About Marx and Heine, the iron brain and the laughing sword;
And the ghost of Keats would sit in a corner,
Smiling slowly behind a summer of wine,
Sadly smiling at the fires of the future.
And late in the summer night
I heard the tall Victorian critics snapping
Grim grey fingers at London Transport,
And sober, solemn students of James Joyce,
Dawdling and hissing into Camden Town.
But now in the winter dusk
I go to Dowlais Top
and stand by the railway bridge
Which joins the bleak brown hills,
And gaze at the streets of Dowlais
Lop-sided on the steep dark slope,
A bettered bucket on a broken hill,
And see the rigid phrases of Marx
Bold and black against the steel-grey west,
Riveted along the sullen skies.
And as for Heine, I look on the rough
Bleak, colourless hills around,
Naked and hard as flint,
Romance in a rough chemise.
by Idris Davies
Dowlais is a village and community of the county borough of Merthyr Tydfil, in Wales. Dowlais is notable within Wales and Britain for its historic association with ironworking; once employing, through the Dowlais Iron Company, roughly 5,000 people, the works being the largest in the world at one stage.
Marx, I assume, refers to Karl Marx (5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) the German philosopher, economist, historian, political theorist, sociologist, journalist and revolutionary socialist.
Heine, refers to Christian Johann Heinrich Heine (13 December 1797 – 17 February 1856) was a German poet, journalist, essayist, and literary critic. He is best known outside of Germany for his early lyric poetry, which was set to music in the form of Lieder (art songs) by composers such as Robert Schumann and Franz Schubert. Heine’s later verse and prose are distinguished by their satirical wit and irony. He is considered part of the Young Germany movement. His radical political views led to many of his works being banned by German authorities, which however only added to his fame. Heine spent the last 25 years of his life as an expatriate in Paris.
James Augustine Aloysius Joyce (2 February 1882 – 13 January 1941) was an Irish novelist, short story writer, and poet. He contributed to the modernist avant-garde and is regarded as one of the most influential and important authors of the 20th century. Joyce is best known for Ulysses (1922), a landmark work in which the episodes of Homer’s Odyssey are paralleled in a variety of literary styles, most famously stream of consciousness. Other well-known works are the short-story collection Dubliners (1914), and the novels A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Finnegans Wake (1939). His other writings include three books of poetry, a play, his published letters and occasional journalism.
In black memory you’ll find, fumbling,
A glove to the elbow that unlocks
A Petersburg night. And a crumbling
Air of sweetness in the murky box.
A wind from the gulf. And, there, between
The lines of a stormy page,
Blok, smiling scornfully, holds the scene,
The tragic tenor of the age.
by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)
from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)
translation by D. M. Thomas
Fun fact: ‘Blok’ here of course refers to the Russian lyrical poet Alexander Blok who had died in 1921.