The Nativity? No.
Something has gone wrong.
There is a hole in the stable
acid rain drips through
onto an absence. Beauty
is hoisted upside down.
The truth is Pilate not
lingering for an answer.
The angels are prostrate
'beaten into the clay'
as Yeats thundered. Only Satan beams down,
poisoning with fertilisers
the place where the child
lay, harrowing the ground
for the drumming of the machine-
gun tears of the rich that are
seed of the next war.
By R. S. Thomas
from Counterpoint (1990) 2. Incarnation
O lovely demon, half-divine!
Hemlock and hydromel and gall,
Honey and aconite and wine
Mingle to make thatmouth of thine-
Thy mouth I love: but most of all
It is thy tears that I desire-
Thy tears, like fountain-drops that fall
In garden red,Satanical;
Or like the tears of mist and fire,
Wept by the moon, that wizards use
to secret runes when they require
Some silver philtre,sweet and dire.
By Clark Ashton Smith
An inscription on the grave of one of the children who died in the Aberfan disaster of October 21st, 1966
No grave could contain him.
He will always be young
in the classroom
waving an answer
like a greeting.
Buried alive –
alive he is
by the river
skimming stones down
the path of the sun.
When the tumour on the hillside
burst and the black blood
of coal drowned him,
he ran forever
with his sheepdog leaping
for sticks, tumbling together
in windblown abandon.
I gulp back tears
because of a notion of manliness.
After the October rain
the slag-heap sagged
its greedy coalowner’s belly.
He drew a picture of a wren,
his favourite bird for fraility
and determination. His eyes gleamed
as gorse-flowers do now
above the village.
His scream was stopped mid-flight.
Black and blemished
with the hill’s sickness
he must have been,
like a child collier
dragged out of one of Bute’s mines –
a limp statistic.
There he is, climbing a tree,
mimicking an ape, calling out names
at classmates. Laughs springing
down the slope. My wife hears them
her ears attuned as a ewe’s in lambing,
and I try to foster the inscription,
away from its stubborn stone.
by Mike Jenkins
from Empire of Smoke
Not so Fun facts: This poem refers to the Aberfan disaster the catastrophic collapse of a colliery spoil tip at 9.15 am on 21 October 1966. The tip had been created on a mountain slope above the Welsh village of Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil and overlaid a natural spring. A period of heavy rain led to a build-up of water within the tip which caused it to suddenly slide downhill as a slurry, killing 116 children and 28 adults as it engulfed the local junior school and other buildings. The tip was the responsibility of the National Coal Board (NCB), and the subsequent inquiry placed the blame for the disaster on the organisation and nine named employees.
I’ve been to the town and it’s still a very quiet place to this day as a generation of the community was lost in that disaster. Where the junior school once stood there is now a memorial garden.
Tears of humanity, tears of humanity,
flowing eternally early and late…
Flowing invisibly, flowing in secrecy,
ever abundantly, ever unceasingly –
flowing as rain flows with autumn finality
all through the night like a river in spate.
by Фёдор Иванович Тютчев (Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev)
translated by Peter Tempest
Fun fact: Counted amongst the admirers of Tyutchev’s works were Dostoevsky and Tolstoy along with Nekrasov and Fet. Then later Osip Mandelstam who, in a passage approved of by Shalamov, believed that a Russian poet should not have copy of Tyutchev in his personal library – he should know all of Tyutchev off by heart.
How will the lion remain a lion
if it eat straw like the ox?
Where will the little child lead them
who has not been there before?
With our right hand off, with what
shall we beg forgiveness in the kingdom?
How shall the hare know it has not won,
dying before the tortoise arrive?
Did Christ crying ‘Neither do I condemn thee’,
condemn the prostitute to be good for nothing?
If he who increases riches increases sorrow
why are his tears more like pearls than the swine’s tusks?
by R. S. Thomas
from Mass for Hard Times (1992)
They stand about conversing
In dark clumps, less beautiful than trees.
What have they come here to mourn?
There was a death, yes; but death’s brother,
Sin, is of more importance.
Shabbily the teeth gleam,
Sharpening themselves on reputations
That were firm once. On the cheap coffin
The earth falls more cleanly than tears.
What are these red faces for?
This incidence of pious catarrh
At the grave’s edge? He has returned
Where he belongs; this is acknowledged
By all but the lonely few
Making amends for the heart’s coldness
He had from them, grudging a little
The simple splendour of the wreath
Of words the church lays on him.
by R. S. Thomas
from The Bread of Truth (1963)
Whispers, timid breathing,
trills of a nightingale,
the silver and the shiver
of a sleepy rill.
Pale light and nighttime shadows,
shadows without end,
all the magic transformations
of eyes and lips and brows.
In smoky clouds, a rose’s purple,
the shine of amber beads,
and the kisses, and the tears,
and the dawn, the dawn!
by Афанасий Афанасьевич Фет (Afanasy Afanasyevich Fet)
a.k.a. Шеншин (Shenshin)
translated by Boris Dralyuk