I have seen the child in the womb,
neither asking to be born
or not to be born, biding its time
without the knowledge of time,
model for the sulptor who would depict
the tranquility that inheres
before thought, or the purity of thought
without language. Its smile forgave
the anachronism of the nomenclature
that would keep it foetal. Its hand
opened delicately as flowers
in innocency's grave.
Was its part written? I have seen
it waiting breathlessly in the wings
to come forth on to a stage
of soil or concrete, where wings
are a memory only or an aspiration.
by R. S. Thomas
from Mass for Hard Times (1992)
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
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)
She has yet to be born:
she is music and word,
and she eternally bonds
all life in this world.
The sea breathes gently;
the day glitters wildly.
A bowl of dazed azure
sways pale foam-lilac.
May I too reach back
to that ancient silence,
like a note of crystal
pure from its source.
Stay, Aphrodite, as foam.
Return, word, to music.
Heart, be shy of heart,
fused with life’s root.
by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
translated by Robert Chandler and Boris Dralyuk
Fun fact: This is Mandelstam’s variation on Tyutchev’s earlier poem ‘Silentium‘.
Recital in the original Russian:
Russian cyrillic version:
Она еще не родилась,
Она и музыка и слово,
И потому всего живого
Спокойно дышат моря груди,
Но, как безумный, светел день,
И пены бледная сирень
В черно-лазоревом сосуде.
Да обретут мои уста
Как кристаллическую ноту,
Что от рождения чиста!
Останься пеной, Афродита,
И, слово, в музыку вернись,
И, сердце, сердца устыдись,
С первоосновой жизни слито!