There by R.S. Thomas

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

In patience.

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)

Red Balloon by Dannie Abse

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.

Cardiff Elms by Gillian Clarke

Until this summer

throught the open roof of the car

their lace was as light as rain

against the burning sun.

On a rose-coloured road

they laid their inks,

knew exactly, in the seed,

where in the sky they would reach

percise parameters.

 

Traffic-jammed under a square

of perfect blue I thirst

for their lake’s fingering

shadow, trunk by trunk arching

a cloister between the parks

and pillars of a civic architecture,

older and taller than all of it.

 

Heat is a salt encrustation.

Walls square up to the sky

without the company of leaves

or the town life of birds.

At the roadside this enormous

firewood, elmwood, the start

of some terrible undoing.

 

by Gillian Clarke

from Letters from a Far Country (1982)

Воздушный город (The Aerial City) by Afanasy Fet a.k.a. Shenshin

At daybreak there spread through the heavens

Pale clouds like a turreted town:

The cupolas golden, fantastic,

White roofs and white walls shining down.

 

This citadel is my white city,

My city familiar and dear,

Above the dark earth as it slumbers,

Upon the pink sky builded clear.

 

And all that aerial city

Sails northward, sails softly, sails high;

And there on the height, some one beckons,—

But proffers no pinions to fly.

 

by Афанасий Афанасьевич Фет (Afanasy Afanasyevich Fet)

a.k.a. Шеншин (Shenshin)

(1846)

translated by ???


 

Fun fact: A more straight forward English translation of the poem compared to the Scottish version posted previously Воздушный город (The Aerial City) by Afanasy Fet

The Letter by R. S. Thomas

And to be able to put at the end

Of the letter Anthens, Florence – some name

That the spirit recalls from earlier journeys

Through the dark wood, seeking the path

To the bright mansions; cities and towns

Where the soul added depth to its stature.

 

And not to worry about the date,

The words being timeless, concerned with truth,

Beauty, love, misery even,

Which has its seasons in the long growth

From seed to flesh, flesh to spirit.

 

And laying aside the pen, dipped

Not in tear’s volatile liquid

But in black ink of the heart’s well,

To read again what the hand has written

To the many voices’ quiet diction.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Poetry for Supper (1958)

Twenty-four Years by Dylan Thomas

Twenty-four years remind the tears of my eyes.

(Bury the dead for fear that they walk to the grave in labour.)

In the groin of the natural doorway I crouched like a tailor

Sewing a shroud for a journey

By the light of the meat-eating sun.

Dressed to die, the sensual strut begun,

With my red veins full of money,

In the final direction of the elementary town

I advance for as long as forever is.

 

by Dylan Thomas


 

Fun fact: Because of his almost obsessive preoccupation with death, each birthday was a milestone that called for a celebration, and on several occasions Thomas composed a poem that expresses his sense of where he stood as a man and an artist. “Twenty-four Years” is his earliest significant version of this celebratory mode, and it is full of both the exuberance of early manhood and his already familiar feeling that death was imminent.

Still Point by R. S. Thomas

In the universe one

world beneath cloud

foliage. In that world

a town. In the town

 

a house with a child,

who is blind, staring

over the edge of the universe

into the depths of love.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from No Truce With The Furies (1995)