Match My Moments by R. S. Thomas

That time
the soldier broke in
to my room and I,
the sword at my throat,
looked up from my sums
and theorems and smiling
said: Spare my designs.

That time
in the rusting bracken
the road ran with sheep,
a woollen river but vocal,
saying in its raw baritone
to the man on its banks:
We give our life for the shepherd.

That time
the queue winding towards
the gas chambers, and the nun,
who had already died
to this world, to the girl
in tears: Don’t cry. Look,
I will take your place.

That time
after the night’s frost the tree
weeping, the miser in me
complaining: Why all this washing
the earth’s feet in gold? And I,
my finger at my lips: Because
it is what we are made of.

by R. S. Thomas
from Mass for Hard Times (1992)

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All Souls’ Night by Gillian Clarke

Wind after rain. The lane
is beaten lead. Nothing

is any colour. Hedges
are scribbles of darkness.

Not a cow or sheep in grey fields.
Rain sings in the culverts,

slides the gate-bars, brambles and grasses,
glints in tyre-ruts and hoof-prints.

Only the springer’s fur flowers white,
will o’ the wisp under a gate

across a field short-sightedly
reading the script of the fox.

A sudden wheel of starlings turns
the hill’s corner, their wings a whish

of air, the darkening sound
of a shadow crossing land.

At a touch my bare ash tree rings,
leafed, shaken,

the stopper of ice dissolved
in each bird-throat,

the frozen ash
become a burning bush.

by Gillian Clarke

Additional information: All Souls’ Day, also known as the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed and the Day of the Dead, is a day of prayer and remembrance for the faithful departed, which is observed by Roman Catholics and other Christian denominations annually on 2 November.

Examples of regional customs include leaving cakes for departed loved ones on the table and keeping the room warm for their comfort in Tirol and the custom in Brittany, where people flock to the cemeteries at nightfall to kneel, bareheaded, at the graves of their loved ones and anoint the hollow of the tombstone with holy water or to pour libations of milk on it. At bedtime, supper is left on the table for the souls.

Something More by R. S. Thomas

You remain contented
with your anonymity.
We ask for survival
for John Jones.
We acknowledge the tree
that at moments
you are ablaze in,
taking our shoes
off, involuntarily remembering
there is dung at its roots.

They say there is a pool
at the bottom of which
you lie, and that we ourselves
are the troublers
of its surface. But why,
when we look down,
is it as though
we looked up at our own faces
at home there among the cloud branches?

by R. S. Thomas
from Mass for Hard Times (1992)

The John Jones mentioned in this poem is better known by his bardic name Jac Glan-y-gors. He was a Welsh language satirical poet and radical pamphleteer, born in Cerrigydrudion, Denbighshire, north Wales. He was an accomplished and natural prose writer although his output was small. His best known prose works are Seren Tan Gwmmwl and Toriad y Dydd, political tracts addressed to the Welsh people which reflect the radical ideals of Thomas Paine and the author’s Welsh patriotism.

His poetical output is more considerable and includes the poem entitled Cerdd Dic Siôn Dafydd (Dic Siôn Dafydd – Richard son of John son of David – is the name given to a Welshman who despises his language and who imitates the English.

Hallowe’en by R.S. Thomas

Outside a surfeit of planes.

Inside the hunger of the departed

to come back. ‘Ah, erstwhile humans,

would you make your mistakes

over again? In life, as in love,

the second time around is

no better.’

I confront their expressions

in the embers, on grey walls:

faces among the stones watching

me to see if this night

of all nights I will make sacrifice

to the spirits of hearth and of

roof-tree, pouring a libation.

 

‘Stay where you are,’ I implore.

‘This is no world for escaped beings

to make their way back into.

The well that you took your pails

to is polluted. At the centre

of the mind’s labyrinth to machine howls

for the sacrifice of the affections;

vocabulary has on a soft collar

but the tamed words are not to be trusted.

As long as the flames hum, making

their honey, better to look in

upon truth’s comb than to

take off as we do on fixed wings

for depollinated horizons.’

 

by R. S Thomas

from No Truce with the Furies (1995)