London Welsh by Idris Davies

We have scratched our names in the London dust,

Sung sometimes like the Jews of Babylon

Under the dusty trees of Hyde Park Corner,

Almost believing in a Jesus of Cardigan

Or a Moses on the mountains of Merioneth;

We have dreamed by the Thames of Towy and Dee,

And whistled in dairy shops in the morning,

Whistled of Harlech and Aberdovey.

We have grown sentimental in London

Over things that we smiled at in Wales.

Sometimes in Woolwich we have seen the mining valleys

More beautiful than we ever saw them with our eyes.

We have carried our accents into Westminster

As soldiers carry rifles into the wars;

We have carried our idioms into Piccadilly,

Food for the critics on Saturday night.

We have played dominoes in Lambeth with Alfred the Great,

And lifted a glass with Henry VIII

In the tavern under the railway bridge

On Friday nights in winter;

And we have argued with Chaucer down the Old Kent Road

On the englynion of the Eisteddfod.

We have also shivered by the Thames in the night

And know that the frost has no racial distinctions.

 

by Idris Davies

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The Passionate Shepherd To His Love by Christopher Marlowe

Come live with me and be my love,

And we will all the pleasures prove,

That Valleys, groves, hills, and fields,

Woods, or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the Rocks,

Seeing the Shepherds feed their flocks,

By shallow Rivers to whose falls

Melodious birds sing Madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of Roses

And a thousand fragrant posies,

A cap of flowers, and a kirtle

Embroidered all with leaves of Myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool

Which from our pretty Lambs we pull;

Fair lined slippers for the cold,

With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and Ivy buds,

With Coral clasps and Amber studs:

And if these pleasures may thee move,

Come live with me, and be my love.

The Shepherds’ Swains shall dance and sing

For thy delight each May-morning:

If these delights thy mind may move,

Then live with me, and be my love.

 

by Christopher ‘Kit’ Marlowe

(published 1599)


 

Fun fact: This was posted on the day of the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on 19 May 2018 which took place at Windsor Castle in England.

The poem was published six years after the poet’s death by stabbing. A warrant was issued for Marlowe’s arrest on 18 May 1593. No reason was given for it, though it was thought to be connected to allegations of blasphemy—a manuscript believed to have been written by Marlowe was said to contain “vile heretical conceipts”. On 20 May, he was brought to the court to attend upon the Privy Council for questioning. There is no record of their having met that day, however, and he was commanded to attend upon them each day thereafter until “licensed to the contrary”. Ten days later, he was stabbed to death by Ingram Frizer. Whether or not the stabbing was connected to his arrest remains unknown.

The poem was the subject of a well-known “reply” by Walter Raleigh, called “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd”. The interplay between the two poems reflects the relationship that Marlowe had with Raleigh. Marlowe was young, his poetry romantic and rhythmic, and in the Passionate Shepherd he idealises the love object (the Nymph). Raleigh was an old courtier and an accomplished poet himself. His attitude is more jaded, and in writing “The Nymph’s Reply,” it is clear that he is rebuking Marlowe for being naive and juvenile in both his writing style and the Shepherd’s thoughts about love. Subsequent responses to Marlowe have come from John Donne, C. Day Lewis, William Carlos Williams, Ogden Nash, W. D. Snodgrass, Douglas Crase and Greg Delanty, and Robert Herrick.

Land of my Mothers by Idris Davies

Land of my mothers, how shall my brothers praise you?

With timbrels or rattles or tins?

With fire.

How shall we praise you on the banks of the rhymneying waters,

On the smokey shores and the glittering shores of Glamorgan,

On wet mornings in the bare fields behind the Newport docks,

On fine evenings when lovers walk by Bedwellty Church,

When the cuckoo calles to miners coming home to Rhymney Bridge,

When the wild rose defies the Industrial Revolution

And when the dear old drunken lady sings of Jesus and a little shilling.

 

Come down, O girls of song, to the bank of the coal canal

At twilight, at twilight

When mongrels fight

And long rats bite

Under the shadows of pit-head light,

And dance, you daughters of Gwenllian,

Dance in the dust in the lust of delight.

And you who have prayed in the golden pastures

And oiled the wheels of the Western Tradition

And trod where bards have danced to church,

Pay a penny for this fragment of a burning torch.

It will never go out.

 

It will gather unto itself all the fires

That blaze between the heavens above and the earth beneath

Until the flame shall frighten each mud-hearted hypocrite

And scatter the beetles fattened on the cream of corruption,

The beetles that riddle the ramparts of Man.

 

Pay a penny for my singing torch,

O my sisters, my brothers of the land of my mothers,

The land of our fathers, our troubles, our dreams,

The land of Llewellyn and Shoni bach Shinkin,

The land of the sermons that peddle the streams,

The land of the englyn and Crawshay’s old engine,

The land that is sometimes as proud as she seems.

And the sons of the mountains and sons of the valleys

O lift up your hearts, and then

lift up your feet.

 

by Idris Davies

Dream by Mikhail Lermontov

At blazing noon, in Dagestan’s deep valley,

a bullet in my chest, dead still I lay,

as steam yet rose above my wound, I tallied

each drop of blood, as life now now seeped away.

 

Alone I lay within a sandy hollow,

as jagged ledges teemed there, rising steep,

with sun-scorched peaks above me, burning yellow,

I too was scorched, yet slept a lifeless sleep.

 

I dreamt of lights upon an evening hour,

a lavish feast held in my native land,

and fair young maidens garlanded with flowers:

their talk of me was merry and off-hand.

 

But one of them, not joining their free chatter,

sat timidly apart, bemused, alone,

sunk in a dream, her soul by sadness shattered:

God only knows what made her so forlorn;

 

she dreamed of sand in Dagestan’s deep valley,

a gorge in which a man she knew lay dead,

black steam still rose above the wound’s scorched hollow,

as blood streamed down and cooled like molten lead.

 

by Михаил Юрьевич Лермонтов (Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov)

(1841)

translated by Alexander Levitsky

Rachel by Anna Akhmatova

A man met Rachel, in a valley. Jacob

Bowed courteously, this wanderer far from home.

Flocks, raising the hot dust, could not slake their

Thirst. The well was blocked with a huge stone.

Jacob wrenched the stone from the well

Of pure water, and the flocks drank their fill.

 

But the heart in his breast began to grieve,

It ached like an open wound.

He agreed that in Laban’s fields he should serve

Seven years to win the maiden’s hand.

For you, Rachel! Seven years in his eyes

No more than seven dazzling days.

 

But silver-loving Laban lives

In a web of cunning, and is unknown to grace.

He thinks: every deceit forgives

Itself to the glory of Laban’s house.

And he led Leah firmly to the tent

Where Jacob took her, blind and innocent.

 

Night drops from on high over the plains,

The cool dews pour,

And the youngest daughter of Laban groans,

Tearing the thick braids of her hair.

She curses her sister and reviles God, and

Begs the Angel of Death to descend.

 

And Jacob dreams the hour of paradise:

In the valley the clear spring,

The joyful look in Rachel’s eyes,

And her voice like a bird’s song.

Jacob, was it you who kissed me, loved

Me, and called me your black dove?

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1921)

– from Anno Domini MCMXXI translation by D. M. Thomas