The idiot goes round and around
With his brother in a bumping car
At the fair. The famous idiot
Smile hangs over the car's edge,
Illuminating nothing. This is mankind
Being taken for a ride by a rich
Relation. The responses are fixed:
Bump, smile; bump, smile. And the current
Is generated by the smooth flow
Of the shillings. This is an orchestra
Of steel with the constant percussion
Of laughter. But where he should be laughing
Too, his features are split open, and look!
Out of the cracks come warm, human tears.
by R. S. Thomas
from H'm (1972)
And I standing in the shade
Have seen it a thousand times
Happen: first theft, then murder;
Rape; the rueful acts
Of the blind hand. I have said
New prayers, or said the old
In a new way. Seeking the poem
In the pain, I have learned
Silence is best, praying for it
With my conscience. I am eyes
Merely, witnessing virtue's
Defeat; seeing the young born
Fair, knowing the cancer
Awaits them. One thing I have asked
Of the disposer of the issues
Of life: that truth should defer
To beauty. It was not granted.
by R. S. Thomas
from H'm (1972)
Loved not for themselves those tenors who sing
arias from 'Aida' on horned, tinny
gramophones-but because they take a man back
to a half forgotten thing.
We, transported by this evening loaded
with a song recorded by Caruso,
recall some other place, another time,
now charmingly outmoded.
What, for wrong motives, too often is approved
proves we once existed, becomes mere flattery
-then it's ourselves whom we are listening to,
and, by hearing, we are moved.
To know, haunted, this echo too will fade
with fresh alliteration of the leaves,
as more rain, indistinct, drags down the sky
like a sense of gloom mislaid.
Dear classic, melodic absences
how stringently debarred, kept out of mind,
till some genius on a gramophone
holes defences, breaks all fences.
What lives in a man and calls him back
and back through desolate Sunday evenings?
Indescribable, oh faint generic name:
sweet taste, bitter lack.
by Dannie Abse
from Poems, Golders Green (1962)
Additional information: 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.
Some loopy boy wrote 'FUCK OFF'
in firm felt-tip on the white back
of a nippy-as-a-ferret Jack Russell.
Senior staff spotted it while it shat
in the midst of a modern dance
formation – leotards snapped!
(When they weren't busy piercing ears
with sharp instructions, or spiking hair
with swift backhand cuffs,
they did have time to snoop on lessons
which exceeded the statutory decibel rate.)
They set off in pursuit of the errant dog,
skilfully hurdling its poop in the process.
They chased it into Mathematics
where it caused havoc by lifting a leg
45° towards the blackboard's right-angle.
Then through the Audio-Visual concepts room,
across the film of Henry V, making Olivier's horse
rear and throw the bewildered actor.
It hid behind a smoke-screen in the bogs,
sniffed out bunkers in the coal-bunker.
For hours it disappeared and Senior Staff
suspected a trendy English teacher
of using it as an aid to creative writing.
Finally it was duly discovered
by Lizzie Locust (Biology), necking
with a stuffed stoat in the store-cupboard.
Now you can see the distraught Headmistress
scrubbing form bell to bell in her office,
a small dog held down by burly, sweating prefects.
by Mike Jenkins
from Invisible Times
Additional information: Just in case some of the words don’t make sense because they’re British words, or slang and euphemisms specific to the South Wales Welsh-English speaking region, here’s a quick breakdown of some of them:
Loopy: strange, odd, crazy, affected, etc.
Felt-tip: a marker pen, usually a cheap one meant for kids but it can mean the bigger ones too.
Nippy: to do something in a fast, quick, spritely, etc, manner e.g. ‘I’m nipping over to the shops do you want anything?’
Shat: the past tense of the verb ‘to shit’. It’s not a proper word as far as I’m aware and ‘shit’ is more or less used as it’s own quasi-infinitive in most cases i.e. ‘he shit himself [yesterday]’, ‘he has [just now] shit himself’, ‘he will shit himself [if he eats that]’.
Backhand cuffs: backhand hand motions or in this case backhand slaps to pupils or backhanded admonishment due to frustration at not locating the dog yet. That thing where teachers take out their frustrations by speaking passive aggressively towards pupils out of a sense of personal frustration (when it’s nothing to do with said pupils) as I’m sure we have all seen in our schooldays.
Snoop: spy, eavesdrop, etc.
In the bogs: the ‘bogs’ are the toilets… because, at least in my experience, there would be mysterious pools of water on the floor by about 10AM each school day and you could never be certain if they were sink water shaken off of hands or bodily fluids… the smoke screen in the bogs being that it’s where pupils would go to hide when smoking as is no doubt universally the case.
Bunkers: ‘bunking off’, ‘doing a bunk’, etc is the act of not attending class. Skipping class, skiving, but it can also mean playing truant as well though here it’s just the former. The play on words being that people skipping class are in a room intended for storing coal thus both are commonly referred to as ‘bunkers’.
Store – cupboard: A room where school equipment is stored behind a locked door. Usually a small antechamber between two classrooms or a smallroom leading from one classroom like an en suite bathroom but filled with shalves of old textbooks, random items and a prime location for pupils or members of staff to neck on with each other.
Necking: to ‘neck on’ etc involved kissing but implies a more salacious aspect such as groping, french kissing, fondling, etc. Usually done in a place intended to give some privacy but usually easily discovered such as behind the bike sheds or in a storeroom cupboard. ‘Necking on’ being a term often ascribed to teenagers at a party experimenting with such aspects of intimacy.
Prefects: In my experience sixth formers doing something for their school leavers certificate to have extra ‘good citizen’ points when applying for university. Not the Head Boy or Head Girl but given tasks by staff and running or representing various matters for the student body. Compare them to the ‘student council’ in anime for a more commonly known version of this type. I guess though on the whole it’s just teacher’s pets, the (within the school) social elite or those who are already prone to social climbing and a lust for power even at this early an age.
I follow you downhill to the edge
my feet taking as naturally as yours
To a sideways tread, finding footholds
Easily in the turf, accustomed
As we are to a sloping country.
The cliffs buttress the bay's curve to the north
And here drop sheer and sudden to the sea
The choughs plummet from sight then ride
The updraught of the cliff's mild yellow
Light, fold, fall with closed wings for the sky.
At the last moment as in unison they turn
A ripcord of the wind is pulled in time.
He gives her food and the saliva
Of his red mouth, draws her black feathers, sweet
As shining grass across his bill.
Rare birds that pair for life. There they go
Divebombing the marbled wave a yard
Above the spray. Wings flick open
A stoop away
From the drawn teeth of the sea.
by Gillian Clarke
from The Sundial (Gwasg Gomer)
Additional information: While the chough‘s black plumage identifies it as a crow, the chough (pronounced ‘chuff’) has a red bill and legs unlike any other member of the crow family. It is restricted to the west of the British Isles.
It readily displays its mastery of flight with wonderful aerial displays of diving and swooping. This Schedule 1 species can be found in flocks in autumn and winter.
Easter. I go to church
to proclaim with my fellows
I believe in the Ressurection -
of what? Here everything
is electric and automatic.
In April a myriad bulbs
are switched on as flowers
incandesce; a new generation
of creatures rehearses
its genetic code. All this is easy.
Earth is a self-regulating
machine; everything happens
because it must. My faith
is in the inevitability
of creation. There will come a day -
dust under a dry sun,
ashes under its incineration...
is there somewhere in all
the emptiness of the universe
a fertile star where the old
metaphors wil apply, where
the bugling daffodil will sound
abroad not the last post, but
a gush of music out of an empty tomb?
by R.S. Thomas
from Unpublished Poems
What they are saying is
that there is life there, too;
that the universe is the size it is
to enable us to catch up.
They have gone on from the human;
that shining is a reflection
of their intelligence. Godhead
is the colonisation by mind
of untenanted space. It is its own
light, a statement beyond language
of conceptual truth. Every night
is a rinsing myself of the darkness
that is in my veins. I let the stars inject me
with fire, silent as it is far,
but certain in its cauterising
of my despair. I am a slow
traveller. But there is more than time
to arrive. Resting in the intervals
of my breathing, I pick up the signals
relayed to me from a periphery I comprehend.
by R. S. Thomas
from Frequencies (1978)