It's February. Weeping take ink.
Find words in a sobbing rush
For February, while black spring
Burns through the rumbling slush.
And take a cab. Ride for a rouble
Through wheel racket and bell's throbbing
To where the downpour makes more din
Than the sound of ink and sobbing;
Where rooks in thousands, like charred pears
Windfallen from their branching skies,
Drop into puddles and bring down
Desolution into deep eyes.
Thawed patches underneath show black,
The wind is furrowed with cries, and then,
The more suddenly the more surely,
Verses sob from the pen.
By Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к
(Boris Leonidovich Pasternak)
translated by Jon Stallworthy and Peter France
And one voice says: Come
Back to the rain and manure
Of Siloh, to the small talk,
Of the wind,and the chapel's
Temptation; to the pale,
Sickly half-smile of
The daughter of the village
Grocer. The other says: Come
To the streets, where the pound
Sings and the doors open
To its music, with life
Like an express train running
To time. And I stay
Here, listening to them, blowing
On the small soul in my
Keeping with such breath as I have.
by R. S. Thomas
from H'm (1972)
Siloh is a hamlet in Llandovery, Carmarthenshire.
After fifty-six years the aluminium is slate grey
And the ribs of the wings as light as bird bones.
Wind rattles through the remains of the bomber
that failed to clear the escarpment of Cwar y Cigfan.
The walkers rest here, throw stones for the dog
Drink beer, share a bag of crisps, lean against the rough memorial.
The wreaths of last November have moulted their poppies
There is a wooden cross jammed between stones.
It’s a long way home for the five Canadians
Whose names are now barely legible.
Above a hang glider hovers on the edge of a thermal
Then skitters into a mocking dive.
Clouds are solid enough to reach up and grab
like the craggy hand that pulled these airmen to earth
splattered their blood over the stones and sheep shit of Cwar y Cigfan.
Made them forever part of Wales.
By Ifor Thomas
She is more white than the sea’s
Purest spray, and colder
To touch. She is nourished
By salt winds, and the prayers
Of the drowned break on her. She smiles
At the stone angels, who have turned
From the sea’s truth to worship
The mystery of her dumb child.
The bay brings her the tribute
Of its silences. The ocean has left
An offering of the small flowers
Of its springs; but the men read,
Beyond the harbour on the horizon,
The fury of its obituaries
by R. S. Thomas
from Not That He Brought Flowers (1968)
Fun fact: The poem refers to Cape Clear Island off the coast of Ireland. Clear Island or Cape Clear Island (officially known by its Irish name: Cléire, and sometimes also called Oileán Chléire) lies south-west of County Cork in Ireland. It is the southernmost inhabited part of the island of Ireland and has a population of over 100 people. Officially it is a Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking area), and most inhabitants speak Irish and English. Archaeological sites on the island include a prehistoric cup-marked stone (moved to the island’s museum), a fulacht fiadh at Gort na Lobhar, a neolithic passage tomb at Cill Leire Forabhain, several standing stones around the island, a promontory fort at Dún an Óir, and a signal tower dating from the Napoleonic Wars. The island also has a number of early Christian sites, and is reputed to be the birthplace of Saint Ciarán of Saigir. The ruins of 12th century church are close to the main pier.
All that is human slips away;
everything was mere husk.
All that is left, indivisible,
is birdsong and dusk.
A sharp scent of warm mint,
the river’s far-off noise;
all equal, and equally light –
all my losses and joys.
Slowly, with its warm towel
the wind dries my face;
moths immolate themselves
in the campfire’s flames.
by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)
translated by Robert Chandler
He blunders through the last dream
of the night. I hear him, waking.
A brick and concrete stall, narrow
as a heifer’s haunches. Steel bars
between her trap and his small yard.
A froth of slobbered hay droops
from the stippled muzzle. In the slow
rolling mass of his skull his eyes
surface like fish bellies.
He is chained while they swill his floor.
His stall narrows to rage. He knows
the sweet smell of a heifer’s fear.
Remembered summer haysmells reach him,
a trace of the herd’s freedom, clover-
loaded winds. The thundering seed
blows up the Dee breathing of plains,
of cattle wading in shallows.
His crazy eyes churn with their vision.
By Gillian Clarke
from Letters from a Far Country (1982)
Fun fact: The River Dee (Welsh: Afon Dyfrdwy, Latin: Deva Fluvius) is a river in the United Kingdom. It flows through parts of both Wales and England, forming part of the border between the two countries.
There is joy in battle,
poised on a chasm’s edge,
and in black ocean’s rage –
that whirl of darkening wind and wave –
in an Arabian sandstorm,
and in a breath of plague.
Within each breath of death
lives joy, lives secret joy
for mortal hearts, a pledge,
perhaps, of immortality,
and blessed is he who, storm-tossed,
can see and seize this joy.
by Александр Сергеевич Пушкин (Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin)
a.k.a. Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin
translated by Robert Chandler
Fun Facts: This is one of Pushkin’s ‘Little Tragedies’, an adaption of part of a play by a Scottish writer, John Wilson. The song this excerpt is from is of Pushkin’s own original composition though.