They came over the snow to the bread's
pure snow, fumbled it in their huge
hands, put their lips to it
like beasts, stared into the dark chalice
where the wine shone, felt it sharp
on their tongue, shivered as at a sin
remembered, and heard love cry
momentarily in their hearts' manager.
They rose and went back to their poor
holdings, naked in the bleak light
of December. Their horizon contracted
to the one small, stone-riddled field
with its tree, where the weather was nailing
the appalled body that had not asked to be born.
by R. S. Thomas
from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)
O lovely demon, half-divine!
Hemlock and hydromel and gall,
Honey and aconite and wine
Mingle to make thatmouth of thine-
Thy mouth I love: but most of all
It is thy tears that I desire-
Thy tears, like fountain-drops that fall
In garden red,Satanical;
Or like the tears of mist and fire,
Wept by the moon, that wizards use
to secret runes when they require
Some silver philtre,sweet and dire.
By Clark Ashton Smith
You should quit smoking in order to boast of your will power.
It would be nice, not having smoked for a week and having acquired confidence in yourself that you will be able to hold back from smoking, to come into the company of Lipavsky, Oleinikov, and Zabolotsky, so that they would notice on their own that all evening you haven’t been smoking.
And when they ask, “Why aren’t you smoking?” you would answer, concealing the frightful boasting inside you, “I quit smoking.”
A great man must not smoke.
It is good and useful to employ the fault of boastfulness to rid yourself of the fault of smoking.
The love of wine, gluttony, and boastfulness are lesser faults than smoking.
A man who smokes is never at the height of his circumstance, and a smoking woman is capable of just about anything. And so, comrades, let us quit smoking.
by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)
a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)
translated by Matvei Yankelevich
Zabolotsky was part of OBERIU (ОБэРИу) a short-lived avant-garde collective of Russian Futurist writers, musicians, and artists in the 1920s and 1930s. The group coalesced in the context of the “intense centralization of Soviet Culture” and the decline of the avant garde culture of Leningrad, as “leftist” groups were becoming increasingly marginalized.
Lipavsky and Oleynikov belonged to a later grouping, which had no public outlet, is generally called the “chinari” (i.e. “the titled ones”) group in Russian literary scholarship, though it is uncertain that they ever formalized a name for the group, nor that they called themselves “chinari” with any consistency. Thus, the names “OBERIU” and “chinari” are somewhat interchangeable in the scholarship. The borders between the two groups are (and were) permeable, and the only basic continuity is the presence of Kharms and Alexander Vvedensky.
I used to go to St John’s Wood
On Saturday evenings in summer
To look on London behind the dusty garden trees,
And argue pleasantly and bitterly
About Marx and Heine, the iron brain and the laughing sword;
And the ghost of Keats would sit in a corner,
Smiling slowly behind a summer of wine,
Sadly smiling at the fires of the future.
And late in the summer night
I heard the tall Victorian critics snapping
Grim grey fingers at London Transport,
And sober, solemn students of James Joyce,
Dawdling and hissing into Camden Town.
But now in the winter dusk
I go to Dowlais Top
and stand by the railway bridge
Which joins the bleak brown hills,
And gaze at the streets of Dowlais
Lop-sided on the steep dark slope,
A bettered bucket on a broken hill,
And see the rigid phrases of Marx
Bold and black against the steel-grey west,
Riveted along the sullen skies.
And as for Heine, I look on the rough
Bleak, colourless hills around,
Naked and hard as flint,
Romance in a rough chemise.
by Idris Davies
Dowlais is a village and community of the county borough of Merthyr Tydfil, in Wales. Dowlais is notable within Wales and Britain for its historic association with ironworking; once employing, through the Dowlais Iron Company, roughly 5,000 people, the works being the largest in the world at one stage.
Marx, I assume, refers to Karl Marx (5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) the German philosopher, economist, historian, political theorist, sociologist, journalist and revolutionary socialist.
Heine, refers to Christian Johann Heinrich Heine (13 December 1797 – 17 February 1856) was a German poet, journalist, essayist, and literary critic. He is best known outside of Germany for his early lyric poetry, which was set to music in the form of Lieder (art songs) by composers such as Robert Schumann and Franz Schubert. Heine’s later verse and prose are distinguished by their satirical wit and irony. He is considered part of the Young Germany movement. His radical political views led to many of his works being banned by German authorities, which however only added to his fame. Heine spent the last 25 years of his life as an expatriate in Paris.
James Augustine Aloysius Joyce (2 February 1882 – 13 January 1941) was an Irish novelist, short story writer, and poet. He contributed to the modernist avant-garde and is regarded as one of the most influential and important authors of the 20th century. Joyce is best known for Ulysses (1922), a landmark work in which the episodes of Homer’s Odyssey are paralleled in a variety of literary styles, most famously stream of consciousness. Other well-known works are the short-story collection Dubliners (1914), and the novels A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Finnegans Wake (1939). His other writings include three books of poetry, a play, his published letters and occasional journalism.
You are there also
at the foot of the precipice
of water that was too steep
for the drowned: their breath broke
and they fell. You have made an altar
out of the deck of the lost
trawler whose spars
are your cross. The sand crumbles
like bread; the wine is
the light quietly lying
in its own chalice. There is
a sacrament there more beauty
than terror whose ministrant
you are and the aisles are full
of the sea shapes coming to its celebration.
by R. S. Thomas
from Frequencies (1978)
It is said that he went gaily to that scaffold,
dressed magnificently as a bridegroom,
his lace lying on him like white frost
in the windless morning of his courage.
His red blood was the water of life,
changed to wine at the wedding banquet;
the bride Scotland, the spirit dependent on
such for the consummation of her marrriage.
by R. S. Thomas
from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)
Fun fact: This poem is about James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose, a Scottish nobleman, poet and soldier, who initially joined the Covenanters in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, but subsequently supported King Charles I as the English Civil War developed. From 1644 to 1646, and again in 1650, he fought in the civil war in Scotland on behalf of the King and is generally referred to in Scotland as simply “the Great Montrose”. His spectacular victories, which took his opponents by surprise, are remembered in military history for their tactical brilliance
‘Isn’t the violet a dear little flower? And the daisy, too.
What nice little thoughts arise from a daisy!
If I were a poet now – but no, not a poet,
For a poet is a wild and blasphemous man;
He talks about wine and women too much for me
And he makes mad songs about old pagans, look you.
Poets are dangerous men to have in chapel,
And it is bad enough in chapel as it is
with all the quarelling over the organ and the deacons;
The deacons are not too nice to saintly young men like me.
(Look at Jenkins John Jones, the old damn scoundrel!)
They know I can pray for hours and hours,
They know what a righteous young man I am,
They know how my Bible is always in my pocket
And Abraham and Jonah like brothers to me,
But they prefer the proper preacher with his collar turned around;
They say he is more cultured than I am,
And what is culture but palaver and swank?
I turn up my nose at culture.
I stand up for faith, and very simple faith,
And knowledge I hate because it is poison.
Think of this devilish thing they call science,
It is Satan’s new trick to poison men’s minds.
When I shall be local councillor and a famous man –
I look forward to the day when I shall be mayor –
I will put my foot down on clever palaver,
And show what a righteous young man I am.
And they ought to know I am that already,
For I give all my spare cash to the chapel
And all my spare time to God.’
by Idris Davies