I have seen the child in the womb,
neither asking to be born
or not to be born, biding its time
without the knowledge of time,
model for the sulptor who would depict
the tranquility that inheres
before thought, or the purity of thought
without language. Its smile forgave
the anachronism of the nomenclature
that would keep it foetal. Its hand
opened delicately as flowers
in innocency's grave.
Was its part written? I have seen
it waiting breathlessly in the wings
to come forth on to a stage
of soil or concrete, where wings
are a memory only or an aspiration.
by R. S. Thomas
from Mass for Hard Times (1992)
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
In that day language
shall expose its sores,
begging for the alms
we can not give. ‘Leave it’
we shall say, ‘on the pavement
of the quotidian.’ There is
a cause there is nobody
to plead, yet whose sealed lips
are its credentials. What
does the traveller to your door
ask, but that you sit down
and share with him that
for which there are no words?
I look forward to the peace
conferences of the future
when lies, hidden behind speeches,
shall have their smiles blown away
by the dove’s wings, fanning in silence.
by R. S. Thomas
Mass for Hard Times (1992)
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
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)
Beyond the chimneys and steeples,
baptized by smoke and flame,
down the decades I call your name!
Rock-steady or change-at-a-whim!
Coachman and stallion in one!
He snorts and spits into his palm –
chariot of glory, hold on!
Singer of city-square wonders,
I salute that arrogant tone
that rejected the brilliant diamond
for the sake of the ponderous stone.
I salute you, cobblestone-thunderer!
– see, he yawns, gives a wave, then he swings
himself back into harness, back under
the shafts, his archangelic wings.
by Марина Ивановна Цветаева (Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)
(18 September 1921)
translated by Peter Oram
Fun facts: This poem is dedicated to Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky (Владимир Владимирович Маяковский) who was a Russian Soviet poet, playwright, artist, and actor.
During his early, pre-Revolution period leading into 1917, Mayakovsky became renowned as a prominent figure of the Russian Futurist movement. Though Mayakovsky’s work regularly demonstrated ideological and patriotic support for the ideology of the Communist Party and a strong admiration of Vladimir Lenin, Mayakovsky’s relationship with the Soviet state was always complex and often tumultuous. Mayakovsky often found himself engaged in confrontation with the increasing involvement of the Soviet State in cultural censorship and the development of the State doctrine of Socialist realism. In 1930 Mayakovsky committed suicide. Even after death his relationship with the Soviet state remained unsteady. Though Mayakovsky had previously been harshly criticized by Soviet governmental bodies like the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers (RAPP), Joseph Stalin posthumously declared Mayakovsky “the best and the most talented poet of our Soviet epoch.”
Original Russian Cyrillic version:
Превыше крестов и труб, Крещенный в огне и дыме, Архангел-тяжелоступ - Здорово, в веках Владимир! Он возчик и он же конь, Он прихоть и он же право. Вздохнул, поплевал в ладонь: - Держись, ломовая слава! Певец площадных чудес - Здорово, гордец чумазый, Что камнем — тяжеловес Избрал, не прельщась алмазом. Здорово, булыжный гром! Зевнул, козырнул и снова Оглоблей гребет — крылом Архангела ломового. 18 сентября 1921