The Un-born by R. S. Thomas

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)
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Bomber by Ifor Thomas

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

One Day by R.S. 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)

Hallowe’en by R.S. Thomas

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

no better.’

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)

Маяковскому (To Mayakovsky) by Marina Tsvetaeva

Beyond the chimneys and steeples,

baptized by smoke and flame,

stamping-footed archangel,

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:

Маяковскому

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 

Flies Like Thoughts by Innokenty Annensky

Flies, like black thoughts, have not quit me all day…

A. N. Apukhtin (1840 – 93)

 

I’ve grown weary of sleeplessness, dreams.

Locks of hair hang over my eyes:

I would like, with the poison of rhymes,

to drug thoughts I cannot abide.

 

I would like to unravel these knots…

Or is the whole thing a mistake?

In late autumn the flies are such pests –

their cold wings so horribly sticky.

 

Fly-thoughts crawl about, as in dreams,

they cover the paper in black…

Oh, how dead, and how dreadful they seem…

Tear them up, burn them up – quick!

 

by Иннокентий Фёдорович Анненский (Innokenty Fyodorovich Annensky)

(1904)

translated by Boris Dralyuk

Requests by R. S. Thomas

To the angel without wings:

‘Greetings; don’t let me keep you.’

 

To the winged one, making as if

to be up and gone: ‘Stay awhile.’

 

To the dark angel, pedlar

of reflections: ‘I am not at home.’

 

To the one sworn eternally

to silence: ‘Eavesdrop my heart.’

 

To truth’s angel: ‘In his ear about me

nothing but the white lie.’

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Mass for Hard Times (1992)