October by Gillian Clarke

Wind in the poplars and a broken branch,
a dead arm in the bright trees. Five poplars
tremble gradually to gold. The stone face
of the lion darkens in a sharp shower,
his dreadlocks of lobelia grown long,
tangled, more brown now than blue-eyed.

My friend dead and the graveyard at Orcop –
her short ride to the hawthorn hedge, lighter
than hare-bones on men’s shoulders, our faces
stony, rain, weeping in the air. The grave
deep as a well takes the earth’s thud, the slow
fall of flowers.

Over the page the pen
runs faster than wind’s white steps over the grass.
For a while health feels like pain. Then panic
running the fields, the grass, the racing leaves
ahead of light, holding that robin’s eye
in the laurel, hydrangeas’ faded green.
I must write like the wind, year after year
passing my death-day, winning ground.

By Gillian Clarke
from Selected Poems (in the New Poems section of the 1996 edition)

Additional information: Orcop is a village and civil parish in the county of Herefordshire, England. It lies 14 kilometres (8.7 miles) south of Hereford.

St John the Baptist’s Church, in the parish of Orcop, is known as ‘the Poets Church‘ due to being the site where the English poet and broadcaster Frances Horovitz was laid to rest in October 1983 so, I assume, she is the deceased friend referred to in the poem.

Barn Owl by R. S. Thomas

i.

Mostly it is a pale

face hovering in the afterdraught

of the spirit, making both ends meet

on a scream. It is the breath

of the churchyard, the forming

of white frost in a believer,

when he would pray; it is soft

feathers camouflaging a machine.

 

It repeats itself year

after year in its offspring,

the staring pupils it teaches

its music to, that is the voice

of God in the darkness cursing himself

fiercely for his lack of love.

 

ii.

and there the owl happens

like white frost as

cruel and as silent

and the time on its

blank face is not

now so the dead

have nothing to go

by and are fast

or slow but never punctual

as the alarm is

over their bleached bones

of its night-strangled cry.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from The Way of It  (1977)

After Plodding Year After Year by Georgy Ivanov

After plodding year after year

through towns in an alien land,

we have ground enough to despair –

and despair is where we must end.

 

For despair is our final refuge –

as if, in midwinter, we had come

from Vespers in a nearby church,

through Russian snow, to our home.

 

by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)

(1958)

translated by Robert Chandler