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.
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.
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
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)
translated by Robert Chandler