Your thin shoulders whips will redden,
whips will redden, and ice make leaden.
Your childish arms will heave rail-tracks,
heave rail-tracks and sew mail-sacks.
Your tender feet will tread naked on glass,
tread naked on glass; and blood-wet sand pass.
And for you, I am here, to burn – a black flare,
to burn – a black flare, frightened of prayer.
About this poem
Introduced by a variety of writers, artists and other guests, the Scottish Poetry Library’s classic poem selections are a reminder of wonderful poems to rediscover.
Grant Campbell on ‘Your thin shoulders whips will redden’:
There has always been a poetic element to Saint Jude’s Infirmary – for instance – when the band eloped to Holland we kept a nuclear option in our back pocket to be unleashed at squat gigs whenever the morass of punks or skins or junkies would turn against us.
As the heckling and booing and spitting reached a fever pitch, one of us would approach the mic and recite those fearful words:
‘I would now like to read some Dylan Thomas…’
and so began a harrowing feed-back torn narration of Under Milk Wood.
People have always drawn back the bow and tried to pierce us with arrows of pretension but to tell you the truth – we wear that mockery like a crown. You are always better to overreach yourself and fall on your face than to sound like…but I digress… So, I chose a poem by the Warsaw born, Russian poet Osip Mandelstam who said: “Only in Russia is poetry respected – it gets people killed. Is there anywhere else where poetry is so common a motive for murder?”
How deadly is that? Osip, like many great poets, was caught up in the dreadful chasm of eastern European history and shaped in the crucible of Revolutionary Russia. There is a tension in his poetry between the natural world, folklore, tradition, superstition and the modern world. Mandelstam was a master of symbolist imagery and actively populist – even authoring the manifesto of the ‘Poets Guild’, a movement of young progressive Russian poets.
In the end poetry did get him killed. After publishing poems attacking Stalin (one was described as a ‘sixteen line death sentence’) he was arrested and eventually died on the way to one of Stalin’s camps during the Great Purge.
The poem I chose isn’t one of his most lyrical or important, but I really like the sound of the words – the snap and syncopation beat like the lyrics from a Fall song – sharp and brutal and finally, to me, heart-breaking.
Grant plays bass and is sometimes allowed to sing in Saint Jude’s Infirmary. He has written and abandoned three novels and two plays but has completed lyrics for two Saint Jude’s albums.
Having spent, approaching almost an eternity recording the second album, it is finally due for release in September 2009. Ian Rankin has contributed lyrics and spoken word to the new albums’ closing track, ‘Foot of the Walk’, and the artist Jack Vettraino has contributed an unique painting – a self portrait inspired by single ‘Goodbye Jack Vettriano’ from the first album – for the cover.