Monday, 3 June 2013

Favourite snatches (5)

Cyril Connolly once challenged W. H. Auden to write a poem that would make him cry. The result was The Fall of Rome, which you'll probably know. The last time I read something that made me feel as though I had something in my eye it was this poem by W. S. Graham, about his father.

To Alexander Graham

Lying asleep walking
Last night I met my father
Who seemed pleased to see me.
He wanted to speak. I saw
His mouth saying something
But the dream had no sound.

We were surrounded by
Laid-up paddle steamers
In The Old Quay in Greenock.
I smelt the tar and the ropes.

It seemed that I was standing
Beside the big iron cannon
The tugs used to tie up to
When I was a boy. I turned
To see Dad standing just
Across the causeway under
That one lamp they keep on.

He recognised me immediately.
I could see that. He was
The handsome, same age
With his good brows as when
He would take me on Sundays
Saying we’ll go for a walk.

Dad, what am I doing here?
What is it I am doing now?
Are you proud of me?
Going away, I knew
You wanted to tell me something.

You stopped and almost turned back
To say something. My father,
I try to be the best
In you you give me always.

Lying asleep turning
Round in the quay-lit dark
It was my father standing
As real as life. I smelt
The quay’s tar and the ropes.

I think he wanted to speak.
But the dream had no sound.
I think I must have loved him.

W. S. Graham, “To Alexander Graham” from Collected Poems 1942-1977 (London: Faber, 1979). 
Copyright The Estate of W. S. Graham.

'That one lamp they keep on' is a favourite line. What could be simpler? More moving?

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