Week 277: A Father’s Death, by John Hewitt

Another lesson from the Irish poet John Hewitt (1907-1987) in how form may be used to contain feeling as a cartridge-case contains gunpowder.

A Father’s Death

It was no vast dynastic fate
when gasp by gasp my father died,
no mourner at the palace gate
or tall bells tolling slow and wide.

We sat beside the bed: the screen
shut out the hushed, the tiptoe ward,
and now and then we both would lean
to catch what seemed a whsipered word.

My mother watched her days drag by,
two score and five the married years,
yet never weakened to a cry
who was so ready with her tears.

Then, when dawn washed the polished floor
and steps and voices woke and stirred
with wheels along the corridor
my father went without a word.

The sick, the dying, bed by bed,
lay clenched around their own affairs;
that one behind a screen was dead
was someone’s grief, but none of theirs.

It was no vast dynastic death,
no nation silent round that throne,
when, letting go his final breath,
a lonely man went out alone.

John Hewitt

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