Elegies tend to be sad by definition, but this one by James Reeves seems sadder than most in that it interweaves a lament for a dead poet friend with a lament for the drying up of his own poetic gift. At one point I thought that the ‘he’ referred to in the fourth stanza might be Robert Graves, who was friend to both Reeves and Cameron but had by this time long left England for Majorca, but I am now persuaded that it is simply a continuing reference to the river-god, as symbolising Reeves’s source of inspiration.
To Norman Cameron 1905 – 1953
I asked the river-god a song
Wherewith to mourn your fallen head.
No answer: but a low wind crept
About the stones of his dry bed.
The fingers of insomnia
Turning the pages of self-hate
Are like the incurious wind that stirred
The papery reeds on that estate.
In other days I knew the god
Who flashed and chuckled in the sun.
Where has he taken now his moods
Of shadow and his sense of fun?
The requiem I might have had
From him you would have understood
Just as you also understood
How hard a thing it is, though good,
To hold your peace and wait your time
When there is nothing to be said.
I know it now: I knew you both,
But he is gone, and you are dead.
Even the wind has stopped; no sound
In this dull air is born to live;
So I my desperate silences
To you my friend and poet give.