Week 308: Forgotten, by Dannie Abse

Another one from Welsh poet and doctor Dannie Abse (1923-2014), written, I assume from the Vietnam reference, in the late sixties or early seventies. The theme is a common enough one in literature – that haunting sense of the other place, once known or dreamed of, that one can never quite get back to or come to: Alain-Fourner’s lost domain, H.G.Wells and his door in the wall, Edwin Muir’s childhood Eden, the unscheduled railway halt of Robert Graves’s poem ‘The Next Time’.


That old country I once said I’d visit
when older. Can no one tell me its name?
Odd, to have forgotten what it is called.
I would recognise the name if I heard it.
So many times I have searched the atlas
With a prowling convex lens – to no avail.

I know the geography of the great world
has changed; the war, the peace, the deletions
of places – red pieces gone forever
,and names of countries altered forever:
Gold Coast Ghana, Persia become Iran,
Siam Thailand, and hell now Vietnam.

People deleted. Must I sleep again to reach it,
to find the back door opening to a field,
A barking of dogs, and a path that leads back?
One night in pain, the dead middle of night,
will I awake again, know who I am,
the man from somewhere else, and the place’s name?

Dannie Abse


3 thoughts on “Week 308: Forgotten, by Dannie Abse

    • OK. It’s a fairly early Graves poem, present in the 1965 ‘Collected’ but possibly not in later versions: he did tend to drop a lot of earlier work which in my view resulted in too much of a bias in his closing years towards the later. It runs as follows:

      The Next Time

      And that inevitable accident
      On the familiar journey – roughly reckoned
      By miles and shillings – in a cramped compartment
      Between a first hereafter and a second?

      And when we passengers are given two hours,
      The wheels failing once more at Somewhere-Nowhere,
      To climb out, stretch our legs and pick wild flowers –
      Suppose that this time I elect to stay there?

      Robert Graves

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