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?