Week 514: In Hospital: Poona, by Alun Lewis

This week another from the Welsh poet Alun Lewis (see also weeks 48 and 258) who died aged twenty-eight while out in India in the Second World War, and again his subject is the pain of separation from home and loved ones that wartime entails. There are slight awkwardnesses about the poem, and still a few rags of rhetoric that he might have purged given time – I think in particular that the closing two lines are a bit forced – but for me any such flaws are far outweighed by the passion and precision of his remembrance.

In Hospital: Poona

Last night I did not fight for sleep
But lay awake from midnight while the world
Turned its slow features to the moving deep
Of darkness, till I knew that you were furled,
Beloved, in the same dark watch as I.

And sixty degrees of longitude beside
Vanished as though a swan in ecstasy
Had spanned the distance from your sleeping side.
And like to swan or moon the whole of Wales
Glided within the parish of my care:

I saw the green tide leap on Cardigan,
Your red yacht riding like a legend there,
And the great mountains, Dafydd and Llewelyn,
Plynlimmon, Cader Idris and Eryri
Threshing the darkness back from head and fin,

And also the small nameless mining valley
Whose slopes are scratched with streets and sprawling graves
Dark in the lap of firwoods and great boulders
Where you lay waiting, listening to the waves –
My hot hands touched your white despondent shoulders –

And then ten thousand miles of daylight grew
Between us, and I heard the wild daws crake
In India’s starving throat; whereat I knew
That Time upon the heart can break
But love survives the venom of the snake.

Alun Lewis

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