Week 255: Passing The Graveyard, by Andrew Young

A characteristically neat and reflective piece from Scots poet and clergyman Andrew Young (1885-1971), which turns on the question of what exactly it is that constitutes our personal identity and sense of self; an interesting one even if those of us not blessed with a religious faith may feel that whatever it is, the chances of it surviving our physical demise in any form are pretty slim.

Passing The Graveyard

I see you did not try to save
The bouquet of white flowers I gave;
So fast they wither on your grave.

Why does it hurt the heart to think
Of that most bitter abrupt brink
Where the low-shouldered coffins sink?

These living bodies that we wear
So change by every seventh year
That in a new dress we appear.

Limbs, spongy brain and slogging heart,
No part remains the selfsame part;
Like streams they stay and still depart.

You slipped slow bodies in the past;
Then why should we be so aghast
You flung off the whole flesh at last?

Let him who loves you think instead
That like a woman who has wed
You undressed first and went to bed.

Andrew Young

Week 19: The Sheaf, by Andrew Young

The Sheaf

I’d often seen before
That sheaf of corn hung from the bough –
Strange in a wood a sheaf of corn
Though by the winds half torn
And thrashed by rain to empty straw.
And then to-day I saw
A small pink twitching snout
And eyes like black beads sewn in fur
Peep from a hole in doubt,
And heard on dry leaves go tat-tat
The stiff tail of the other rat.
And now as the short day grows dim
And here and there farms in the dark
Turn to a spark,
I on my stumbling way think how
With indistinguishable limb
And tight tail round each other’s head
They’ll make tonight one ball in bed,
Those long-tailed lovers who have come
To share the pheasants’ harvest-home.

Andrew Young

Many of Andrew Young’s best poems work, as here, by a sudden shift of perception, an epiphany of the commonplace that goes beyond mere trickery to achieve a kind of grace in all senses of the word. Despite certain personal reservations about rats, I have to love the tenderness of the last two lines!