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

Week 162: Public Library, by Dannie Abse

The Welsh writer Dannie Abse, who died last year, had a line in evocative urban melancholy that I find engaging, as in this poem where he speculates somewhat wryly on his likely readership. But how nice to be able to assume that one does actually have a readership…

Public Library

Who, in the public library, one evening after rain,
amongst the polished tables and linoleum,
stands bored under blank light to glance at these pages?
Whose absent mood, like neon glowing in the night,
is conversant with wet pavements, nothing to do?

Neutral, the clock-watching girl stamps out the date,
a forced celebration, a posthumous birthday,
her head buttered by the drizzling library lamps,
yet the accident of words, too, can light the semi-dark
should the reader lead them home, generously journey,
later to return, perhaps leaving a bus ticket as a bookmark.

Who wrote in margins hieroglyphic notations,
that obscenity, deleted this imperfect line?
Read by whose hostile eyes, in what bed-sitting room,
in which rainy, dejected railway stations?

Dannie Abse