Week 277: A Father’s Death, by John Hewitt

Another lesson from the Irish poet John Hewitt (1907-1987) in how form may be used to contain feeling as a cartridge-case contains gunpowder.

A Father’s Death

It was no vast dynastic fate
when gasp by gasp my father died,
no mourner at the palace gate
or tall bells tolling slow and wide.

We sat beside the bed: the screen
shut out the hushed, the tiptoe ward,
and now and then we both would lean
to catch what seemed a whsipered word.

My mother watched her days drag by,
two score and five the married years,
yet never weakened to a cry
who was so ready with her tears.

Then, when dawn washed the polished floor
and steps and voices woke and stirred
with wheels along the corridor
my father went without a word.

The sick, the dying, bed by bed,
lay clenched around their own affairs;
that one behind a screen was dead
was someone’s grief, but none of theirs.

It was no vast dynastic death,
no nation silent round that throne,
when, letting go his final breath,
a lonely man went out alone.

John Hewitt

Week 138: A Birthday Rhyme for Roberta, by John Hewitt

A poem of marital bereavement, all the more effective for its restraint.

A Birthday Rhyme For Roberta

For ease of heart and mind
I estimate each stride,
and, lurching forward, find
the landmarks still abide
though senses be decayed,
blurred sight and muffled sound.
Yet yesterday I strayed
on acorn-gravelled ground
to find October true
by each diminished sense,
perpetually new
as grace or innocence.

But now not with me there
picking the coloured leaves,
was she I thought must share
the thistles and the sheaves
when this late harvesting
my husbandry may prove,
as she had shared the spring
and summer of my love.

John Hewitt

Week 40: I Write For…, by John Hewitt

I Write For…

I write for my own kind
I do not pitch my voice
that every phrase be heard
by those who have no choice:
their quality of mind
must be withdrawn and still,
as moth that answers moth
across a roaring hill.

John Hewitt

A wonderfully terse and defiant manifesto; the image in the last line is based, I take it, on the use by moths of chemical messengers called pheromones, which apparently other moths can indeed detect at remarkable distances.