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SIX EARLY POEMS – Scottish Review of Books
by Alastair Reid


August 11, 2018 | by Alastair Reid


There was not much trouble in that goodbye
—in the saying of it, I mean. But the way
was that untrodden one, that lay
over the thick of the older wood,
and not very often had I gone there,
but mostly by one where the grass was bare
and footpath clearer, with sometimes the eye
of a cottage lamp to point the way.
But this was a night I wanted away
to a different place, in my different mood.

So I left the road for the higher places
and found the wood—but the path was strange,
having no known tree-trunks to mark its range.
It was dark, for the boughs shut out the sky
where they bent close over. And owls would call
to the world that the snow was beginning to fall
Oh my steps were slow there. Ways, like faces,
grow dear with knowing, and going through
is easy. But this was strange and, I knew,
was bound to be dark where I’d said goodbye.


No, I will give you only shadowy things,
and everything in tides, with a tang of the sea,
broken glass for your toys, or feather free
gull-skeletons sunk in the sand, sea-shiverings,
snatches of sleepy song, a laughter-gust,
and weird wind-wrinkled sailors’ eyes, and cries
strange from the swirl, and drownings, and goodbyes,
bare feet blue with the cold, eyes red with rust,
and stinging tears from the windy whine, and a bare
shelter scratched in the sand, wet nets that flap
forlornly, tales from the tides that, lonely, lap
your shadow, winds that wither your words to air,
laughter for your love—oh hide your head
in dreams, forget what the sea, once sorrowing, said.


O child, I watched your gentle eager eyes,
bright with the firelight and the gold spun story
of that old traveller’s word-woven glory,
and watched the colours of a far sunrise
glow in your little soul, and new dreams brighten
in the gay opening palace of your heart.
When tales are told and travellers depart,
the fires go out. But dreamed-of dawns still lighten
this air of fantasy, your child-sweet breath.
Child, do not listen. I will tell you stories
of these far lands, and dim your dreaming joys,
of cities built of dust, poor painted glories,
children who dream as you, but have for toys
hunger and pain and blood, and tears and death.


Call back the days, the heedless happy days,
the winter-white delight, the summer joy,
the light forgotten laughter of the boy,
the gathering world, the new discovered ways,
the waking mind, the first strange stir of knowing.
Turn back awhile to pages lit with laughter,
turn through the chaptered years, and coming after,
feel the first touch of time, the growth in going.
Remember—then the wondering sad years
come suddenly with their sound of falling days
where wandering has blurred familiar ways.
Come out of time awhile to the sunsweet places
where there are no sad shadows, no time-tears,
only the songs, the dear remembered faces.


I saw the footworn track,
and knew that now there was no turning back,
no time to pause, or wait
for lingering backward glances from the gate.
The rippling meadow-grass
hissed out a hushed farewell on seeing me pass,
and round my venturing feet,
the sunspots danced. The pinewood scent was sweet.
Oh, it was hard to leave
a happiness that time might not retrieve,
hard, too, to leave you there,
your brown eyes sad, and summer in your hair.


This deepening quiet comes with the afternoon,
and some men, lying back, forget to gaze
at that one spot their eyes have fixed all day,
and close their wondering minds, and sink to sleep.
Others gaze restlessly about the ward.
Their minds move with their eyes. They wonder where
to turn to now from their white-sheeted prison.
Somewhere a wireless plays itself to sleep
behind the scratching of the nurse’s pen.
Some old tune, tiptoeing on the atmosphere,
calls and then dies. But men, lying there, will hear,
will feel this fresh wind through their dusty dreams
and cast their thoughts on it, and feel them blown
through the new opened windows of the memory.

From this Issue


by Susan Mansfield


by Tom Pow


by Roddy Forsyth


by Alastair Reid

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