As a child holds a pet,
Arms clutching but with hands that do not join,
And the coiled animal watches the gap
To outer freedom in animal air,
So the earth-and-rock flesh arms of this harbour
Embrace but do not enclose the sea
Which, through a gap, vibrates to the open sea
Where ships and dolphins swim and above is the sun.
In the bright winter sunlight I sit on the stone parapet
Of a bridge; my circling arms rest on a newspaper
Empty in my mind as the glittering stone
Because I search for an image
And seeing an image I count out the coined words
To remember the childish headlands of Port Bou.
A lorry halts beside me with creaking brakes
And I look up at warm waving flag-like faces
Of militia men staring down at my French newspaper.
'How do they write of our struggle, over the frontier?'
I hold out the paper, but they refuse,
They did not ask for anything so precious
But only for friendly words and to offer me cigarettes.
In their smiling faces the war finds peace, the famished mouths
Of the rusty carbines brush against their trousers
Almost as fragilely as reeds;
And wrapped in a cloth - old mother in a shawl -
The terrible machine-gun rests.
They shout, salute back as the truck jerks forward
Over the vigorous hill, beyond the headland.
An old man passes, his running mouth,
With three teeth like bullets, spits out 'pom-pom-pom'.
The children run after; and, more slowly, the women,
Clutching their clothes, follow over the hill,
Till the village is empty, for the firing practice,
And I am left alone on the bridge at the exact centre
Where the cleaving river trickles like saliva.
At the exact centre, solitary as a target,
Where nothing moves against a background of cardboard houses
Except the disgraceful skirring dogs; and the firing begins,
Across the harbour mouth from headland to headland.
White flecks of foam gashed by lead in the sea;
And the echo trails over its iron lash
Whipping the flanks of the surrounding hills.
My circling arms rest on the newspaper,
My mind seems paper where dust and ink fall,
I tell myself the shooting is only for practice,
And my body seems a cloth which the machine-gun stitches
Like a sewing machine, neatly, with cotton from a reel,
And the solitary, irregular, thin 'paffs' from the carbines
Draw on long needles white threads through my navel.
Stephen Spender's Other Poems
Read this poem in other languages
This poem has not been translated into any other language yet.
Comments about this poem (Port Bou by Stephen Spender )
- A weirdo, Amgad Samy
- an act, Billie Lynn Minear
- engulfed in your flesh, Billie Lynn Minear
- recyclops, ramon lvdiaz
- Ideal or Real, immanuel santos
- clear as mud, Mandolyn ...
- Burma war, lee fones
- Nexus in open, hasmukh amathalal
- There are veins of gold embedded, Little Eagle McGowan
- Yours Desire for High Sky, Aftab Alam
Poem of the Day
- Dreams, Langston Hughes
- Still I Rise, Maya Angelou
- Unity is Strength, S.D. TIWARI
- Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, Dylan Thomas
- Fire and Ice, Robert Frost
- The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost
- The City Planners, Margaret Atwood
- Phenomenal Woman, Maya Angelou
- I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
- I, Too, Langston Hughes
(1 February 1902 – 22 May 1967)
(March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963)
(4 April 1928 - 28 May 2014)
(1 February 1927)
Edgar Allan Poe
(19 January 1809 - 7 October 1849)
(12 July 1904 – 23 September 1973)
(27 October 1914 – 9 November 1953)
(10 December 1830 – 15 May 1886)
(31 May 1819 - 26 March 1892)