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An Old Lament Renewed
The soil is savoury with their bones' lost marrow;
Down among dark roots their polished knuckles lie,
And no one could tell one peeled head from another;
Earth packs each crater that once gleamed with eye.
Colonel and batman, emperor and assassin,
Democratized by silence and corruption,
Defy identification with identical grin:
The joke is long, will brook no interruption.
At night the imagination walks like a ghoul
Among the stone lozenges and counterpanes of turf
Tumescent under cypresses; the long, rueful call
Of the owl soars high and then wheels back to earth.
And brooding over the enormous dormitory
The mind grows shrill at those nothings in lead rooms
Who were beautiful once or dull and ordinary,
But loved, all loved, all called to sheltering arms.
Many I grieve with a grave, deep love
Who are deep in the grave, whose faces I never saw:
Poets who died of alcohol, bullets, or birthdays
Doss in the damp house, forbidden now to snore.
And in a French orchard lies whatever is left
Of my friend, Gordon Rennie, whose courage would toughen
The muscle of resolution; he laughed
At death's serious face, but once too often.
On summer evenings when the religious sun stains
The gloom in the bar and the glasses surrender demurely
I think of Donovan whose surrender was unconditional,
That great thirst swallowed entirely.
And often some small thing will summon the memory
Of my small son, Benjamin. A smile is his sweet ghost.
But behind, in the dark, the white twigs of his bones
Form a pattern of guilt and waste.
I am in mourning for the dull, the heroic and the mad;
In the haunted nursery the child lies dead.
I mourn the hangman and his bulging complement;
I mourn the cadaver in the egg.
The one-eyed rider aims, shoots death into the womb;
Blood on the sheet of snow, the maiden dead.
The dagger has a double blade and meaning,
So has the double bed.
Imagination swaggers in the sensual sun
But night will find it at the usual mossy gate;
The whisper from the mouldering darkness comes:
'I am the one you love and fear and hate.'
I know my grieving is made thick by terror;
The bones of those I loved aren't fleshed by sorrow.
I mourn the deaths I've died and go on dying;
I fear the long, implacable tomorrow.
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