Sunday, September 15, 2013


O That School Where We Were Young

Iain Crichton Smith (1928-1998), "Mr M.," New Collected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet Press Ltd., 2011), p. 105:
O how Mr M.'s Latin gown
frothed after him like a boat in water.

Raised on grammar, he flushed from these woods
not pheasants but Aeneas and the rest

dressed in the supine and infinitive
ghosts of words, ghosts of innocence, language
beautiful, tough, persistent.

Caesar and the ablative absolute together
harrying barbarous tribes.
The Roman roads undeviating as
an arrow or a sword.

And the wooden desks cut with knives.
Names of children deep in knotted fields
buried like Roman legions.

These fought their own battles
in the lavatories of weeping stone.
Under the taps, inverted heads
sucked at their cold fountains.

And today the holiday planes
ferry them to Italy
on cheap excursions to effeminate
wine and flowering music.

O that school where we were young,
the order's broken. We visit its old stones,
dishonoured consuls visiting Hades
(green field and ponderous doors)

but there are only ghosts there now.
We clutch your ghostly gown like Orpheus
clutching at Eurydice while Pluto
giggles on iron coins.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

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