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Open Tue 12 – 6pm, Wed – Sun 12 – 8pm
Royal Festival Hall (Level 5), Southbank Centre, LondonOpen Tuesday 12 noon - 6 pm, Wednesday to Sunday 12 noon – 8 pm
It wasn’t snowing, but it should have been.
You were an old man, nine months from the grave.
Your hand was very dry and very hot
And large, as I recall (I was a boy,
Fourteen years at most, I led you round
Part of the school, your guide; you seemed to listen)
That night you read in a slow, dismissive voice
That left the words like notes on staves hung in the air,
No longer yours, but part of memory -
You talked about Miss Dickinson of Amherst
And said aloud the eight lines of her poem
‘The heart asks pleasure first’. And from that night
I’ve known the poem word-perfect, part of me.
I think you let more lines free into language
And memory with your rusty, lonely voice
Than any other poet of our age.
It must have been like freeing doves
And watching them go off to neighbouring cotes
Or into the low clouds of your New Hampshire
Knowing they’ll meet no harm, that they’ll survive
Long after the hand that freed them has decayed.
Those lines are wise in rhythm and they lead
Into a clapboard dwelling, or a field,
Or lives that prey upon the land and one another,
Or the big country where we both were children.
It begins as a house, an end terrace
in this case
but it will not stop there. Soon it is
which cambers arrogantly past the Mechanics’ Institute,
at the main road without even looking
and quickly it is
a town with all four major clearing banks,
a daily paper
and a football team pushing for promotion.
On it goes, oblivious to the Planning Acts,
the green belts
and before we know it it is out of our hands:
hemisphere, universe, hammering out in all directions
mercifully, it is drawn aside through the eye
of a black hole
and bulleted into a neighbouring galaxy, emerging
smaller and smoother
than a billiard ball but weighing more than Saturn.
People stop me in the street, badger me
in the check-out queue
and ask ‘What is this, this that is so small
and so very smooth
but whose mass is greater than the ringed planet?’
It’s just words
I assure them. But they will not have it.