Open 11am to 8pm
Royal Festival Hall (Level 5), Southbank Centre, LondonOpen Tuesday - Sunday from 11am to 8pm
Artwork by Paul Peter Piech, 1990. Words by Thomas Gwyn. © the Estate of Paul Peter Piech
deep sorrow for his passaway
sorry we lost he
after your passaway
I give you river,
cloud reflected in river
You give back river
you give back cloud
sorry we lost he
I give you whirling dervish of house,
half-mile of heron
You give them back,
you are passaway
I give you memory
of our weekdays and weekends
and all the days in between
You give them back
with or without sorrow
I can’t tell
I give you hodgepodge of spiders,
Love’s dagger-proof coat,
myself when young
I give you river and cloud,
you return them, unused,
don’t need them
All week, since ‘Skipper’ crossed the Bar,
We’ve had silence coming out of our ears:
Silence for Strings by Samuel Barber,
Edwardian silence by Edward Elgar;
Big Ben has held her silver tongue
Till the whole State seems dumb with it.
Even today, the play’s postponed
While two fifteens of blue and red,
With armbands, muster on half-way,
Each bowed head wantonly intent
On its secret stuff, the own trash
(Forty-six) that fills the void
When nothing’s happening. (Helen’s waist.
Fifty-four. The piece of white
Chalk on which their toes are set.)
Acts of remembrance (Now up the six
Broad steps of the Cenotaph.)
Render the dead their quiet due;
But must the Empire hold her breath
For Skipper, slain by his appetites?
And dragging through this second minute,
Too—until you fear the ref
Has in his turn suffered a stroke,
And failed to tell; or when his whistle
Blew to inflict his interdict
The pea had flown from the whistletop—…
Imagine fifty thousand boredoms,
Ours, seats in the back of our knees
Till kingdom or the cold night come;
And then—O Jesus, make it stop!
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.