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Tony Grist

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Oxford 1942 [May. 9th, 2007|10:10 am]
Tony Grist

I wrote this on a train about ten years ago at a time when I was being bombarded with verse and getting it down was almost like taking dictation. 

I used to have a big thing about the poet Sidney Keyes- who was killed in North Africa in 1943. Was he murdered while a prisoner of  the Germans? I've always thought so, but I can't prove it and the latest research suggests he may actually have fallen in action. Never mind. This poem never pretended to be biography.  

Anyway, it's been nagging at me these past few days going, "post me, post me, post me!" So I shall. 

                                    OXFORD 1942

                                    The bells sound over Oxford in the small hours.
                                    Comforting or sad?  A bit of both.
                                    Some things, the bells say, tend to last a long time-
                                    Stonework and bronze, for instance, but not love-
                                    Winged words of love but not the thing itself-
                                    Not as a rule.  The lovers are awake 
                                    But feigning sleep.  She thinks how cold he is.
                                    He thinks how very far away she'll seem
                                    When he's at war.  There'll be a German sergeant
                                    Who'll offer cigarettes then shoot him dead
                                    Because it’s such a bother to keep prisoners
.                                   And she, by then, will be with someone else.
                                    During the next six months until this happens
                                    She in London, he in Africa,
                                    Will sometimes think how, lying back to back,
                                    They heard the bells and knew they'd been defeated.


[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2007-05-09 11:01 am (UTC)
...The lovers are awake/But feigning sleep.

God, that's a great line.

Also this:

And she, by then, will be with someone else.

How succinctly you sum things up, and then the blunt cold line:

There'll be a German sergeant/Who'll offer cigarettes then shoot him dead

I'm for some reason remembering the Star Trek Next Generation show in which Tasha Yar, the security officer, was murdered by an alien because he was bored.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-05-09 11:41 am (UTC)

This guy wasn't bored- exactly- he just didn't know what to do with his prisoners. There they all were in the desert, food and water were limited, and his unit was supposed to be highly mobile- using hit and run tactics against the British. Having to manage and care for prisoners would have been a drag in every sense.

But he was a humane man. He handed out cigarettes first.
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[User Picture]From: jenny_evergreen
2007-05-09 01:05 pm (UTC)
Perfect. Perfect construction, perfect art, timeless concept. *saves*
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-05-09 01:35 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
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[User Picture]From: four_thorns
2007-05-09 05:13 pm (UTC)
very nice. the parallel narratives create a nice cadence. i think maybe the last line is over-stating what's already implicit in the rest of the poem, though.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-05-09 05:53 pm (UTC)
That final line "quotes" the final line of one of Keyes' poems. A poem about Yeats, as it happens. That's why it takes the form it does. Left to my own devices I probably wouldn't have used such a heavy word as "defeated".

Them's my reasons. Which isn't to say that you're wrong.

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[User Picture]From: oakmouse
2007-05-09 06:35 pm (UTC)
"She thinks how cold he is."

Nice. Generally, I like the images, and the way you move from one to another.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-05-09 07:38 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: besideserato
2007-05-09 08:27 pm (UTC)
So powerful. The end strangled me. No, that's not it. It speared my heart but not in a brutal way. Ugh! I can't describe it, I'm sorry. It was amazing. Thank you for sharing.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-05-09 09:17 pm (UTC)

It's a true story- more or less.
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[User Picture]From: besideserato
2007-05-09 11:31 pm (UTC)
Truth, lie, or as Jean Cocteau said, "a lie that tells the truth." Who am I to judge? I just enjoy. And this, my friend, was gorgeous.
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