This week’s poem is from Alun Lewis’ Collected Poems. Merry Christmas!
Alun Lewis (1915-1944), the remarkable poet and story writer, died, aged 28, in Burma during the Second World War. Some critics see him as the last of the great Romantic poets, a twentieth century Keats. Others view him as the bridge between pre-war poets like Auden and Yeats to post-war poets such as Hughes and Gunn. He was born and raised in Depression-struck south Wales and, following degrees in history at Aberystwyth and Manchester, became a teacher there. Early in 1940, despite his pacifist inclinations he enlisted and, after long periods of training, joined the war in India.
Becoming a soldier galvanised Lewis’s writing. By 1944 he had written two collections of poems and one of short stories, all published to considerable acclaim. Firmly established with Keith Douglas as the leading writer of the Second World War, Lewis’s death in an accident while on active service was huge loss to English literature. This Collected Poems comprises a body of work which has endured and which transcends the label ‘war poetry’; it is complete in itself and full of promise of greater things.
Big-uddered piebald cattle low
The shivering chestnut stallion dozes
The fat wife sighs in her chair
Her lap is filled with paper roses
The poacher sleeps in the goose-girl’s arms
Incurious after so much eating
All human beings are replete.
But the cock upon the dunghill feels
God’s needle quiver in his brain
And thrice he crows: and at the sound
The sober and the tipsy men
Jump out of the bed with one accord
And start the war again.
The fat wife comfortably sleeping
Sighs and licks her lips and smiles
But the goose-girl is weeping.