Friday Poem – In Hospital: Poona

This week’s poem is from Alun Lewis: Collected Poems, edited by Cary Archard, to celebrate Lewis’s centenary earlier this week. Lewis was one of the most compelling writers of the Second World War, whose premature death in 1944 – when he was only 28 – was a grave loss to Britain’s literature community.

For more information about Lewis, check out his website and find out everything you need to know about the continuing centenary celebrations on Twitter.

In Hospital: Poona

Last night I did not fight for sleep
But lay awake from midnight while the world
Turned its slow features to the moving deep
Of darkness, till I knew that you were furled,

Beloved, in the same dark watch as I.
And sixty degrees of longitude beside
Vanished as though a swan in ecstasy
Had spanned the distance from your sleeping side.

And like to swan or moon the whole of Wales
Glided within the parish of my care:
I saw the green tide leap on Cardigan,
Your red yacht riding like a legend there,
And the great mountains, Dafydd and Llewelyn,
Plynlimmon, Cader Idris and Eryri
Threshing the darkness back from head and fin,
And also the small nameless mining valley

Whose slopes are scratched with streets and
sprawling graves
Dark in the lap of firwoods and great boulders
Where you lay waiting, listening to the waves-
My hot hands touched your white despondent shoulders

– And then ten thousand miles of daylight grew
Between us, and I heard the wild daws crake
In India’s starving throat; whereat I knew
That Time upon the heart can break
But love survives the venom of the snake.

Order Alun Lewis: Collected Poems from our website.

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Friday Poem – Goodbye

Today it’s the 70th anniversary of VE Day, marking 70 years since the end of the Second World War in Europe, and so today’s poem comes from Alun Lewis’s Collected Poems.

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 a huge loss to English literature. 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.

Goodbye

So we must say Goodbye, my darling,
And go, as lovers go, for ever;
Tonight remains, to pack and fix on labels
And make an end of lying down together.

I put a final shilling in the gas,
And watch you slip your dress below your knees
And lie so still I hear your rustling comb
Modulate the autumn in the trees.

And all the countless things I shall remember
Lay mummy-cloths of silence round my head;
I fill the carafe with a drink of water;
You say ‘We paid a guinea for this bed,’

And then, ‘We’ll leave some gas, a little warmth
For the next resident, and these dry flowers,’
And turn your face away, afraid to speak
The big word, that Eternity is ours.

Your kisses close my eyes and yet you stare
As though god struck a child with nameless fears;
Perhaps the water glitters and discloses
Time’s chalice and its limpid useless tears.

Everything we renounce except our selves;
Selfishness is the last of all to go;
Our sighs are exhalations of the earth,
Our footprints leave a track across the snow.

We made the universe to be our home,
Our nostrils took the wind to be our breath,
Our hearts are massive towers of delight,
We stride across the seven seas of death.

Yet when all’s done you’ll keep the emerald
I placed upon your finger in the street;
And I will keep the patches that you sewed
On my old battledress tonight, my sweet.

Order Alun Lewis: Collected Poems from our website.

The Ones That Got Away

2015 is a year of important anniversaries at Seren. Not only does this year bring with it the celebrations for the centenary of WW2 writer Alun Lewis, but it also marks 70 years since the biggest mass-breakout of WW2, which happened right here in Bridgend.

Island Farm Camp was originally built to house the workers at the munitions factory in Bridgend when it was thought they’d much rather live close to their workplace than travel to and fro each day. Not surprisingly the women preferred to travel than to stay in the gloomy rooms provided, but when Europe found itself in need of places to keep POWs Island Farm, with its concrete huts and open fields, proved to be ideal.

70 years ago today, at around 10pm on the 10th March 1945, 70 POWs escaped from Camp 198 – better known as Island Farm – after digging a 70ft tunnel beneath the wire. Evidently, 70 was their lucky number.

Each of the escapees were divided into groups and were given maps, food and even a homemade compass, as well as identity papers which had been produced inside the camp. Some of them made it to Birmingham while others got as far as Southampton, and though all but one were eventually recaptured, it was an astounding feat. Yet it is still unknown as to who actually organised the escape.

70 years on Peter Phillips has taken it upon himself to explore the story of Island Farm in The German Great Escape. Phillips’ expert narrative sets the events at Island Farm against the broad sweep of history, from appeasement and re-armament, to the Blitz, the battles of the GIs who passed through, and the campaigns of the German top brass who were later camp inmates. Taking in tensions between the Wehrmacht and SS, a suspicious death and the British de-Nazification programme, Phillips also explores the regime under which the POWs were kept and their reception by the public in south Wales.

Order The German Great Escape from our website.