Memory Maps: Six poems by Donald Davie
'Out of East Anglia'
Pacific: in Russian as
In our language
Peaceful is the word
For that last sea at the edge;
And nearer than the Americas'
Awesome, vertical falls
Into the Western Ocean
The imperceptible, tempting
Sometimes when all this side
Of England seems to hang
Suspenseful on that slide,
How peace might be is near.
Stillness! Down the dripping ride,
The firebreak avenue
Of Tunstall Forest, at the side
Of which we sought for you,
You did not come. The soft rain dropped
And quiet indeed we found:
No cars but ours, and ours was stopped,
Rainfall the only sound.
And quiet is a lovely essence;
Silence is of the tomb,
Austere though happy; but the tense
Stillness did not come,
The deer did not, although they fed
Perhaps nearby that day,
The liquid eye and elegant head
No more than a mile away.
'Thanks to industrial Essex'
Thanks to industrial Essex,
I have spun on the greasy axis
Of business and sociometrics;
I have come to know the structures
Of public service
As well as I know the doves
Crop-full in mildewed haycocks.
I know that what they merit
Is not scorn, sometimes scorn
And hatred, but sadness really.
Italic on chalky tussocks,
The devious lovely weasel
Snakes through a privileged annex,
An enclave of directors.
Landscapes of supertax
Record a deathful failure
As clearly as the lack
Of a grand or expansively human
Scale to the buildings of Ilford.
The scale of that deprivation
Goes down in no statistics
'Orford', after Pasternak
With the actual the illusory
With the vegetable growth the granite.
As it might be in Spring on the day of the Annunciation
It is announced to us out of charity
By earth in every fissure of the stone
By every growth of grass from under every wall;
By the thrivings of life and verdure,
By the vestiges of antiquity,
By earth in every minute cranny,
By a growth of grass from under every wall;
By earth in every pockmark of the stone
By grass grown up in the warp of every floorboard;
By fragrant thick convolvulus
Through centuries twined over bushes
Twined over greatness gone
And what is to come of beauty;
By the lilac double-hued,
The purple spray and the white,
The various mixed with the steadfast,
Loose sift over the stronghold.
Where people are kin to the elements,
Elements neighbourly to people,
Earth in every hollow of the stone,
Grass growing in advance of every doorway.
The light wheels and comes in
over the seawall
and the bitten turf
that not only wind has scathed but
all this wheeling and flashing, this
sunburst comes across us.
At Holland on Sea
at an angle from here and
some miles distant
a fisherman reels back blinded,
a walker is sliced in two.
The silver disc came at them
edgewise, seconds ago.
Light that robes us, does it?
Limply, as robes do, moulded
to the frame of Nature? It
has no furious virtue?
'A winter landscape near Ely'
It is not life being short,
Death certain, that is making
Those faintly coffee-coloured
Gridiron marks on the snow
Or that row of trees heart-breaking.
What stirs us when a curtain
Of ice-hail dashes the window?
It is the wasteness of space
That a man drives wagons into
Or plants his windbreak in.
Spaces stop time from hurting.
Over verst on verst of Russia
Are lime-tree avenues.
Excerpts reproduced with kind permission of Carcanet Press Limited from: Essex Poems 1963–67 ( London: Routledge & Kegan Paul)
Copyright © Donald Davie