John Wain was a prolific poet, publishing many collections of verse from the years 1949 to 1994. Below we reproduce ‘Apology For Understatement’ in full, and an extract from a longer poem, ‘A Song About Major Eatherley’.
| PDF edition of Selected Poems and Memoirs in full here
|Apology for Understatement
Forgive me that I pitch your praise too low.
Such reticence my reverence demands,
For silence falls with laying on of hands.Forgive me that my words come thin and slow.
This could not be a time for eloquence,
For silence falls with healing of the sense.We only utter what we lightly know.
And it is rather that my love knows me.
It is that your perfection set me free.
Verse is dressed up that has nowhere to go,
You took away my glibness with my fear.
Forgive me that I stand in silence here.
It is not words could pay you what I owe.
Extract from A Song About Major Eatherley
(pilot of the plane that dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki in 1945)
The wise men passed. The clever men appeared.
They ruled that hell be called a pumpkin face.
They robbed the soul of what it justly feared.
Coal after coal the fires of hell went out.
Their heat no longer warmed the rooms of time,
Which glistened now with fluorescent doubt.
The chilly saints went striding up and down
To warm their blood with useful exercise.
They rolled like conkers through the draughty town.
Those emblematic flames sank down to rest,
But metaphysical fire can not go out:
Men ran from devils they had dispossessed,
And felt within their skulls the dancing heat
No longer stored in God’s deep boiler-room.
Fire scorched their temples, frostbite chewed their feet.
That parasitic fire could race and climb
More swiftly than the stately flames of hell.
Its fuel gone, it licked the beams of time.
So time dried out and youngest hearts grew old
The smoky minutes cracked and broke apart.
The world was roasting but the men were cold.
Now from this pain worse pain was brought to birth,
More hate, more anguish, till at last they cried,
‘Release this fire to gnaw the crusty earth:
Make it a flame that’s obvious to sight
And let us say we kindled it ourselves,
To split the skulls of men and let in light.
Since death is camped among us, wish him joy,
Invite him to our table and our games.
We cannot judge, but we can still destroy.’
And so the curtains of the mind were drawn.
Men conjured hell a first, a second time:
And Major Eatherly took off at dawn.