They told him, with reassurance: ‘You must turn over a new leaf.’
Ever submissive and grateful, he did so and then said: ‘Look!
This brings me to the last page in the book.
And the pages have been so thin I can clearly see
The earlier words that a week ago were me.’
He explains this simple fact. And they agree.
‘Then tear the whole sheet out. Why not?’ They do not see
That this would only show, naked, the pages before
Which he would most wish to efface,
To forget even more
Than this latest, dreadful page, as it seemed to him, of disgrace.

Then ‘Buy a completely new book then,’ they said, ‘and burn the old.’
‘Yes, that’s an idea,’ he said. And as they watched the flames
Slowly and gladly consume the crowded sheets
They were cheerful at least. It even relieved the cold
That had long crept in from the pitiful, pitiless streets.

‘And buy it at once. Start now,’ encouraging they said.
‘I will,’ he said, and moved to the window, looked out.
They warmed their hands at the blaze,
Glad he would start again, glad of their wisdom.
‘Get a new book, and start at once,’ they had said,
‘And you will have, as you once did, happy days.’
He said, ‘It is Sunday. And snowing like hell. And the shops are shut.’
They smiled indulgently and beckoned him to the fire. He returned and sat down to rest.
‘There is always Monday,’ they said. ‘Yes, and Tuesday and Wednesday’, he added,
‘Though Thursday is half-day closing,’ he murmured, sighing
And a shiver ran over the room as some of them guessed
The last page had been the last and on Friday
Or possibly Saturday he would be dying.

Send Letters To:

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Vol. 13 No. 19 · 10 October 1991

Henry Reed’s many friends and admirers must all be obliged to Jon Stallworthy for his concise biography of Henry (LRB, 12 September) and for ‘L’Envoi’ (LRB, 12 September). He mentions the poet’s ‘staggering memory’. Here is an example. Henry, knowing he needed some kind of psychiatric help, had read and admired the works of Melanie Klein (‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ was the felicitous title, I think, of one of the Hilda Tablet radio series). When I told him, teasingly, that I was going to the theatre with her he asked to join us, and he did. After the performance she invited us back to her flat for coffee and little Viennese cakes. Almost before we were seated, Henry, a shy man, said: ‘Mrs Klein, I want to tell you how much I admire your books.’ She, who had a good sense of humour, replied, wagging a finger in amusement: ‘Young man, people are always telling me that and then I find they haven’t read my books!’ Henry then reeled off one or two misprints with page numbers. A happy evening ended with great success!

James MacGibbon
Manningtree, Essex

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