Something Audenesque for a conclusion?
   In dignified, indented, limestone lines?
But in Wystan’s geology hills were permanent,
   Whereas human geography constantly changes,
That being its only constancy. We reach plateaux in life
   When friends seem likely always to be there,
Changeless features in the landscape. And then –

   There are places in poetry where nothing seems
Appropriate to write after the sudden dash
   Suggesting an interruption, or a shock:
The words halt dumbstruck in the mind, in blankness
   Of a sort you never showed. You had six days left.
Sat upright in a chair in the too-warm ward,
   You were checking proofs: ‘I’m not on my last legs –

‘I’ve work to do,’ you affirmed, with the stern expression
   Reserved for the moments when you took exception
To some shabby behaviour or rotten rhyming.
   That look could be unexpected, the touchstone suddenly
Revealed that made you mentor as well as friend,
   Our example of someone never speechless in verse,
Never letting words fail you, or work remain unfinished –

   Like that final quatrain, done on a day when ‘not much
Poetry was coming’, and putting the old and their carers
   Firmly in their place with rueful sentiments
Adapting Lewis Carroll. Seventy-nine
   Is 21 years longer than the average
Male could expect to live when I was 11
   (The NHS, we believed). Poets don’t, these days –

Another sage thought you had – need to push their careers
   By dying young. But cell and virus and blood-clot
Might have waited in some cases until four score
   (You had six years of the Second War, and then
Two decades of silence). And surely given us,
   For a little longer, your memory: of the famous
Far younger than we saw them, and of course –

   The legendary dead. E.g., Mr Yeats arriving
Late for Sweeney Agonistes in an attic theatre,
   Treading fatefully up the stairs to stand in the doorway
In cloak and hat as if he was some part
   Of the performance. Our memories, Gavin,
Will retain your own appearances at parties,
   Standing, as you preferred, in some quieter corner –

Forever Ewart’s! The last time we talked at one,
   It was prosody, New Verse, and the Café Royal
We discussed, not conglomerate managers twitching
   The strings on which their puppets dance for cake ...
With disgracful energy you assured us this calling
   Was still the best; all your faith was firm in it.
– We’ll try to keep that, as we grieve and smile.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences