Wednesday 20 December 2023

Haunting, Haunted

 The word 'haunting' is one that we perhaps reach for too easily when describing poems and other works of art (mea culpa). However, in the case of Walter de la Mare's best poetry, it is exactly le mot juste. The haunting quality of his verse surely has much to do with the haunted nature of the world he describes: his best poems have an eery, uncanny quality that is quite unique. Take this one, which I came across by chance today, a poem ostensibly about waiting at a railway junction, but of course about so much more. There are echoes of Robert Frost here, and Edward Thomas, but it is unmistakably De la Mare's own – and it is, yes, decidedly haunting...

The Railway Junction

From here through tunnelled gloom the track
Forks into two; and one of these
Wheels onward into darkening hills,
And one toward distant seas.

How still it is; the signal light
At set of sun shines palely green;
A thrush sings; other sound there’s none,
Nor traveller to be seen –

Where late there was a throng. And now,
In peace awhile, I sit alone;
Though soon, at the appointed hour,
I shall myself be gone.

But not their way; the bow-legged groom,
The parson in black, the widow and son,
The sailor with his cage, the gaunt
Gamekeeper with his gun,

That fair one, too, discreetly veiled –
All, who so mutely came, and went,
Will reach those far nocturnal hills,
Or shores, ere night is spent.

I nothing know why thus we met –
Their thoughts, their longings, hopes, their fate:
And what shall I remember, except –
The evening growing late –

That here through tunnelled gloom the track
Forks into two; of these
One into darkening hills leads on,
And one toward distant seas.

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