Muir Holburn - Selected Poems

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Winter was over.

We wintered in the library

Collecting our winter references, which the pen

Scrawled heavily, and were bitter to the taste.


So near had the heart been to celebration.

Armies of hideousness, it had seemed, were met

Amply by the ranks of young men travelling outwards

To settle the innocents’ score.


But winter came with mud and trepidation.

The men were not afraid, but how could the mind

Schooled in the long dull exercise of collapse

Have cheer? It is as well we were not there

In the mutilated cold, in the screaming hinge of struggle,

And knew only the cold heart’s cynic hopelessness.

We should have been no courage. Remember this -

Despair of man is proved the cynic’s ration

And the fool’s diet.

      We were afraid

And in the library collected

what we hoped to hide and salvage

Against worse weather. We were no courage.

      But now

Winter was over –

      Stalingrad was over.

We came from fanatic gloom, our work done –

Their work done. Stalingrad was over.

      And no sacred annals

Recorded a miracle like this to fright

A prophet’s eyes or toss in disarray

A simple people’s alphabet of sense.

      Here no battle

To be indexed by ants in the official history,

Leaded in the gaudy window of an Ode,

And then forgotten.


      This was man’s victory

Sealing the dubious centuries. This established

The living as valuable and its dignity

Set beyond clever laughter. This the quiet answer

To scheme and horror sown in loneliness.


      No wonder Summer

Saw lines of communication throb again

with carol of a comfort new to man.

And theatres of searing encounter, desert and jungle,

Ancient city and mine, sealane and soul

Flare high in strange resistance.

        Even you and I

Beneath our shame at our frail wintering,

Watched old streets long fallen in a chill alien sleep

Suddenly flower, and with blossom and leaf

Sweet and music and slang

Chortle and song

Make utterance that was intimate again.

Pulse swiftened in factory, bedroom, cafe and wharf.

And even the sky, it seemed,

Unlocked its enormous orchards and let fall

Down the soft sunlight




Winter was over.







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