Muir Holburn - Selected Poems

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New Virgin Youth in 1944

Leaves textbook’s neatness early, has elderly hands,

Brittle nails, the assertive flourish of fists

That lathe and corrosive have battered into function.

The tram that cruises through the restive suburbs

Contains him nightly. He straphangs or squats,

Talking his splendid squalid pictures, framed

In gestures sensual as a soldier’s joke.


No regent or heir presumptive, he already,

Beardless, has seized his kingdom, see his subjects –

The big hipped girl, the international scene,

Jive and the Public Library, love, the machines,

The tussle in the Union, what’ll-happen-next?,

Horror of death, pity for the undersexed.


There’s no delinquent here, but one whose plans

Love’s hands and wisdom’s never ground to lock

With common sprocket, whose own violent urge

Must arbiter all impulse, one whose pledge

Must be rephrased and freshly sworn each day.

His only lexicon – his comrades’ laughter,

The lonely night, the vocab. of defeat.


War he knows well, not the newsreel’s cushioned stress,

But in terms of the missing cousin who came on raids

In the city’s subconscious, the luscious cafe’s posterior,

The lucrative alley, who taught him to smoke and to speak

A curious syntax more intricate than Greek.

His nursery rhyme was Production’s humming of haste.

Was he not made of war, of war’s neglect,

By sweaty crowd, political élan,

By cramp of bone, by critical supply

Of lazy goods delicious unto youth?


O you who in silver past could meander with languour

Through your youth’s untrammelled districts, gauge carefully

The raw smell of his conduct and his slang;

See that your eye and your rule be true to his time.

He is excelsior with rivet and girder. He climbs the depths

And he comes when tremor and shellburst have rocked away

To weld hard history in the shining air.







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