Muir Holburn - Selected Poems

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(Conversation in a Deck Chair)





She pointed on the Promenade

with parchment crinkled fingers.

She laid a hand like barley broth

On nine. ‘Look, see

Khaki! Doesn’t it thrill you? Young faces,

Young breath, ready to die in gallantry?

Warm young hands, ready to clasp your hand,

Ready to destroy themselves at the signal

Under depressing circumstances–

Doesn’t it thrill you eh, Sir Silence?’


I rejoined with customary scholarly solemn:

‘Not thrill, but provocative of admiration.

They are Death’s frail puppets, tiny organisms,

Mannikins, homunculi, crashing, like saw dust–

Their hushed splutter pains, not thrills,

Not thrills exactly, but provocative of admiration,’

Said I with my usual studied solemn.


Wrinkled finger of barley broth

She levelled at me accusingly:

‘Do you know what it is to be young my friend?

Do you know what it is to be young?

You should, for your silly and young, my friend.

The hot carol of youth you have sung.

O to know there are years in front of you!

Alcohol’s mauve flushes in front of you.

Accidents, horrors in front of you.

Caresses of children in front of you.

Gay procreation in front of you!’


‘Madame! I am somewhat startled by your francheur.

Is it quite nice? This is the Sea Promenade.

Remember we are seated on deck chairs.

Unmistakeably this is Sunday afternoon.

The atmosphere is firmly Municipal.’


‘Ah you are young— how old you are!

I, who am old, how young I am!

Could we but change flesh for flesh,

Blood for blood. Could we but change

Heart for heart! Could I but wear


I have a booklet of Arabic phrases.

Soldiers must learn them: Darling I love you–

Ever be faithful–I’ll return–Get to Hell–

Could I but say them too!’


The poor old girl has a masculine complex.

horribly sad, and at her years too.


‘O blow for blow and blood for blood–

This is the threat of the lords of war.

Could I but change bone for bone with you,

I’d tear them from shore to shore.’


‘Madame, I admire your spirit.

Madame, I commend your courage.

Madame, I applaud your sentiments.

But it’s difficult, highly difficult!

You must practise a little projection.

Be philosophical, be philosophical!

Study a little wise adjustment!

Your feelings are doubtless patriotic–

She’s not listening, She’s not listening.

Pray attend, most excellent creature!’


‘Attend?——to your sterile philosophy?

Look, my friend, O see

Here’s some more




Winter, mcmxl







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