Thursday, 21 March 2013

Christopher Middleton's 'Pointed Boots': Transitional States and Nervous Giggles

London Underground c. 1900

POINTED BOOTS (Christopher Middleton)

At three in the morning,
A quietness descends on central railway stations.

A mail van, or an ambulance, may be there;
A man in pointed boots, a Miss Carew.

Quietness keeps them apart,
The quietness that descends on central railway stations.

It is not meant for me.
It is not meant for you.

© Christopher Middleton. Reproduced by permission of Carcanet Press. (Christopher Middleton's Carcanet page can be found at

Some weeks ago I went to a Poetry School workshop led by Sean O'Brien. I've been to a few poetry-writing workshops now, but this was one of the best: it had just the right balance of reading, writing and discussion, Sean O'Brien was an excellent workshop leader (besides being an excellent poet, obviously!) and the group was talented and lively.

The theme of the workshop was "Staircases and Landings," a title which was less than literal. It referred to transitional places and states, whether before, during, or "instead" (the road not taken? the alternate universe?). Unsurprisingly, one of the poems that I wrote was about being stuck on the Underground.

Many of the poems that we read, and that the workshop produced, were somehow both ominous and funny, sinister and humorous. Interesting juxtapositions. The above poem, Christopher Middleton's 'Pointed Boots', seemed to illustrate this particularly well. I loved this poem for its profound Englishness (the railway station imagery, the Miss Carew, and so much left unsaid) and for the fact that it made me want to burst out into nervous giggles. It seemed to me almost like an inversion of Edward Thomas's beautiful classic 'Adlestrop', another railway station poem. I know this much - it's a poem which has lodged itself into a little corner of my brain forever.


  1. I can't decide whether I find 'Pointed Boots' chilling or cheering. It seems a classic. 'Adlestrop' is very English. Especially the heat and wan soft landscape and one's aloneness on the platform. The blackbirds, though their flight and song is so different, could be larks ascending.

    1. The comparison between the two poems came to me involuntarily... In tone obviously they resemble each other not at all, but the railway station themes and the "transitional" air of it all made the comparison irresistible. 'Adlestrop' seems to be related to the poet's feelings of everything on the brink of change just before the war (which killed him) began.

      As for 'Pointed Boots' - I found that a fit of nervous giggles was almost the only possible reaction, for me!