Saturday, 6 October 2018

Sidney Keyes: 'Europe's Prisoners'

Occasionally I read poems from past decades which seem extraordinarily present in our own time - to borrow a cliché, they seem like they've been ripped from today's headlines.

This poem by Sidney Keyes, who did not survive World War II, is one of them. Initially it made me think of the refugee crises of recent years, but there was much more, such as "the politicians with their stale/Visions and cheap flirtation with the past".

I realise I have been an infrequent blogger recently, and I completely failed to write about National Poetry Day on Thursday. I do hope that everyone had a bit of poetry in their day - and I will have a little more to add to that next week.


Never a day, never a day passes
But I remember them, their stoneblind faces
Beaten by arclights, their eyes turned inward
Seeking an answer and their passage homewards:

For being citizens of time, they never
Would learn the body's nationality.
Tortured for years now, they refuse to sever
Spirit from flesh or accept our callow century.

Not without hope, but lacking present solace,
The preacher knows the feel of nails and grace;
The singer snores; the orator's facile hands
Are fixed in a gesture no one understands.

Others escaped, yet paid for their betrayal:
Even the politicians with their stale
Visions and cheap flirtation with the past
Will not die any easier at the last.

The ones who took to garrets and consumption
In foreign cities, found a deeper dungeon
Than any Dachau. Free but still confined
The human lack of pity split their mind.

Whatever days, whatever seasons pass,
The prisoners must stare in pain's white face:
Until at last the courage they have learned
Shall burst the walls and overturn the world.

                                                           21 May 1941.

Photo: Fence and barbed wire by Alexandre Dulaunoy. Used under Creative Commons license

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