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This article is taken from PN Review 139, Volume 27 Number 5, May - June 2001.

Shelf Lives: 15: Alun Lewis Peter Scupham

In all the ways of going who can tell
The real from the unjustified farewell?
Women have sobbed when children left for school
Or husbands took the boat train to pursue
Contracts more tenuous than the marriage vow.
But now each railway station makes and breaks
The certain hold and drifts us all apart.
Some women know exactly what's implied.
Ten years, they say behind their smiling eyes,
Thinking of children, pensions, looks that fade,
The slow forgetfulness that strips the mind
Of its apparel and wears down the thread;
Or maybe when he laughs and bends to make
Her laugh with him, she sees that he must die
Because his eyes declare it plain as day.

So Alun Lewis, in part of the third section from 'On Embarkation'. He was not to see England again, or the poem find its place in his second and final collection of poems, Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets: Poems in Transit (George Allen & Unwin, 1945). Lieutenant Lewis of the South Wales Borderers died in a shooting accident in Burma while preparing to take his patrol out on the morning of 5 March 1944. He was twenty-eight.

To revisit that period is to revisit a forest of intensities: a thickening of the abrasive air that becomes ever harder to sense on the nerve-endings. Television can provide us with the Forties' house, ...

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