To Wales once more, though not on holiday now


To Wales once more, though not on holiday now;
Glued to my seat, whirled down a ruthless track
To Wales once more, grasping a golden bough,

Key to the misty west. I am wearing black
Shoes which I bought with Gwilym in Regent Street
To travel to Drumcliff in, five years back;

Drumcliff was wet, those new shoes cramped my feet
At Yeats's funeral; they are not so smart
Nor yet so tight for Gwilym's. From my seat

I see my night-bound double, slumped apart
On a conveyer belt that, decades high
In emptiness, can neither stop nor start

But just moves on for ever till we die.
It is too late for questions: on this belt
We cannot answer what we are or why . . .

Then on the Swansea for the night, benighted
In black and barren rain. But night must end,
And ending banishes the rain. Delighted

Morning erupts to bless all Wales and send
Us west once more our sad but sunlit way
Through hills of ruddy bracken where each bend

In the road is another smile on the face of day.
We stop at random for a morning drink
In a thatched inn; to find, as at a play,

The bar already loud with chatter and clink
Of glasses; not so random; no one here
But was a friend of Gwilym's. One could think

That all these shots of whisky, pints of beer,
Make one Pactolus turning words to gold
In honour of one golden mouth, in sheer

Rebuttal of the silence and the cold
Attached to death. The river rolls on west
As proud and clear as its best years have rolled

And lands us at the village, which is dressed
In one uncanny quiet and one kind
Blue sky, an attitude of host to guest

Saying: Come share my grief. We walk behind
The slow great heaps of flowers, the small austere
And single laurel wreath. But the numbed mind

Fails to accept such words as tempt the ear --
The Resurrection and the Life; it knows
Only that Gwilym once was living here

And here is now being buried. A repose
Of sunlight lies on the green sloping field
Which should hold goats or geese. My fingers close

On what green thoughts this acre still can yield
Before we leave that deep, that not green, grave,
That letter to be superscribed and sealed

Now that it has no contents; wind and wave
Retain far more of Gwilym. What he took
From this small corner of Wales survives what he gave.

The green field empties, with one tentative look
Backwards we move away, and then walk down
To where he lived on a cliff; an open book

Of sands and waters, silver and shining brown,
His estuary spreads before us and its birds
To which he gave renown reflect renown

On him, their cries resolve into his words
Just as, upon the right, Sir John's just hill
Looks now, and justly, Gwilym's. We leave the curds

And crimps of flats and channels and through the still
Evening rejoin the mourners. If a birth
Extends a family circle and glasses fill

Confirming its uniqueness and the worth
Of life, I think a death too does the same,
Confirming and extending. Earth to earth,

But to the whole of it. In Gwilym's name
We talk and even laugh, though now and then
Illusions (surely illusions?) rise, to shame

My reason. Three illusions. One: that when
We left that grassy field, we also left
Gwilym behind there, if not able to pen

One word, yet able perhaps to feel bereft
Or maybe to feel pleased that such a place
Remains to him. Then was it gift or theft,

This burial? More rational thoughts efface
Such whims, but the second illusion comes: perhaps
Gwilym has slipped off somewhere, into the grace

Of some afterlife where free from toils and traps
He revels for ever in words. These fancies too
Flicker like Will o' the Wistfuls, and collapse;

Since, even if an afterlife were true,
Gwilym without his body, his booming voice,
Would simply not be Gwilym. As I or you

Would not be I or you and, given the choice,
I, for one, would reject it. Last, the third
Illusion, which gives reason to rejoice

Or rather strong unreason: what we have heard
And seen today means nothing, this crowded bar
Was one of Gwilym's favourites, it is absurd

He should not join us here, it was always going too far
To expect him on the dot but, late or soon,
He will come jaunting in, especially as there are

So many of his friends her to buffoon
And sparkle with. However, if not tonight,
We need not wait for leap year or blue moon

Before we run across him. Moons are white
In London as in Wales and by tomorrow
We shall be back in London where the sight

And sound of him will be welcome, he may borrow
A pound or two of course or keep us waiting
But what about it? In those streets of sorrow

And even more of boredom, his elating
Elated presence brings a sluice of fresh
Water into dim ponds too long stagnating.

This is the third illusion, a fine mesh
Of probable impossibilities; of course,
Of course, we think, we shall meet him in the flesh

Tomorrow or the next day, in full force
Of flesh and wit and heart. We close the door
On Wales and backwards, eastwards, from the source

Of such clear water, leave that altered shore
Of gulls and psalms, of green and gold largesse.
November the Twenty-fifth. We are back once more

In London. And will he keep us waiting? . . . Yes.


                       --from Autumn Sequel, Canto XX


Louis MacNeice, Collected Poems, Faber & Faber, 2007.