(Poem #147) The Unspoken
When the troopship was pitching round the Cape in '41, and there was a lull in the night uproar of seas and winds, and a sudden full moon swung huge out of the darkness like the world it is, and we all crowded into the wet deck, leaning on the rail, our arms on each other's shoulders, gazing at the savage outcrop of great Africa. and Tommy Cosh started singing 'Mandalay' and we joined in with our raucous chorus of the unforgettable song, and the dawn came up like thunder like that moon drawing the water of our yearning though we were going to war, and left us exalted, that was happiness, but it is not like that. When the television newscaster said the second sputnik was up, not empty, but with a small dog on board, a half-ton treasury of life orbiting a thousand miles above the thin television masts and mists of November, in clear space, heard, observed, the faint far heartbeat sending back its message steady and delicate, and I was stirred by a deep confusion of feelings, got up, stood with my back to the wall and my palms pressed hard against it, my arms held wide as if I could spring from the earth --- not loath myself to go out that very day where Laika had shown man, felt my cheeks burning with old Promethean warmth rekindled --- ready --- covered my face with my hands, seeing only an animal strapped in a doomed capsule, but the future was still there, cool and whole like the moon, waiting to be taken, smiling even as the dog's bones and the elaborate casket of aluminium glow white and fuse in the arc of re-entry and I knew what I felt was history, its thrilling brilliance came down, came down, comes down on us all, bringing pride and pity, but it is not like that. But Glasgow days and grey weathers, when the rain beat on the bus shelter and you leaned slightly against me, and the back of your hand touched my hand in the shadows, and nothing was said when your hair grazed mine accidentally as we talked in a cafe, yet not quite accidentally, when I stole a glance at your face as we stood in a doorway and found I was afraid of what might happen if I should never see it again, when we met, and met, in spite of such differences in our lives, and did the common things that in our feeling became extraordinary, so that our first kiss was like the winter morning moon, and as you shifted in my arms it was the sea changing the shingle that changes it as if for ever (but we are bound by nothing, but like smoke to mist or light in water we move, and mix) --- O then it was a story as old as war or man and although we have not said it we know it, and although we have not claimed it we do it, and although we have not vowed it we keep it, without a name to the end
1968. Most poems are about experiences; this one is about Experience. Not many poets have attempted such an ambitious topic; it is to Morgan's credit that he does not bite off more than he can chew. There is no abstract sophistry, no flights of philosophical fancy; the language is simple and everyday; the incidents, commonplace. And yet... and yet, through his retelling of three ordinary stories, he touches the essence of what it means to be human - joy and exhilaration and pride and pity and ambition and fear and love and longing... It's not something that can be expressed in mere language. But it's there. "There are some truths which are deeper than words". thomas. [Biography] Edwin Morgan 19 Whittingehame Court Glasgow G12 0BG Edwin Morgan was born in Glasgow in 1920. He served in the Royal Army Medical Corps in the Middle East from 1940 to 1946. He took an M.A. at the University of Glasgow (1st Class Honours in Englush Language and Literature) in 1947. He made his living from university teaching and retired as Titular Professor in 1980. He has various honorary degrees and an O.B.E. He is a poet (Collected Poems, 1990), translator (Collected Translations, 1996), and critic (Crossing the Border, 1990). He has writted poetry for radio (A Voyage, commisioned by BBC for two voices, broadcast on Radio 4, 1996). He has written poems for jazz setting (Beasts of Scotland, commisioned by Glasgow International Jazz festival, music by Tommy Smith, performed 1996, accompanied by compact disc from Linn Records, Glasgow). He is at present (March 1997) collaborating again with Tommy Smith in a new sequence of poems, Planet Wave, to be performed at the Cheltenham Festival this year, the performance to be recorded live by BBC. He has written several librettos for opera and music-theatre: The Charcoal-Burner, music by Thomas Wilson. Valentine, music by George Newson. Spell (later retitled Coll for the Hazel Tree), music by Martin Dalby. Columba, music by Kenneth Leighton. He has also adapted/translated various plays: The Apple-Tree (translated from anonymous Dutch play of the 15th century, Esbatement van den Appelboom). Master Peter Pathelin, (translated from anonymous 15th-centure French farce, Maistre Pierre Pathelin). The Shepherds' Play (a modern version in English and Scot of the 15th-century mystery play). Cyrano de Bergerac (translation into Scots of Rostand's play).