Sunday, March 16, 2008

A maze of tunnelled stone

Funny how these things suddenly come back to you. A line of poetry popped into my head out of nowhere this morning, and I realised that it was from this poem by Edwin Muir. It's one of the first poems that I ever committed to memory, when I was about 8 or 10 years old (the other two that I particularly recall learning like this were Shelley's Ozymandias and Gray's Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard). Even after a lapse of three decades, I find that my recall is nearly perfect. Strange how the mind works.

The Castle

All through that summer at ease we lay,
And daily from the turret wall
We watched the mowers in the hay
And the enemy half a mile away;
They seemed no threat to us at all.

For what, we thought, had we to fear
With our arms and provender, load on load,
Our towering battlements, tier on tier,
And friendly allies drawing near
On every leafy summer road.

Our gates were strong, our walls were thick,
So smooth and high, no man could win
A foothold there. No clever trick
Could take us, have us dead or quick.
Only a bird could have got in.

What could they offer us for bait?
Our captain was brave and we were true....
There was a little private gate,
A little wicked wicket gate.
The wizened warder let them through.

Oh, then our maze of tunneled stone
Grew thin and treacherous as air.
The cause was lost without a groan,
The famous citadel overthrown,
And all its secret galleries bare.

How can this shameful tale be told?
I will maintain until my death
We could do nothing, being sold;
Our only enemy was gold,
And we had no arms to fight it with.

Edwin Muir (1887-1959)

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