Last week I was watching a very OK old movie starring a young Dirk Bogarde (1921-1999). Reading up on him, I learned that he was a huge matinee idol, and eventually regarded as a great British film actor. He fully retired from films at one point and wrote several memoirs and several novels as well. His life is pretty fascinating actually, but the point I’ll take you to in his biography is September, 1943, when his poem “Steel Cathedrals” was published in The Poetry Review, under the name D. Van den Bogaerde (his father was Dutch). Bogarde actually served in the army in WWII, as an officer with the Air Photographic Intelligence Unit, and participated in the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.So you can look at this piece as a war poem of sorts. This poem really took to me, with its absence of strict rhyme or meter, but heavy dose of assonance and rhythm. He uses all the poetic feet, but not in such a way that we could scan them consistently. I love the vocabulary, in which I can’t really find a false note. Of course I’m a sucker for cigarette smoke. -ed.
It seems to me, I spend my life in stations.
Going, coming, standing, waiting.
Paddington, Darlington, Shrewsbury, York.
I know them all most bitterly.
Dawn stations, with a steel light, and waxen figures.
Dust, stone, and clanking sounds, hiss of weary steam.
Night stations, shaded light, fading pools of colour.
Shadows and the shuffling of a million feet.
Khaki, blue, and bulky kitbags, rifles gleaming dull.
Metal sound of army boots, and smoker’s coughs.
Titter of harlots in their silver foxes.
Cases, casks, and coffins, clanging of the trolleys.
Tea urns tarnished, and the greasy white of cups.
Dry buns, Woodbines, Picture Post and Penguins;
and the blaze of magazines.
Grinding sound of trains, and rattle of the platform gates.
Running feet and sudden shouts,
clink of glasses from the buffet.
Smell of drains, tar, fish and chips and sweaty scent, honk of taxis,
and the gleam of cigarettes.
Iron pillars, cupolas of glass, girders messed by pigeons;
the lazy singing of a drunk.
Sailors going to Chatham, soldiers going to Crewe.
Aching bulk of kit and packs, tin hats swinging.
The station clock with staggering hands and callous face,
A cigarette, a cup of tea, a bun,
and my train goes at ten.