Alun Lewis (1915-44) is one of the best-known English poets of the Second World War. Lewis wrote ‘Goodbye’ about his first night with his wife.
So we must say Goodbye, my darling,
And go, as lovers go, for ever;
Tonight remains, to pack and fix on labels
And make an end of lying down together.
I put a final shilling in the gas,
And watch you slip your dress below your knees
And lie so still I hear your rustling comb
Modulate the autumn in the trees.
And all the countless things I shall remember
Lay mummy-cloths of silence round my head;
I fill the carafe with a drink of water;
You say ‘We paid a guinea for this bed,’
And then, ‘We’ll leave some gas, a little warmth
For the next resident, and these dry flowers,’
And turn your face away, afraid to speak
The big word, that Eternity is ours.
Your kisses close my eyes and yet you stare
As though god struck a child with nameless fears;
Perhaps the water glitters and discloses
Time’s chalice and its limpid useless tears.
Everything we renounce except our selves;
Selfishness is the last of all to go;
Our sighs are exhalations of the earth,
Our footprints leave a track across the snow.
We made the universe to be our home,
Our nostrils took the wind to be our breath,
Our hearts are massive towers of delight,
We stride across the seven seas of death.
Yet when all’s done you’ll keep the emerald
I placed upon your finger in the street;
And I will keep the patches that you sewed
On my old battledress tonight, my sweet.
If you enjoyed Alun Lewis’s moving poem about saying goodbye, you might also enjoy Edward Thomas’s ‘Go Now’.