[continued] The third and last poem I received from Orchyd was at the very end of term and of my time at that school. There were no more lessons with her class and she passed it to me in the corridor, and we didn’t have a chance to talk about it. Later she wrote me a letter to do with it: a neighbour had died, leaving his wife and family. Orchyd and her mother knew the family well, and would borrow and lend tea, sugar etc. Orchyd said she wrote the poem all out at once, and later in the letter said that what she thought was special about poetry was its freedom. The principle was also apparent in her spelling, but it was worth the trouble to decipher it (though ‘recite’ gave me a hard time). Again there was no title.
The lights of day appeared
And there is a debt to pay, the debt of being alive
Afternoon at last
Even the sun looks weary
And almost unnoticed it sinks
Another portion of the debt is paid
And the debtor looks homeward
Behind bricks they comfort each other
with word and action
Behind bricks they torment each other
But no matter how great a debt one day
It will be paid
When one has paid his last debt
And his feet turn homewards for the last time
And his last words are spoken
They all stand and stare
stare if they must
but why with sadder eyes
why the carefully chosen words
This debtor has now received his receipt
He is now content and at ease
He can now live live live.
This time, on first reading, I was anything but startled. The piece simply takes one along with it. But I was again amazed, at how much she was able to say, as at her means of saying. The beauty of the metaphor, the quiet clarity of the music, what a gift is there.
I did not stay in touch with Orchyd. I answered her letter and we left it at that. She was surely right to note the freedom of poetry as its special quality. But who has the skills to harness it? It is why I think the bard of bards might have nodded approvingly, if he could have seen those few untidy sheets of paper.