A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
Come, let us pity not the dead but Death
For He can only come when we are leaving,
He cannot stay for tea or share our sherry.
He makes the old man vomit on the hearthrug
But never knew his heart before it failed him.
He shoves the shopgirl under the curt lorry
But could not watch her body undivided.
Swerving the cannon-shell to smash the airman
He had no time to hear my brother laughing.
He sees us when, a boring day bent double,
We take the breaking-point for new beginning
Prepared for dreamless sleep or dreams or waking
For breakfast but now sleep past denying.
He has no life, no exercise but cutting;
While we can hope a houri, fear a phantom.
Look forward to No Thoughts. For Him no dying
Nor any jolt to colour His drab action,
Only the plop of heads into the basket,
Only the bags of breath, the dried-up bleeding.
We, who can build and change our clothes and moulder,
Come, let us pity Death but not the dead.
John Drummond Allison (1921 – 2 December 1943) was an English poet born in Caterham, Surrey, and educated at Bishop’s Stortford College and at Queen’s College, Oxford. After training at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, he became an intelligence officer in the East Surrey Regiment. He served in North Africa and Italy, where at the age of 22 he was killed in action — fighting on the Garigliano. Lieutenant Allison lies in the Minturno War Cemetery. His poetry was collected into a single volume, The Yellow Night, which is currently out of print.