John Everett Millais The boyhood of raleigh
John Everett Millais ‘The boyhood of raleigh’

The Boyhood of Raleigh

Alan Brownjohn

But the end of it all was a shuffling of ten thousand
Stretched out of the airport, everyone in search
Of a difference not too discomposing:
A compatible short of bathing, docile fauna
Trotting up to nuzzle on the hotel steps,
A wheel of chance where every player wins…
‘And when we were there it felt easy to be there,
And now we are back it feels truthful to say
“I don’t feel I’m back” or “I don’t feel I ever went”,
The place was an illusion. We were not illusions ourselves,
We made the links between what you call “different” places,
Which are more the same because we have left our impression,
Which modifies the place as one wave modifies a beach,
Or “like” another English changes your own.
We sit with the arm of our traveller’s tale extended,
Reciting the fictions of distance, we tip up our bags
And find the fools’ gold of unchangeable coins,
The centimes, the bani, and here in the bottom
An unused token for a locker in Central Station,
We’ll use it next time. And the children are amazed,
The boys want to go when they are adults, or when they have passports,
They have sat long enough being just themselves
On this side of the sea, can’t they be it on the other side as well?
“Look at this!” they would like to say, holding up
The plunders of the gift shop. “You see, you see!
It proves we have been there and thought of you.
We weren’t alarmed by the difference at all.
It was so immense we have brought back part of it
To be found nowhere else but there (and Victoria Station):
A duty free ballpoint pen with a toucan’s head”.’
What one boy thought and wrote in the room beyond
The gift shop and the green channel was
A distant recollection, of himself. All his words
Lay silent in the books, the forests continued
To grow without him, and the plundered chests of coins
Closed their lids as if he had never brought any back.
The wheel had turned and turned and stopped there.
He had gone no farther than his heart had sent him
On its regular missions of circulation.

John Everett Millais Ophelia
John Everett Millais ‘Ophelia’

Alan Brownjohn’s Collected Poems was published in 1983, and his version of Goethe’s Torquato Tasso in 1985. His latest books are The Observation Car (poems) and The way you tell them (novel), both 1990.