C.J. ('Jonty') Driver
In England Now
"I don't think you belong to any country in particular when you are old". Nigel Balchin, Darkness Falls from the Air
For Kate Wilson
Before the dawn, a dream of what I lost
By leaving when I did; and then the sky
Blood-streaked enough for home, and I
Remembered what you asked.
"But haven't you already made your choice?
You've lived in England more than half your life,
You have a house, career, a wife -
Even an English voice."
Old friend, you know quite well how much I've changed -
But still I need those deep horizons, where
(With no impediment but air)
The far-flung land is ranged.
You say I'm almost English now – should keep
Myself concealed? A fractured part of me,
My heart perhaps, will always be
In Africa: when I'm asleep
Or when the early breezes shift the haze
Of mornings into Sussex summer skies,
The promises of heat revive
Those distant dusty days.
So if we "immigrants from overseas"
Have found in England rich security
Since here one may be almost free –
"Such teeming destinies"
Once held in England's boundless "master-work"
Come now to sweep the streets, or teach, or nurse -
Must we be told that we should curse
Our past as wholly dark?
Accumulated anguish for a name
And nothing good to find, but grief in loads
Piled up like cairns on mountain roads
To fool an exile home?
And yet both here and there I'm tainted by the past –
An Englishman come lately back again,
Who thought that he might skip the pain,
Colonial to the last.
So here I stay, half-hoping still to go.
The claim of birth would be of little use
If once again I made a choice.
The years are not so slow.
The morning spreads its wings; the ash-tree leaves
Are making music out of light and shade;
The early colours smudge and fade;
A roosting ring-dove grieves.
I am in England now: old hypocrite,
Who bows and smiles and nods and does his best
To seem content. I'm loyal at least -
Or is this still deceit?
Two of the quotations in Stanzas 6 & 7 are from W.E.Henley's poem, "England, My England".
(published in The Use of English, August 2009)