Classmates     

 
                 For J. and M.

 

The years come on and on and on,

Grey waves insisting from the sea.

The pleasant beach where we could play

At building castles wears away;

And many empty shells have gone

Echoing into history.

 

We thought the sun and summer here

For good and all. We thought our hopes

Impervious to the grinding down

The undistinguished sand had known.

We thought the raft rode always clear

After the wave had passed the ropes.

 

No longer quite so young, so young;

No longer quite so gay, so gay;

No longer what we used to be:

Are these the words for you and me?

Or has the song been sadly sung,

And is there something else to say?

 

Perhaps you also turn from this

Mere seashore here beside the deep

Involvements of the soul, and take

No eager part in games that break

The heart, the games which wholly miss

The point of life and make men weep.

 

Where do they go, the coloured balls

Of art and pleasure, the bright sorts

Of buoyant ways to get ahead?

What happens to the goals the dead

Strove, breathless, for, like fame? Who calls

Out to the lost in those bleak sports?

 

How dank the things which we were taught

By sophists once beside the sea.

The crimson beach-umbrella kept

The sunlight off them as they slept.

Or shall we say they thought and thought

While man remained a mystery?

 

'There is no further life,' they said;

‘No other form of happiness

Than what we find among the shells;

And truth is as the ocean swells

And as the shifting sands subside;

And doubt is all we dare profess.’

 

Those days are done and some have gone

To meet the Goodness they ignored.

But others still sleep on. The shades

Of twilight lengthen. Buckets, spades,

The sand toys cast such shadows, thrown

There where the seascape water poured.

 

The time goes by, the time goes by:

Our lives are past before they start,

Or so it seems. And as we look

Up from the pages of our book,

The time goes by, the time goes by,

And we have things to learn by heart.

 

Here on this beach, from which have sailed

How many million unknown friends,

From which we also must set out

So soon, the careless children shout

Around the ones who may have failed

The tests of love, as daylight ends.

 

For it is in the evening that

The last examination falls,

And it is then that we, the saint

Says, shall be questioned, when complaint

Is lodged against us about what

We loved. And this, some find, appals.

 

It is a science undiscerned

In all those brilliant talks, and we

Have had to study on our own,

With sorrow taking us alone;

And by ourselves perhaps we learned

Something to do with sympathy.

 

For life is often very hard,

Or so it seems, until we meet

The old inhabitants of grief,

The sick, the failed; whom no relief

Of pain delights; who must discard

Their lives slowly, heart-beat by heart-beat.

 

Unlike the brave who die for all,

How gently we are parted from

The worthless toys we cling to, though

The time comes on for us to go

Away from this waiting place. But small

Quittances add up to a great sum.

 

And everything has been designed:

The eyelash in the eye, the pin

Left in the shirt collar, all these

Trifles have been arranged to please

Perpetually, if we will find

In them ways to make up for sin.

 

So says another saint, and they

Are those who know about these things,

Which are the matters which concern

Us most, when the tide is on the turn,

And the great waves move us away

From the old beach, and the sea sings.

 

It seems to me that knowledge of

This kind is what we sometimes saw

In the poor women cleaning there,

Where we spent money on the air:

From them we might have learned that love

Is the fulfilling of the law.

 

How you are and what you do,

I wonder, many years away.

Remembering the days gone by

Brings sadness now, they say, but I

Am happy to remember you,

So calm and brotherly and gay.

 

Considering the days that wait,

The great days which will never end,

I ask Saint John, and then Saint James,

Not to forget you bear their names.

May they entreat a blessed state,

And with you mention your true friend.