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.