At the end of two months’ holiday there came a night
When I lay awake and the sea’s distant fretless scansion
By imagination scourged rose to a fight
Like the town’s roar, pouring out apprehension.
I was in a train. Like the quick spool of a film
I watched hasten away the simple green which can heal
All sadness. Abruptly the sign Ferry to Wilm
And the cottage by the lake, were vivid, but unreal.
Real where iron lines, and, smashing the grass
The cars in which we ride, and real our compelled time:
Painted on enamel beneath the moving glass
Unreal were cows, the wave-winged storks, the lime:
These burned in a clear world from which we pass
Like rose and love in a forgotten rhyme.
Stephen Spender (1909 -1995)
Scansion = the way a poem scans according to the rules of metre
Scourge = agent of punishment
A sonnet with rhyming scheme ‘abab’.
Lines 1-4 … It seems to be the end of a holiday and lying in bed SS listens to the sea which … if the sea is a poem the sea has a fretless rhythm … the natural unthinking motion of the sea … in his imagination SS is perhaps reminded that he has to do likewise in his poetry now that his holiday is over. It looks as though he has escaped from poetry work to go to the country and he is now going back to town life … and another sound occurs a roar is in an apprehensive ear … for he doesn’t know how he will deal with getting back to work … presumably in an urban environment in contrast to the country.
Lines 5-8 … he is in a train reflecting on the holiday … the simple green that can heal all sadness … he has been in the country away from his normal life at a time when he has needed healing … but now that time has gone … it is real in his mind – the cottage, the Ferry to Wilmington?, the lake … but it is also unreal because of the removal by the passage of the train – like the quick spool of a film … history
Lines 9-12 … what is real is compelled time – what he is forced to do … what is real is the movement of the train compared to the outside scene … the painted enamel beneath the window is a metaphor for the change … a great contrast to the countryside
Lines 13-14 … the countryside burned (destroyed) in the clear world seen through the glass of the window … and to connect with poetry again like losing rose and love in a forgotten rhyme … the unclear world of poetry?
This is quite a brilliant poem about being a poet and having to perform.