Poetry on Lockdown is a blog series in which writers and Library staff reflect upon poems chosen from our website. They’ll write about how the poem is providing comfort and inspiration during the lockdown. Today, our Librarian Jill Mackintosh looks at Sydney Tremaine’s ‘A Night Fire’s Call’.
Dawn breaks and I discover myself
On top of a wall much higher than I imagined
Which is on top of a hill that I didn’t know about.
Peering down over a drop of plummet precipitousness
I reflect that I have been strolling most of the night
On this wall about one foot wide flashing an axe,
Chopping the red bits out of smouldering timbers.
All of which is so like the world on its regular sleepwalk,
So much like the usual ignorant tightrope dance
On a half frayed tightrope over a hidden bearpit,
That I think the power of darkness is our salvation.
If I’d seen where I was I’d have broken my neck.
from Selected and New Poems (Chatto & Windus, 1973)
Starting a new job in the same week that a global pandemic caused the instigation of a lockdown across the country ranks among the top five unusual situations I have experienced in the workplace. After the first week in the job I have been working from home, which has given me the chance to become familiar with many of the poets and poems in the SPL database that I may not otherwise have been able to do. One of the poems I came across by Sydney Tremayne (pictured above), ‘A Night Fire Call’, resonated strongly with me and I realised that I was quite blasé at the beginning of lockdown whereas 10 weeks later I’m much more aware of the potential seriousness of Coronavirus. The poet’s use of alliterative and rhythmical vocabulary in the line ‘Peering down over a drop of plummet precipitousness’ reinforces this feeling for me and sends a shiver down my spine when I read it.
I am looking forward to things returning to normal, whatever normal may be, but I’m relieved that I had no clue at the beginning of March how things were going to turn out. I would have been a bag of nerves on my first day at work and would have pestered and annoyed everyone by trying to gather as much information as possible in 3 or 4 days. At the end of his poem, Sydney Tremayne uses a phrase that sums up the way I feel when he says ‘the power of darkness is our salvation. / If I’d seen where I was I’d have broken my neck’. I may not have broken my neck, but I realise my introduction to the SPL could have been very awkward. There are times where I would rather be kept in the dark and not be faced with an impossible situation. On a more positive note however, I can say with some feeling that I have been incredibly lucky to have started working with such knowledgeable and helpful people, both in person and virtually. Hopefully I will be able to work with them in person soon as well.