Now over the map that took ten million years
Of rain and sun to crust like boiler-slag,
The lines of fighting men progress like caterpillars,
Impersonally looping between the leaf and twig.
One half the map is shaded as if by night
Or an eclipse. It is difficult from far away
To understand that a man’s booted feet
May grow blistered marching there, or a boy
Die from a bullet. It is difficult to plant
That map with olives, oranges or grapes,
Or to see men alive at any given point,
To see dust-powdered faces or cracked lips.
It is easier to avoid all thought of it
And shelter in the elegant bower of legend,
To dine in dreams with kings, to float
Down the imaginary river, crowds on each hand
Cheering each mention of my favoured name.
It is easier to collect anecdotes, the tall tales
That travellers, some centuries ago, brought home,
Or wisecracks and the drolleries of fools;
It is easier to sail paper-boats on lily-ponds,
To plunge like a gannet in the sheltered sea,
To go walking or to chatter with my friends
Or to discuss the rare edition over tea,
Than to travel in the mind to that place
Where the map becomes reality, where cracks
Are gullies, a bullet more than half-an-inch
Of small newsprint and the shaped grey rocks
Are no longer the property of wandering painters,
A pleasant watercolour for an academic wall,
But cover for the stoat-eyed snipers
Whose aim is fast and seldom known to fail.
It is easier… but no, the map has grown
And now blocks out the legends, the sweet dreams
And the chatter. The map has come alive. I hear the moan
Of the black panes and see their pendant bombs.
I can no longer hide in fancy: they’ll hunt me out.
That map has mountains and these men have blood:
‘Time has an answer!’ cries my familiar ghost,
Stirred by explosives from his feather bed.
Time may have answers but the map is here.
Now is the future that I never wished to see.
I was quite happy dreaming and had no fear:
But now, from the map, a gun is aimed at me.