Steep roads, a tunnel through chalk downs, are the approaches;
A ruined pharos overlooks a constructed bay;
The sea-front is almost elegant; all the show
Has, inland somewhere, a vague and dirty root:
Nothing is made in this town.
A Norman castle, dominant, flood-lit at night,
Trains which fume in a station built on the sea
Testify to the interests of its regular life:
Here dwell the experts on what the soldiers want.
And who the travellers are
Whom ships carry in and out between the lighthouses,
Which guard for ever the made privacy of this bay
Like twin stone dogs opposed on a gentleman’s gate.
Within these breakwaters English is properly spoken,
Outside an atlas of tongues.
The eyes of departing migrants are fixed on the sea,
Conjuring destinies out of impersonal water:
“I see an important decision made on a lake,
An illness, a beard, Arabia found in a bed,
Nanny defeated, Money.”
Red after years of failure or bright with fame,
The eyes of homecomers thank these historical cliffs:
“The mirror can no longer lie nor the clock reproach;
In the shadow under the yew, at the children’s party,
Everything must be explained.”
The Old Town with its Keep and Georgian houses
Has built its routine upon such unusual moments;
Vows, tears, emotional farewell gestures,
Are common here, unremarkable actions
Like ploughing or a tipsy song.
Soldiers crowd into the pubs in their pretty clothes,
As pink and silly as girls from a high-class academy;
The Lion, The Rose, The Crown, will not ask them to die,
Not here, not now; all they are killing is time,
A pauper civilian future.
Above them, expensive, shiny as a rich boy’s bike,
Aeroplanes drone through the new European air
On the edge of a sky that makes England of minor importance;
And tides warn bronzing bathers of a cooling star
With half its history done.
High over France, a full moon, cold and exciting
Like one of those dangerous flatterers we meet and love
When we are utterly wretched, returns our stare:
The night has found many recruits; to thousands of pilgrims
The Mecca is coldness of heart.
The cries of the gulls are sad like work:
The soldier guards the traveller who pays for the soldier,
Each pays in a similar way for himself, but neither
Controls the years or the weather. Some may be heroes:
Not all of us are unhappy.