Image by Caroline Forbes

Poem introduction

In the house where I grew up we didn't have very many books, or spend very much time talking about reading or about what books might contain. But one of the books I did know was The Diary of Anne Frank and in my early twenties I went to visit her house in Amsterdam and immediately after seeing it wrote this poem about it.

Anne Frank Huis

Anne Frank Huis

Even now, after twice her lifetime of grief
and anger in the very place, whoever comes
to climb these narrow stairs, discovers how
the bookcase slides aside, then walks through
shadow into sunlit rooms, can never help

but break her secrecy again. Just listening
is a kind of guilt: the Westerkirk repeats
itself outside, as if all time worked round
towards her fear, and made each stroke
die down on guarded streets. Imagine it -

three years of whispering and loneliness
and plotting, day by day, the Allied line
in Europe with a yellow chalk. What hope
she had for ordinary love and interest
survives her here, displayed above the bed

as pictures of her family; some actors;
fashions chosen by Princess Elizabeth.
And those who stoop to see them find
not only patience missing its reward,
but one enduring wish for chances

like my own: to leave as simply
as I do, and walk at ease
up dusty tree-lined avenues, or watch
a silent barge come clear of bridges
settling their reflections in the blue canal.


from Selected Poems (Faber & Faber, 2002), copyright © Andrew Motion 2002, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

Books by Andrew Motion