Poem introduction

In the early days of being a writer, the desire to write can sometimes override everything, even having something to write about, and that was certainly true in my case. I remember being struck by a story I heard about the poet Rilke, who was for a time apprentice to Rodin in Paris; suffering from a kind of writer’s block, Rilke asked the sculptor what he should do, and Rodin said to him “go the zoo, and stand in front of an animal and stare at it for hours, at least three hours.” And so Rilke did this, and the wonderful poem ‘The Panther’ came from that. I was really struck by this story and I decided to set myself the same looking task, and there wasn’t a zoo near where I lived then so I decided to look out of my bedroom window, and look at whatever was out there, for at least three hours, and this poem, ‘Errand’, came out of that.


See that postbox on the hill? It strikes an almost
tragic pose up there where the four roads meet.
In wind and driving rain, in snow and blistered heat
it stands alone like an old messenger, cursed, struck;
dumb and trusted treasurer of this town’s tendered notes,
its severances and dried tears, its good luck.

Dusk. A thin rain. A child with a letter skips
slowly to the box, reaches up, then hesitates
- so a simple act, freeze-framed, hinges at fate -
eyeing her mother's shaky hand, the indifferent Queen
about to slide forever into the black lip.
The lamps stutter on, the street is lit like a scene.

She is not to know what lay in her hands, what power
if any, she had before she heard the paper’s soft 
drop that filled her with a sense of loss
as she turned for home, not knowing the reason why,
leaving the letter to its few innocent hours,
nestled among the others, unpilfered, warm and dry.


from At Home in the Dark (Anvil, 2001), © Greta Stoddart 2001, used by permission of the author and the publishers

Sponsor this poem

Would you like to sponsor this poem? Find out how here.


Buy album £0.00

1The Convert



4A Hundred Sheep in a Green Field

5The Fitter

6The Night We Stole a Full-length Mirror


8The List


10Waving Goodbye to the Elegists




14A Puzzle in Four Seasons

15Salvation Jane

16The Wait

17You drew breath


19At Play


21Philosophy for Children


23The Engraver

24The Curtain




28Deep Sea Diver



31And here you are

32All those turning

33Letter from Sido

34Two o’clock

35Boy with Candle

36Skull and Hourglass

37Fire on the Beach

Books by Greta Stoddart