Poem introduction

When I ran away from home which all young do to see the world, I got stuck in London, which was a place of many rewards although it was also a place of exile. But I remember just toward the end of the war when the great areas around Fulham Road and Kensington had been cleared by bombs and these old houses were ruins - rather marvellous old houses - were just shells. I began to hear something which was a message from my valley and it was an owl had moved in and taken over. And this is a poem about this messenger, this occupier of those bombed wastes. He wasn't the only one - flowers came in from the countryside - they occupied roofs and bombsites.

Town Owl

On eves of cold, when slow coal fires,
rooted in basements, burn and branch,
brushing with smoke the city air;
When quartered moons pale in the sky,
and neons glow along the dark
like deadly nightshade on a briar;
Above the muffled traffic then
I hear the owl, and at his note
I shudder in my private chair.
For like an auger he has come
to roost among our crumbling walls,
his blooded talons sheathed in fur.
Some secret lure of time it seems
has called him from his country wastes
to hunt a newer wasteland here.
And where the candlabra swung
bright with the dancers' thousand eyes,
now his black, hooded pupils stare,
And where the silk-shoed lovers ran
with dust of diamonds in their hair,
he opens now his silent wing,
And, like a stroke of doom, drops down,
and swoops across the empty hall,
and plucks a quick mouse off the stair...

from Selected Poems (Penguin, 1985), used by permission of PFD (www.pfd.co.uk) on behalf of the author. Recordings used by permission of the BBC.

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