After Africa

The uncut lawn strewn with wrinkled walnut leaves

reminds me of the time of year,

of other Cambridge autumns

and winters in England,

before the desert travels

among naked peoples,

shaking on my manhood in dirty shirts

among difficult officials and uncouth friends.


In my room the gas fire sniffles,

cold air drifts between the window and the frame,

I watch the squirrel digging up the walnuts

where a week ago he buried them

and, mind's eye travelling, I penetrate the tangled branches

cross flooded greens to view

the gravid Cam go swirling under arches.


In the lecture halls,

still the same young faces, keen, intent,

a social grace that once I tried to imitate.

Immaterial now the vanities and loves of other years,

old punt laughter under willows

wringing out their shrouds in small bird choruses

or swans' wings low along dim waters.


New and old are here in me in Cambridge.

The moon sparkles college towers with ice

dark lawns lie quiet below golden windows.

Part and not part of all these conditions,

product and explorer,

I glimpse new aspects of college cobbles

and the grey shadows of old-time ghosts

looking out on a bleak new age.