The School Bag




The Unspoken

Edwin Morgan

When the troopship was pitching round the Cape
in '41, and there was a lull in the night uproar of seas and winds, 
    and a sudden full moon
swung huge out of the darkness like the world it is,
and we all crowded onto the wet deck, leaning on the rails, 
    our arms on each other's shoulders, gazing at the savage 
    outcrop of great Africa.
and Tommy Cosh started singing 'Mandalay' and we joined in 
    with our raucous chorus of the unforgettable song,
and the dawn came up like thunder like that moon drawing 
    the water of our yearning
though we were going to war, and left us exalted,
that was happiness,
but it is not like that.

When the television newscaster said
the second sputnik was up, not empty,
but with a small dog on board,
a half-ton treasury of life orbiting a thousand miles above the 
    thin television masts and mists of November,
in clear space, heard, observed,
the faint far heartbeat sending back its message
steady and delicate,
and I was stirred by a deep confusion of feelings,
got up, stood with my back to the wall and my palms pressed 
    hard against it, my arms held wide
as if I could spring from the earth —
not loath myself to go out that very day where Laika had 
    shown man, 
felt my cheeks burning with old Promethean warmth
rekindled — ready —
covered my face with my hands, seeing only an animal
strapped in a doomed capsule, but the future
was still there, cool and whole like the moon,
waiting to be taken, smiling even
as the dog's bones and the elaborate casket of aluminum
glow white and fuse in the arc of re-entry
and I knew what I felt was history,
its thrilling brilliance came down,
came down,
comes down on us all, bringing pride and pity,
but it is not like that.

But Glasgow days and grey weathers, when the rain
beat on the bus shelter and you leaned slightly against me, 
    and the back of your hand touched my hand in the 
    shadows, and nothing was said,
when your hair grazed mine accidentally as we talked in a 
    café, yet not quite accidentally,
when I stole a glance at your face as we stood in a doorway 
    and found I was afraid
of what might happen if I should never see it again,
when we met, and met, in spite of such differences in our lives,
and did the common things that in our feeling
became extraordinary, so that our first kiss
was like the winter morning moon, and as you shifted in my arms
it was the sea changing the shingle that changes it
as if for ever (but we are bound by nothing, but like smoke
to mist or light in water we move, and mix) —
O then it was a story as old as war or man
and although we have not said it we know it,
and although we have not claimed it we do it,
and although we have not vowed it we keep it,
without a name to the end  

1968