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      Poems: ‘Variations on a Theme’ and ‘Whether the Lost Thing Found’

      The Journal of the Sylvia Townsend Warner Society
      UCL Press
      Valentine Ackland, Spanish Civil War, Writers’ Congress


            An article reporting on the writer’s attendance at the Second Congress of the International Association of Writers in Defence of Culture in Madrid, 1937, and on conditions in Spain more generally. It was published in the Daily Worker on 7 July 1937.

            Main article text

            Variations On A Theme

            ‘Forgive the Sleeping Man’



            Fallen on grass, the drought grass pale and brittle,

            With such wide stretch of arid meadow

            Beyond his round head, slack feet and around him;

            Sleeping here he seems strayed, uncared-for, little—

            Mean in his mean clothes, and I in my mean clothes watching,

            And in the sun. Forgive the sleeping man:

            Not careless, not at ease, not free in air,

            Not living. Mortally sick instead, and the sickness catching.

            Kill him we must. Not rouse. Already dead and swaddled

            In cerements that already stink to heaven

            He is dead, is dead.

            By falling to sleep there unwarily he saddled

            Himself with the weight of death and the weight is pressing—

            Forgive the sleeping man, the dead man!

            Ask grace for deed done. More easily than the murdered

            Murderers find it—But from whence comes blessing?



            God, awake always,

            Forgive the sleeping man.

            Man has not many days, and here in sunlight

            Lies he sleeping, low down on the earth lying;

            Lips set and solemn, head laid down as though the dying

            Had been quite easy, and his gentle hair

            Compassionately spread in wing-shape over brow.

            Those who have not known sleep

            Might well think waking fine.

            This man lay down to weep and fell instead

            Into the quietness of Man’s deep despair;

            Lies now in the silence of the last word said.

            Nothing is strange, or sorrowful, or new—

            Quietly he sleeps, and does not even dream.



            Oh the man that sleeps yet

            Holds under his closed eyelids

            The darkening, the fading ashes

            Of that fire we remember;

            Still we discern the fire,

            The sharp tongues of a summer

            Whose brief, immediate radiance

            Sleeps beneath his eyelids.



            The man who sleeps, whose soul has fled,

            Is man-alone, whether he sleeps in bed

            Or in the grave; let spirit but begone

            And back comes innocence. With all his sinning done,

            Man lies here tranquil now the God has fled.



            The man who drowns, see how he rests his head!

            I saw him once, saw him laid on the water dead;

            And in the flowing stems of his meek hair,

            In the arched throat, the swaying of his lightly pillowed head,

            I saw all loveliness of sleep, and all care banished.

            Trouble of thought, fevers, the spinning words,

            Torment of right and wrong, of lost and found,

            Loud daylight cries, the muffled night-winged birds,

            Splinters of sky, masterful earth: when he forsook the ground

            All these were conquered, and he so could lie

            Gently upon the rocking water and untroubled die.



            (Rousseau’s picture: ‘The Sleeping Gypsy’)

            Who cried, long years ago, ‘Forgive the sleeping man’?

            And now, who here sleeps, closed within the span

            Of emptiness and light? Here lies the born,

            And nothing in the landscape or the morning

            Predicates death. Here woman newly made

            Sleeps safely still, in opened light;

            And here the lion Sun can stand beside her

            Unthwarted yet by body’s cry for shade.

            Here, tidy, side by side, her feet

            Which never yet trod earth; her hands are still,

            And she alone in all the empty land.

            Forgive the sleepers, Lord! Thou didst so make them.

            Receive them when they wake and Oh! indulgently awake them.

            Whether the Lost Thing Found

            Whether the lost thing found, the exile reaching coast

            Late and at last, a wide ocean crossed

            And foothold on soil once more:

            Which, soul does not know for sure, but feels

            Sometimes this, and sometimes as if she were still

            Alien, a stateless creature, one without knowledge of home:

            Until, on an evening perhaps, when the west wind steals

            Like the ghost of summers past over the greying hill,

            Suddenly soul awakes, and knows she has come

            To the place that’s her own.

            And now in welcome the sky

            Lights star after star on high; and the world sails on,

            Stately, a ship into darkness going, tall on the seas

            Of calm and eternal night;

            And all on board her are safe, and bound for home.1



            ‘Variations on a Theme’, from Valentine Ackland, The Nature of the Moment (London: Chatto & Windus, 1973), pp. 59–62; ‘Whether the Lost Thing Found’, from Valentine Ackland, Journey from Winter: Selected Poems, ed. Frances Bingham (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2008), p. 155.

            Author and article information

            The Journal of the Sylvia Townsend Warner Society
            UCL Press
            15 April 2020
            : 19
            : 1–2
            : 14-17
            [* ] 1906–1969
            Copyright © 2020, Tanya Stobbs

            This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY) 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited • DOI: https://doi.org/10.14324/111.444.stw.2020.04

            Page count
            Figures: 0, Tables: 0, Equations: 0, References: 0, Pages: 4

            Literary studies,History
            Spanish Civil War,Valentine Ackland,Writers’ Congress


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