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Steve Whitaker
Literary Editor
@stevewh16944270
7:12 AM 12th May 2022
arts

Poem Of The Week: 'This train has left the city ...' by Paul Henry

This train has left the city …

This train has left the city
approximately ten years late.

You sway and stare at the glitter
thinning out into fields,
a Hopper model darkness frames,
your hair tied back, your dress
still thinking it’s summer.

We share a cup’s hand-warmer.
Here comes a tunnel, a pause
where I cannot hear clearly
the song that nests in your head.
I used to know it by heart.

It’s our station already.
Drink up. We were never here.


Edward Hopper’s lone figures occupying seats in the diners and offices of American Nowheresville identify a sense of anomie, of loneliness, captured in the rectilinear emptiness of urban decline.

The figure in Paul Henry’s exquisite poem of loss and the transitory is framed, like one of Hopper’s protagonists, in studied reflection, her hopes defined in her appearance, her sense of purpose bound in the vicissitudes of a life to which we cannot be privy. For the contents of her head are secured in memory, diminishing experience to speculation, leaving the narrator tone deaf to the shared harmonies of the past.

The train journey that might not be a train journey in a sonnet that might not be a sonnet, is an embodiment of slippage, of a suggestion of dislocation, of the bitter taste of time lost or used unwisely. Henry’s use of pauses in the poem’s final lines reinforces a pervading sense of irresolution, yet achieves far more in the transfiguring of simple words into a moment of aching sadness.


‘This train has left the city …’ is taken from As If To Sing and is published by Seren. The poem is reproduced here with the kind permission of the publisher.
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