The Old Masters

Our lives are short,
and those who taught us have died.
They have taken into Sheol
their facial tics and their jokes.
Their nicknames now
are breathed beneath the ground,
with their black gowns flying
they stalk the touchlines of Hell.
Who pulls down on the brim of his cap
to such as these ones now?
Or who calls their names,
at the going down of the day?
They are come to nothing,
these mighty men of old,
are as air between goalposts
or chalk in the cracks of the floor.
For their classrooms know them not,
and neither are their voices heard in the Hall.
From Big Field, Majuba and Spionkop
their cries have long been carried by the wind.
They have all gone home,
and all the desks which remembered them are burned.
They have bent to their bike-clips at a quarter past four
and left the bike-sheds emptied of their bikes.
Their names are gone up in smoke.
Their insignia have vanished.
The teeth of them have been loosened on their pipes
and all their briefcases finally come unstitched.
Their day is over.
Their sum works out at nought.
From morning’s blackboard the evening has erased
their map of the world, their scribbled declension of ego.
They have gone down into the grave-mouth and taken
their wartime ranks and all their fountain pens.
And now there are none alive which are like them.
And only their mark-books remain.

from That Old-Time Religion (Bloodaxe, 1994), © Peter Didsbury 1994, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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