The scent of old roses and tobacco
Takes me back.
It’s almost twenty years
Since I last saw you
And our half-hearted love affair goes on.
You left me this:
A hand, half-open, motionless
On a green counterpane.
Enough to build
A few melancholy poems on.
If I had touched you then
One of us might have survived.
“Epitaph” by Ian Hamilton, which you’ll find in his excellent Ian Hamilton Collected Poems.
For a fine elucidation of this poem, I refer you to my friend John Etheridge’s blog The Book of Pain. His site is a useful resource for compelling, voiced poetry. It’s title — The Book of Pain — suggests the sort of revealing, forbidding tone that’s also made vivid in Clive James’s great collection The Book of My Enemy.
John calls Hamilton the “finest poet of the second half of the 20th century”; and while I disagree, I don’t dismiss the gauge of such a careful register of language. For the record I think Eliot is the best post-war poet, with Larkin and Auden tied for second.