They put me in school. They do it to us all
and they teach us the alphabet and how to read,
how to add up and take away and memorise
the dates of battles, the names of kings,
while round outside the classroom the sun
illuminates the unread leaves and stirs
the untaught robin to sing his rhapsody
for which there is no do-re-mi, no metronome.
And we learn like Pavlov's dogs; how to please,
to supply the formula, to recite the text
we copied from the board and in return we get
rosettes, prizes, kisses, presents, Easter eggs.
But when the teacher has retired and our mams
and dads have forgotten everything or died,
we're left to wander abroad with nothing
but ciphers, tokens, money from a vanished state.
And late, now very late, the sun breaks through
a bare giant tree to lonely winter benches
where, as this afternoon, I wonder who to ask
to teach me how to read the day, the light
on public footpath signposts and leafmeal,
to diagram the last of the afternoon sun
warming a railway bridge in a country lane,
to derive the angles in a fine terrace below.
And I think of Yeats, Spender, Goldsmith,
walking through a classroom and being moved
to mystic reverie, fierce compassion, wonder.
But beyond the class there was a secret school
that taught us how to hear the ocean in a seashell,
to observe a crab blowing bubbles, the local names
for honeybees, how to draw houses, smoke & flowers.
Take me back to the school of streets and fields.