A poem for April: ‘Friendship and Loss’

April 2024

Below is a message from Alexander about a poem he wrote last month:

‘This is a poem I started yesterday and finished this morning. It is about friendship and loss. It refers to the work of Chinese poets of the sort I have always liked – Tang poets such as Po.Chu-i and Li Po (translated by Arthur Waley). There is a reference to the ink-wash paintings they liked to do, along with their calligraphy, showing birds in flight against a backdrop of mountains and so on.

Friendship was a major subject for the poets of that period. They never wrote love poems, interestingly enough, but they often wrote about friendship. A typical poem of the period would have the poet, a former Imperial Civil Service official, now exiled, sitting in his courtyard, under an almond tree, perhaps, reflecting on how he would like to have old friends there to share his wine. The old friends never came, it seems; but they were present in the poem.’

Friendship and Loss
The Chinese poets, crafting in their mountain exile,
With such careful brush-strokes, their ancient lines
Of longing and of loss, centuries ago,
Spoke of friendship, never love, as a lasting good –
Which it is.

Now, in a world that they would find so unfamiliar,
Even if mountains, streams and egret-flight
Are all still there, as in their watercolours,
We think of friends and how we miss them –
Which we do.

To say goodbye to a friend, to those we lose,
Is a tearful task, although we like to think
We are in full control of how we feel;
Yet the heart has a script it writes itself ¬–
Without our help.

And if we think we shall not regret
The times we failed to say to those we love
The things we know we should have said,
We soon find out just how wrong we are –
We always do.

Yet even when our friends are lost,
They are still there, against the rules we have
Of how things work, reassuring and familiar,
Remembered, above all, for being friends,
Their gift to us.

Always there, brought to mind at unexpected times,
Tended with care as one would nurse
Spring flowers as they break through snow,
Symbolic each of a consolation and delight,
That’s never lost.


You can read more of Alexander’s poetry in his collection, In A Time of Distance