Walking to Walter Benjamin’s Grave (Walk No. 8)


These fossilised, volcanic screams

They marked the very edge of life.

One side: the town with bullet holes.

The other: gravestones marble bleached.


And where the trains came rumbling through

The weight of Europe bowed the fence,

A force unseen which broke the necks

Of every dove that ever crossed.


And dancers lost their footing there,

And slumped into the waiting tombs,

And poets closed their pocket books,

And burnt their evidence of dreams.


The morphine killed the pain and fear,

But hope has ways to keep you here.




20 Responses to “Walking to Walter Benjamin’s Grave (Walk No. 8)”

  1. Such an unbelievably, heart wrenching write! “and poets closed their pocketbooks and burnt their evidence of dreams” amazing!

  2. Excellent deep words. A world where poets close their pocket books. I hope not, ever.

    • Thank you for your comment. Remarkably, writers, artists etc didn’t close their books at the time the poem describes (it is set in Port Bou in Catalunya: the crossing point for people escaping from the Nazi advance through France). Walter Benjamin killed himself when he saw no way out. Arthur Koestler was with him, and couldn’t bring himself to end things. It is an extraordinary place, and a moment in time which still lingers over the town. The writing of such people is the hope referred to in the last line.

  3. Good heavens! There are echoes of the way Dylan Thomas used language here. Such music!

    Whirling with James Joyce

  4. Gavin, this is a deeply moving poem; but I am REALLY glad you added the explanation….otherwise I would not have had a clue what you were writing about. Very sad to read that Walter Benjamin killed himself when he figured there was no way out. Such desperation he must have felt…and rightfully so. I like ‘the fossilized volcanic screams’ which speaks to me of all the people who have been killed here in the past…and how their screams still echo. I like ‘the weight of Europe bowed the fence’ as well. And I picture the heaviness that Europe has borne…enough to bow the fence perhaps in shame. And so sad that ‘poets burnt their evidence of dreams.’ Your poems are deep, Gavin, and take time to savor. I do think adding an explanation as a footnote to your works might be a good idea.

  5. Thanks for your comment. I do wonder about explanation footnotes… I quite like folk to bring their own readings to poems and am reluctant in general. Sometimes, though, it would definitely help – especially if there is a specific historical/biographical theme being alluded to. Just a question of when and how really… still working that one out.

  6. your words are like wind, gently lifting soul’s awake, never to be forgotten… beautiful.

  7. I am sorry to put my stubborn donkey on all your walks, but whether by nature or nurture (because my father was a history teacher) I am disposed to becoming especially fond of this collection. I would gladly carry a pocketbook of these words with my own sketchbook and field guide; the extra weight would carry my soul.

  8. In this case, Gavin, I really appreciate your background info in the comment, as it helped me understand. It is a time in history I have always been fascinated with, one I read and watch films about often. I especially liked the same lines as Mary, the weight bowed down, the poets closing their pocketbooks, and, especially “hope has ways to keep you here” – even more so, now I know you referred to the writing of both men – our words are what we leave behind. Great write, Gavin.

  9. I am currently reading the personal account of a 21-year old US Army Private in Al Trafar. Your poem struck me as so similar in tone and fact. And I wonder if sometimes people like Walter Benjamin take their own life at hope’s last breath in order to remain in control, so as not to give that right to the enemy.

    At any rate, like always, Gavin, your writing moves me and prompts consideration.

  10. I immediately had many images of France in my mind, before scrolling down through explanations and comments. It has a chilling feel, as though standing in a windswept cemetery; staring at rows and rows of white headstones. Those impacting the most, being the unmarked and unknown…Wondering about the lives lost and the talents never revealed…as per the poets books etc..
    A superb piece of thoughful writing.


    • there is certainly a stillness in Port Bou – something to do with the shape of the valley and the colour of the rocks. Quite “un-Catalan”. Benjamin’s last postcard (never sent, and remembered later by one of the people with him) talks of having no way out, and the fact that his life would end in a small village where no-one knew him. One can only hope… it’s all there is left from it.

  11. I’ve read this poem several times and like all of your others in this series (walks) I am immediately drawn in by your skill with the sonnet form(I am so jealous) To my ears, this poetry form works so well to enhance the build-up of tension. I also found your back round notes informative but, on rereading the poem, decided it stands on its own, very strongly! Wish I could write like this!

  12. I am so glad you shared more with us! The expressive beginning and ending vibrate the souls lost and the hope we carry for their voices, never to be lost n’ forgotten~ Amazing imagery for a haunting passage! I love how well you expressed this torment, yet ending with hope! Bravo!

  13. This shook me to the core. “And dancers lost their footing there..” That whole stanza stopped my heart, and the final couplet was so true. My former mom-in-law was a Holocaust survivor, and I read about the wars waged in Europe. Thank you for letting us know about Walter Benjamin. So many simply could not endure… Wishing you peace, Amy


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