'Your father's gone,' my bald headmaster said.
His shiny dome and brown tobacco jar
Splintered at once in tears. It wasn't grief.
I cried for knowledge which was bittered
Than any grief. For there and then I knew
That grief has uses - that a father dead
Could bind the bully's fist a week or two;
And then I cried for shame, then for relief.
I was a month past ten when I learnt this:
I still remember how the noice was stilled
In school-assembly when my grief came in.
Some goldfish in a bowl quietly sculled
Around their shining prison on its shelf.
They were indifferent. All other eyes
Were turned towards me. Somewhere in myself
Pride, like a goldfish, flashed a sudden fin.
Edward Lucie-Smith comments: "This is set in Jamaica, where I was brought up, during World War II. I was at a boys' prep school, where I was badly bullied. My father worked for the old colonial government, and died rather rapidly of lung cancer in 1943. I never saw him during his illness, and was in fact only rather remotely aware that something was wrong. In any case I had been largely brought up by servants before being sent to boarding school: I wasn't close to my parents and today have very few memories of my father as a result. The poem is essentially about the difference between what one is supposed to feel and what one actually does feel, when faced with some sort of 'shaping' event. I think I wrote the poem itself sometime in the 1950s, and it reflects my then interest in strict verse forms."