Albert: a deafness not of hearing
In a little village of the Midi
you can see an old man, in his eighties,
confined to short walks with the aid of a stick,
taking regular gasps of breath as he proceeds,
like a champion swimmer ready to touch home
after a gruelling race.
Test him in English as though he were Winston Churchill
he has Churchill’s physique
his baldness and gruff voice.
He will reply in tones that remind you of Churchill,
a thirties’ English which he learnt in the thirties
He will tell you perhaps
of the young schoolmistress
who fell in love with him
but he had come to England
to learn English, not to fall in love.
He will probably tell you of his visits
to Speakers’ Corner
in Hyde Park where every cause of the day could be aired.
Then the years in Paris teaching English
but mainly teaching English to arrogant
young Frenchmen who felt so superior
although no Speakers Corner existed in France.
A career of antagonism, bearbaiting
(there was something
of the bear about him)
in retirement and
As if wishing to defy his countrymen
he reads his favourite novelist
translated into Italian
the young man at Speakers’ Corner
the depleted library, half the books
thrown away in a fit of gloom, given to his housekeeper
to be burned with the rubbish, now regretted
done in depression.
Educated by accident; the Scottish woman who lost her wombripener
to German shells on the fields of Flanders, forced back
to this same village with three young sons; his nephews.
Learning English from her (till sixteen merely
passing exams through her – a shepherd)
leaving for Paris thanks to her
or to end.
Notice finally his deafness, the left ear hoisted
into view, like the old trumpets, but serving
little purpose, little motivation to listen
except to his own voice,
as he pours you a cognac,
a deafness bottled up and matured
a private delectation.