In this room like a bowl of flowers filled with light

Family eyes look down on the white ceiling

Pages of a book, and the white ceiling

Like starch of a nurse, reflects a calm feeling.

The daughter, with hands outstretched to the fire,

Transmits through her veins the peaceful desire

Of the family tree, from which she was born,

To push tendrils through dark to a happier dawn.

In the ancient house or the glass-and-steel flat

The vertical descendants of the genes that

Go back far in the past, are supported by floors

And protected by walls from the weather outdoors.

In the complex stage settings they act out the parts

Of their bodies enclosing their human hearts

With limbs utilizing chairs, tables, cups,

All the necessities and props.

They wear the right clothes and go the right ways,

Read the news, and play golf, and fill out their days

With hobbies, meals brought from the kitchen range.

And no one sees anything eerie or strange

In all this. And perhaps they are right. Nothing is

Until an unreasoning fury impinges

From an enemy’s vision of life, on their hearth.

And explodes. And tears their loved home down to earth.

Then the inside-turned-outside faces the street.

Rubble decently buries the dead human meat.

Piled above it, a bath, a wardrobe, books, telephone

Though all who could answer its ringing have gone.

Standing unscathed in one solitary wall,

Half a floor attached, forgotten to fall.

Convolvulus patterns of pink and blue line

That rectangle high up where they once used to dine.

Bemused passers-by are bound to observe

That inside-shown-outside like the deep curve

Of mother-o’-pearl exposed in a shell

Where a mollusc, long-smashed, at one time did dwell.

But the house has been cracked in an enemy’s claws,

Years of love ground down to rubble in jaws,

And the tender sensitive life thrown away

By the high-flying will of the enemy’s day.

( Horizon, February 1941. 1993)

From “Dolphins” by Stephen Spender. (St. Martin’s: $18.95; 46 pp.) 1994 Reprinted by permission.