To Alexander Graham

By W. S. Graham 1918–1986
Lying asleep walking   
Last night I met my father   
Who seemed pleased to see me.   
He wanted to speak. I saw   
His mouth saying something   
But the dream had no sound.

We were surrounded by   
Laid-up paddle steamers   
In The Old Quay in Greenock.   
I smelt the tar and the ropes.

It seemed that I was standing   
Beside the big iron cannon   
The tugs used to tie up to   
When I was a boy. I turned   
To see Dad standing just   
Across the causeway under   
That one lamp they keep on.

He recognised me immediately.   
I could see that. He was   
The handsome, same age   
With his good brows as when   
He would take me on Sundays   
Saying we’ll go for a walk.

Dad, what am I doing here?   
What is it I am doing now?   
Are you proud of me?   
Going away, I knew   
You wanted to tell me something.

You stopped and almost turned back   
To say something. My father,   
I try to be the best   
In you you give me always.

Lying asleep turning   
Round in the quay-lit dark   
It was my father standing   
As real as life. I smelt   
The quay’s tar and the ropes.

I think he wanted to speak.   
But the dream had no sound.   
I think I must have loved him.

W. S. Graham, “To Alexander Graham” from Collected Poems 1942-1977 (London: Faber, 1979). Copyright The Estate of W. S. Graham. Reprinted with the permission of Michael and Margaret Snow, Literary Executors for the W. S. Graham Estate.

Source: Selected Poems (Faber and Faber, 1980)

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Poet W. S. Graham 1918–1986


Subjects Relationships, Family & Ancestors

Holidays Father's Day


W. S. Graham was born to a working-class family in Scotland and grew up in Clydeside, where he worked as an engineer. He traveled to London and New York City, then returned to spend the rest of his adult life in Cornwall where his associates included many of the post-war British artists. Graham's first collection of poetry, Cage without Grievance, was published in 1942. It was followed by The Seven Journeys (1944), 2nd Poems . . .

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SUBJECT Relationships, Family & Ancestors


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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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