Shadow And The Widower

[Annotation by Andrew Curry (additional notes S J Birkill)]

As we left each other on our final night
And I walked away with all the love remaining
A classic whisper near the station wall
I could just hear without straining
Asked if I was scared to realise this was all
Disappointed there was only this much in it
The perfume and suppliance of a minute?

Shakespeare, "Hamlet" Act 1, Scene 3:
           For Hamlet, and the trifling of his favour,
           Hold it a fashion and a toy in blood,
           A violet in the youth of primy nature,
           Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting,
           The perfume and suppliance of a minute,
           No more.
— SJB]

It was him - the Shadow and the Widower

As with 'the Prince of Aquitaine' this is from a poem, "El Desdichado", by the 19th century French poet Gérard de Nerval, in his 'Les Chimerès' sequence, published in 1854, a year before his suicide. In French: "Je suis le ténébreux, - le veuf, - l'inconsolé". (In the translation by Peter Jay, published in 1984 - after the song was written - this line is rendered as, "I am the shadowed, the bereaved, the unconsoled".)

[Note that 'the widower' (rather than Jay's 'the bereaved') is the literal translation of 'le veuf' — SJB]

There's that all right, I said, and so much more
An hour of life inside a world of dying
A wider limit set to one's regard
The kinder forms of lying
And beyond all that the privilege of a memory scarred
In prettier ways than most, perhaps than any
Such a fate must seem desirable to many
Even you, the Shadow and the Widower

The classic laughter echoed near the wall
A strip torn from a three-sheet stirred and fluttered

An outdoor advertising industry description of a poster size.

The whisper said, Well don't that just beat all
What this oracle hath uttered?
A straight-up scalp-collector I could understand
All those lineaments of gratified desire

[Blake, "The Question Answer'd":
           In a wife I would require
           What in whores is always found,
           The lineaments of Gratified Desire.
           What is it men in women do require?
           The lineaments of Gratified Desire.
           What is it women do in men require?
           The lineaments of Gratified Desire
— SJB]

But he's handing me that old refining fire
This to me, the Shadow and the Widower

The whisper moved with me into the light
Where the access tunnel ran beneath the tracks
The wind searched for a way back to the night
But no romance, no lonely alto sax
Just litter and the notes left for the blacks

This may be a reference to one of the final sequences of the film of 'Woodstock', in which music from the festival plays over pictures of black service workers tidying up the debris left by the half a million festival goers.

[Alternatively this may simply refer to a common graffito of the period, "Blacks Go Home" — SJB]

The graffiti stopped your pulse like heart attacks

To perdition with that rarefied regret
Those half-remembered ladies swathed in yearning
Said the whisper just an inch behind my head
The world is burning
And the tales of love fit for the guiltless dead
Will have little in them of the airs and graces
With which your tender soul goes through its paces
Commit that to your fragrant memory
And while you're doing that, remember me
The Shadow and the Widower

One additional note: the work of Nerval is regarded by some critics as representing complexity wrapped inside simplicity. As Richard Holmes writes in his essay on the poems in The Chimeras, 'A Letter on a Line by Nerval': "Can one ever interpret all their mythology, all their secret biographical references, all their cries of anguish and delight?".

[Further reading: Literary references in the lyrics of Clive James by Mel Powell — SJB]

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