In all our sanctuaries we sit at risk

BALLAD OF REFUGE by David Punter


I come in fear. The wheels, the stuttering engine,

By road or wave; the endless killing payments.

Bit by bit, my mind returns to rubble.


You come in fear. The hunched back, failed bravado,

They make me squirm. You have no place here, brother;

Get back, for you remind me of my weakness.


I starve, I thirst. I’m out there in my millions,

Teeming, weeping. Just allow me, brother,

One foot on land. I’ll work hard for my pittance.


You starve, you thirst. What of me, of my neighbours,

Struggling in an austere land? The steel-plant’s silent,

My skills no longer fit, my hands are idle.


My hopes are gone. My suffering gods won’t travel,

My women cannot see, their eyes are blinded

By the long dust, the silent days of torture.


My hopes are gone. You come and you displace me,

The silent mills and fields, they scorn and mock me,

The Union Jack’s a shroud; all’s ripe for burning.


I call to you. Across the long dark waters,

Carrying a load of trinkets not worth selling,

Umbrellas, handbags, at the gang-master’s calling.


You call to me. I stop my ears with plaster,

My sons and daughters can’t afford their schooling,

My hospitals are full, the asylum’s broken.


My last cry sinks. Protect me from this hardness,

This cold that shrinks my soul. Pity me, brother,

Or think on me adrift on the long night’s calling.


My last cry sinks. Protect me from this falling.

The bailiffs come, the sheets won’t disentangle.

My homeland’s gone. God help us all this winter.


                                                                                 David Punter, 2016.


Copyright © David Punter. Reproduced here by kind permission.



This poem featured on the website of the UK Poetry Society in 2016. David Punter (born 1949) is Professor of English at Bristol University. Two opposing states of human desperation are described in the poem, seemingly irreconcilable. Mutual hatred becomes an obvious product, ruinous to both, but there to be exploited by the unscrupulous and the self-seeking, creatures of chaos and destruction.

Here is a link to a version of the poem formatted as a little poster : Ballad of Refuge, D Punter.

You can download the poster and print it out.

I believe this poem belongs with Robert Friends’s “Hatred : a Sestina.” They provide between them a compassionate but clear-sighted view of present predicaments.