In all our sanctuaries we sit at risk

Facing West over a Small Field


Here is a link to a poem about the poet D.J. Enright and his French wife, the artist Madeleine Enright. (See one of her pictures, above). They belonged in worlds quite foreign to me, but in the last few months of their lives, I chanced to be their next-door neighbour.

I had moved into a bungalow in south west London, in the grounds of a church primary school, facing west over a small field. The bungalow was a refreshingly basic affair, built for the school’s caretaker, but the present post-holder lived round the corner. So the Enrights and I found ourselves sharing a garden fence. They were kindly, quintessentially civilised, “fine-tuned” and courteous, and I quickly felt deep affection for them. I had two kittens at the time, sisters, half Burmese. I think it was the kittens which started things off, as pets so often do. The Enrights were lovers of cats, especially Madeleine, perhaps.  

But then something really extraordinary cropped up. The project I run, now called “Poems for…the wall,” was at an early but exciting stage. Denis MacShane was Minister for Europe and the EU was still then moving in a sane and forward direction, though perhaps precipitously. Ten further countries were about to join and Macshane was interested in the idea of helping that enlargement on its way by posting up poems from each of the countries involved and displaying them widely. The poet Fiona Sampson was helping me make the selection. Up came the Polish suggestion – “Station Lights” by Piotr Sommer, publisher Bloodaxe, translator into English D.J. Enright.

D.J. Enright ?  I needed permissions, of course. Permissions in this case were remarkably easy to come by ! Sommer delivered his by hand. I was out at the time, so missed him.

Although I didn’t know it then, Enright was already far gone with cancer. It advanced swiftly and the poem catches up with him just before he finally retired into a hospice, where he died very soon afterwards. Madeleine did not survive him for long.