Thistles, dry thistles, down Altona way,
A network of needles, a city of swords;
The silver and purple that summer accords,
And autumn enhances, has vanished away;
Atrophied armies still armed to the teeth,
Alerted and dangerous even in death.
Stone fences run, and stumble and fall
Spreadeagled under a scrabble of weeds.
Here where a hoof-hollowed cattle-track leads,
Skirting a ruin where once was a wall,
A twangling sea-wind ascends and suspires,
Plucking laments from the telegraph wires.
Towers, round towers, of industry rise
Up from the edge of the water and seem
Like to some curious Martian dream:
Mushrooming columns set minaret-wise,
Catwalk and pipeline and balconied steel,
Concrete and solid -- and somehow unreal.
Flickers of steam must have frightened the birds
Kestrel and gull (that have looked upon
So many a mounting Babylon)
But, out of the low cloud that lurches towards
The west, already the larks are at
Spring choir-practice across the flat.
For soon, in the shelter of daggers and dirks,
The larks will be nesting, as ever they did
Before Egypt had thought of a pyramid,
Showering the waste land at back of the Works
With sweet unchangeable songs of joy
Even as once beyond windy Troy.
First published in The Bulletin, 18 July 1956