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The Prisoner

I try to make my mind a whitewashed wall
But memory defaces its expanse.
Each human sound which penetrates the cell
Recalls the roar my voice excited once.

I spoke, and hopeless people’s hopes were stirred.
In province after province, speech by speech,
I earned the acclamation of the crowd.

None could deny I had the leader’s touch;
To get the leadership was easy. Then
The hard task came: to form a single force
Where local law and loyalty had been.

Our kindred had a prior claim on us.
Despite the government’s barbarity
Our fellowship in arms was incomplete.
Why is the use of fear the only way?
I made examples, which I now regret.

Throughout the shifting motives of the time,
I pleaded with the soldiers to keep sight
Of our idea. I told myself its flame
Burned still in each day’s orders.

                                                       I found out
That nearest friends are false, and here I am.
I try to keep my mind a private room
But politics come picking at its lock.
So far from battle drifts the battle smoke.

Audio file

Listen to this poem — read by Peter Hetherington