(The speaker is a woman whose husband has died after a long illness)
Three days before he died the hospital called me:
He was unconscious, sinking. I went at once.
His face was closed, remote against the pillows.
I sat by the window.The leaves outside were moving
Suddenly he began to speak. I thought
He was asking me for something, but before
I could cross the room I saw have fixed his eyes were,
And then I realized: he was speaking verse,
But in a language neither of us knew.
Not English certainly, not German, and not Russian,
His family’s language from the thirteenth century,
Though he had never learnt it.
. He continued
For a full minute, measured, authoritative.
I picked up the rhythm: four stresses to each line.
I recall only the opening words of one:
. He seemed to be speaking
Past me, his eyes directed to the window,
Yet also to me. For thirty lines or more
He spoke, and then, as if the poem was finished,
Fell silent and lay back.
. Two hours after,
He spoke once more, in German, using my name.
His eyes were soft and and again familiar.
We did not refer to the poem, then or later.
But though he was conscious almost until he died
He took no leave of me. And I think now
The poem was his taking-leave.
. His doctor,
Who speaks German fluently, believes
That what I heard was German, much distorted.
I’m certain it was not: the voice was too
. His father said,
‘Ah, yes. Of course I need not remind you, we
Are an old family. It was our forbears speaking.’
The New Oxford Book of Australian Verse, chosen by Les A. Murray.