Not only how far away, but the way that you say it

  Is very important. Perhaps you may never get

  The knack of judging a distance, but at least you know

  How to report on a landscape: the central sector,

  The right of arc and that, which we had last Tuesday,

            And at least you know


  That maps are of time, not place, so far as the army

  Happens to be concerned-the reason being,

  Is one which need not delay us. Again, you know

  There are three kinds of tree, three only, the fir and the poplar,

  And those which have bushy tops to; and lastly

            That things only seem to be things.


  A barn is not called a barn, to put it more plainly,

  Or a field in the distance, where sheep may be safely grazing.

  You must never be over-sure. You must say, when reporting:

  At five o'clock in the central sector is a dozen

  Of what appear to be animals; whatever you do,

            Don't call the bleeders sheep.


  1 am sure that's quite clear; and suppose, for the sake of example,

  The one at the end, asleep, endeavours to tell us

  What he sees over there to the west, and how far away,

  After first having come to attention. There to the west,

  On the fields of summer the sun and the shadows bestow

            Vestments of purple and gold.


  The still white dwellings are like a mirage in the heat,

  And under the swaying elms a man and a woman

  Lie gently together. Which is, perhaps, only to say

  That there is a row of houses to the left of arc,

  And that under some poplars a pair of what appear to be humans

            Appear to be loving.


  Well that, for an answer, is what we might rightly call

  Moderately satisfactory only, the reason being,

  Is that two things have been omitted, and those are important.

  The human beings, now: in what direction are they,

  And how far away, would you say? And do not forget

            There may be dead ground in between.


  There may be dead ground in between; and I may not have got

  The knack of judging a distance; I will only venture

  A guess that perhaps between me and the apparent lovers

  (Who, incidentally, appear by now to have finished)

  At seven o'clock from the houses, is roughly a distance

            Of about one year and a half.




Henry Reed

Collected Poems

(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 50