Close of Play

Kenneth H Ashley

I wonder if Life is kind or callous
When it fails to warn us of final things -
When we make an End: and no revelation
Informs the heart with forebodings?

I remember a hazy day in August: '
A hazy day with a smudge of sun:
When a score of fellows played at cricket -
Twenty and two, and I was one.
Harry, I know, was playing against me;
Fast off break, and he'd found a spot:
I flicked at one, and was caught at the wicket
The umpire said; but I thought not.
And I remember in the pavilion
I sat and talked the usual rot;
Then caught a train, and what happened else on
That casual day I have forgot.
But O, how different a meaning
The day would have held if I had known!
I would have stayed to see the finish,
The last run made and the last ball thrown;
And when the umpires came slowly walking,
And the wickets no longer stood intact,
I would have made an end of talking,
Feeling the ritual of the act.
And Harry and I, as it befitted,
Would have waited to stand beside the ring,
Where only the swallows dived and twittered,
To hear the beat of another wing.
And we would have sat all night together,
Till nothing was left unsaid.
And we would have turned to greet the dawning,
Knowing our youth was dead.
But of these things we had no warning,
Never a hint at all:
That Harry had bowled his final over,
That I had finished with bat and ball.

NOTE: This poem refers to a game of cricket, presumably played in August 1914, a few days after World War One was declared. The war casts a shadow over many of Ashley's poems although I can find no record that Ashley was called up. However conscription ws imposed on men aged from 18 to 41 with few exceptions from 1916. I assume Harry was a casualty of the war.