Lyrics: A Hill Of Little Shoes |
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A Hill Of Little Shoes

by Clive James and Pete Atkin

I live in the shadow of a hill
A hill of little shoes
I love but I shiver with a chill
A chill I never lose
I live, I love, but where are they?
Where are their lives, their loves?
All blown away
And every little shoe's a foot that never grew another day

If you could find a pair
And put them on the floor
Make a mark in the air
Like the marks beside your door
When you were growing
You'd see how tall they were

And the buckles and the laces
They could do up on their own
Or almost could
With their tongue tips barely showing
Tell you how small they were

And then you think of little faces
Looking fearfully alone
And how they stood
In their bare feet being tall for the last time
Just to be good
And that was all they were

They were like you in the same year
But you grew up
They were scarcely even here
Before they suddenly weren't there
And while you got dressed for bed
They did the same but they were led
Into another room instead

I live in the shadow of a hill
A hill of little shoes
I love, but I shiver with a chill
A chill I never lose
And I caught this cold
When I was chosen to grow old
In the shadow of a hill of little shoes

Note (from Collected Poems)

The subject matter is too sacred to permit any experimentation, but really this lyric is an exercise in the special form of the aria for the opera that cannot exist. Pete understood immediately what was required for the music: monumentality, but with a legato line. I should say, for a final note to these lyrics and a final note to the whole book**, that I have always fully understood Adorno’s insistence that there could be no poetry after Auschwitz. I understood it, but I didn’t believe it. The question was already there when Thucydides described the first extermination camps, the quarries of Syracuse in which the Athenians were left to starve; and the answer was already there in the magisterial cadence of his prose. Poetry is a form of knowledge, not of therapy; and nothing that humans do can be beyond its reach.

[ **This was the final paragraph in Collected Poems
— Archive Ed. ]