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Poetry and the Love of what is Lost

Alice Robson delves into rhetoric surrounding the longing that comes with missing what is gone



I’m a very nostalgic person. I like clarity, I hate change, and I hate goodbyes. So of course saying goodbye to St Andrews after four years of studying, one of which was in a different country, and the final one being a very bizarre university experience, is going to be difficult. And yet something of the sadness in parting also allows us to look at the joy we experienced.

Leaving Mary Magdalene by D. Nurkse tells of the stages of a journey through hospital – the tests, machinery, isolation, and eventual leaving feeling as though you are an entirely different person from when you entered. It’s quite a long poem with eight sections, each tonally separate, and it takes the reader a moment to shift between the moods. The intimacy of the experience of being in hospital is told in first person, but I feel at a slight distance from the narrator, as though I’m intruding on a stream of consciousness I’m not meant to be listening to.

“They asked me to count my breaths and my memories of you.”

I love the juxtaposition of this line – the simple task of counting inhales and exhales in comparison to the ability to remember everything you know about a person. It is impossible and yet feels only just out of reach, an endless frustration we can never solve.

Leaving by Jesús Papoleto Meléndez is structured to make you work to read every word. Perhaps ‘a little too sincere’ as one boy once called a poem of mine he read. I enjoy it’s simplicity and literalism. Yes, the imagery could be criticised as a little too obvious, but the literal nature of it communicates the intensity of feelings of first love vividly.

Kissing Stieglitz Good-Bye by Gerald Steen explores saying goodbye to a person as a place, perhaps the most relevant to what some of us graduates are experiencing now. I so often associate places in St Andrews with people and experiences I’ve had. But St Andrews in itself is subjective to me; only I have lived in this town with these exact experiences for the last four years.

“Stieglitz was truly a city

in every sense of the word; he wore a library

across his chest; he had a church on his knees.”

The vastness of being human is captured here, as well as the literal nature of how we can remember and map out a city. The idea that we are each so unique and diverse as each city, that thousands of thoughts and feelings populate us without us knowing each individual one, is a gorgeous way of understanding each other, and ourselves. That’s what saddens me about leaving a place and having to say goodbye – the knowledge that I will no longer have the same influences around me which have made me into the person I am right in this present moment.

I’ve written a little poem – something brief – an amalgamation of thoughts I’ve had over the past few weeks as I’ve begun to say goodbye to people, and the St Andrews that I have loved and lived in for three years.

The mist clings

to the spire on its way up and

up and away

but not gone.

Embers glow and shift

falling onto the ground

below, hanging from the window

there is laughter.

The smell of incense and

sweat faded, all

that is seen was once

felt and has since passed.

Here, take this list

it tells of things

once hated and now



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