“On The Brink Of A Pit”, by David Holbrook, Analysis

In “On The Brink Of A pit”, David Holbrook describes taking his daughter, Kate to a party being held to celebrate the 12th birthday of her Jewish friend, Melanie.

The friendship between the 2 children is very close:

“I took our child to her party, carrying a book-token
Covered in child-gay seals, because they love one another”.

“Melanie assured me with her guileless big blue eyes
Her father would bring Kate home, fondly drew her into the house”.

Here we have a beautiful picture of 2 children, one Jewish and the other non-Jewish who love one another and are unconcerned with racial or religious differences.

This beautiful portrait is enhanced as the street is full of birdsong and:

“Warm sun honeyed the suburban gardens”.

Yet the line:

“handsome women
tapped over a few skeleton leaves on the muddy pavements”, signifies that all is far from being right. “skeleton” speaks of death. The leaves are as dead as the Jews who perished in Nazi Germany’s “Final Solution”, under which approximately 6 million Jews where murdered in gas chambers and by other means.

Holbrook wants “a thousand lives to worship what Melanie was”, and the thought of the horrors of the mass extermination of Jews causes him to openly weep in the street
“There being as much hate in garden cities as at Majdenek”.

This is a deeply shocking poem which never fails to move me. It is as relevant today as when it was written. In its mildest forms I have heard people say, “the Jews control the media”, or “Jews are mean”. Such words are often spoken by those who would be genuinely horrified if they thought that by speaking them they could be contributing to antisemitism, and that they could, indirectly cause a resurgence of virulent Jew hatred. Yet such words do feed the monster of hatred towards Jews, and I hear behind the words spoken in pubs or over dinner tables the crunch of jackboots in concentration camps.

Other expressions of antisemitism are more direct, ranging from the desecration of Jewish graves to the murder of Jewish people.

It is sometimes said, by ignorant people that poetry doesn’t matter. Holbrook’s poem prooves them wrong.

(“On The Brink Of A Pit”, can be found in “The Golden Treasury of The Best Songs And Lyrical Poems In The English Language”, selected and arranged by Francis Turner Palgrave. Updated by John Press. Sixth Edition”. page 571).

14 thoughts on ““On The Brink Of A Pit”, by David Holbrook, Analysis

  1. The Story Reading Ape

    Unfortunately, it seems that every human group despises other human groups that are different from theirs in some way, be it skin colour, religious belief, size, hair or eye colour, physical attributes, or whatever (I don’t hold with the term ‘race’ – it has been scientifically proven that all humans are the same species of primate, regardless of skin colour, or, shape of eyes, etc).
    This ‘Them and Us’ attitude MUST change if we are to survive – climate change permitting.
    Also, it needs to be said, our senses of entitlement, love of money, profit and similar stupidity, needs to be removed from our mentality.
    Sorry, Kevin, rant over.

    1. K Morris Poet Post author

      There is no need to apologise, Chris. Your comment does not a rant make! You make a good point about race. Of course we are all one race descended, as we all are from apes. You are right about people always finding something to differenciate themselves from others, whether that be “race”, religion etc. As you know, prior to the Nazis beginning the “Final Solution”, they implemented Action T-4 under which people with mental or physically disabilites where sterilised and (later in the programme’s development) murdered as they, in the view of the Nazis constituted “useless eaters” or “life unworthy of life”. The use of gas was first used to kill the disable prior to it being utilised, on a mass scale to exterminate the Jews. I agree with you about money. There is nothing wrong with having lots of money, its the love of money (not money itself) that is “the root of all evil”, and those lucky enough to be rich should be humble and use their wealth wisely, (I hope I am not misinterpreting you here)? I think that climate change is a real and pressing problem and, quite frankly it staggers me that there are still people who, point blank refuse to either admit that it is happening or, alternatively say that its down to “sun spots” or has little, or nothing to do with we humans. Quite obviously the activities of humanity have greatly contributed to global warming. I do believe that humans can survive and will, probably do so. What worries me is about the quality of life future generations will enjoy.

      All the very best – Kevin

      1. The Story Reading Ape

        You understood my meaning regards the love of money, Kevin – if we cared more for real things, like nature, and less about abstract things, like monetary wealth, or, as you rightly say, use the wealth to improve the lot of those without means) we’d all be better for it.

  2. V.M.Sang

    I cannot understand how people can hate an entire group of people simply because they have a different colour skin, worship in a different way, live in a different country, speak a different language etc. The attitudes spreading throughout the world are worrying. These attitudes are what leads to wars.
    Few people who lived through WW2 are still alive. Those of us left do not know what it was like. We should be constantly reminded of the horrors of it all. Yes, there are commemorations of things like D-day and the Normandy Landings, but they seem to me to almost glorify it. ‘Wasn’t this great.’
    We should be shown photographs of the horrors of the concentration camps, be told of the fear of living under regimes like Nazi Germany, hear from the few survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not parades and self-congratulations saying ‘how great we are. We won the war.’

    1. K Morris Poet Post author

      I completely agree with you that we need to be reminded of the horrors of the concentration camps. I would add that to few people know about the atrocities committed by the Pol Pot Regime, or of the details of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. I think these also (along with the crimes of Stalin) need to be taught so as to, hopefully avoid future atrocities. I do believe that we should celebrate the bravery of those who fought against the evils of Nazism, but I agree that this should not turn into an unthinking celebration of how great we are. The D Day veterans should be honoured. Best wishes – Kevin

    1. K Morris Poet Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Debbie. You are right that no one is born with hatred in their heart. Sadly history has a habit of repeating itself as regards the committing of attrocities. Best wishes – Kevin

    2. K Morris Poet Post author

      Thanks, Debbie. Whilst I do think that society/mankind does “progress” in some respects, for example liberal democracies according full rights to gay people and much greater rights for women, I certainly don’t believe in inevitable “progress”. Indeed “progress” is, in my opinion an overused (and abused) word. I touch on the latter point in my poem “Squire and Peasant” on which you kindly commented. Best wishes – Kevin

      1. debbiejonesalwaysamused

        You’re right, Kevin, not all “progress” is for the greater good. Often it is touted as making life easier/being better for us/saving time etc, when it’s only really going to be advantageous to the shareholders!

      2. K Morris Poet Post author

        Thanks for your comment, Debbie. I agree that the average member of the public does not require the latest, shiny laptop, mobile etc on an annual basis and often advertisers try to convince us that we do! I only (relatively recently) stopped using a laptop purchased from John Lewis back in 2011. It worked well until I spilled a cup of tea on the keyboard. Although I got this repaired, it was never quite the same afterwards, hence me now using a (newish) machine. I work on the basis of “if it isn’t broken/works well, why change it and/or buy the latest model”. Best wishes – Kevin

      3. debbiejonesalwaysamused

        Agreed Kevin! So much of technology is almost outdated before it hits the shops..ridiculous! I’m really sorry to hear about your cup of tea incident, what a shame! I hope the newer one gives you many years of good service & hopefully no more accidents! 😊

      4. K Morris Poet Post author

        Thank you, Debbie. I always try to be careful with liquids around technology. However I still drink tea or coffee when using my laptop, but try to remember to keep my cuppa well away from the machine! Best – Kevin

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