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:
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).