“Cul-de-Sac” by Helen Rootham



There flickers one small yellow flame
Blown by a fretful breeze
That casts small shadows on the ground
To dance between the trees


As some uncared-for, dusty shell
Still covers, hidden deep,
The murmur that a child once heard,
So the sad houses sleep


While hid within their leprous walls
That strike the heart with fear,
Move echoes of forgotten joy
None but the homeless hear.


Gaunt figures haunt the narrow street
And stoop to seek within
For what the day's poor comfort
May have dropped into a bin.


Beneath the night's dark covering
These phantoms come and go,
More frail, unreal, and mournful
Than the shadows that they throw.


Like broken windows of a room
Where one is lying dead,
Their eyes gaze out upon the streets
The weary feet must tread.


For them the days are throbbing wounds,
Hard livid weals of light
The sun has raised upon the gloom
Of their eternal night;


The city but a cavern, Man
Has tunnelled into space,
From whose high roof the mocking stars
Can watch each haggard face.


And so they flit by aimlessly
These outcasts from their kind,
And ever seek an outlet
Where no outlet is to find.


Save where beneath a high blank wall
With shaken souls they see
Some useless clothes a shadow left
To hang upon a tree.

View Helen Rootham's poem in the 1917 Wheels anthology. It has been digitized at the following locations:


Librivox audio recording hosted on Archive.org

The Modernist Journals Project