by Alasdair Gray
Congratulations! Our whole department
is glad you are dead. Great dedication
to material output, inner liason
needs breaks from time to time and dissolution
seems just the break you need. Should you return
to planning and development the situation
will certainly be reviewed but rest assured
we manage without you. Fear not!
This very humorous piece is taken from Alasdair Gray's 16 Occasional Poems 1990-2000, published by Morag McAlpine.
If you haven’t heard of Alasdair Gray, by the end of the year, in our part of the world, here in Malaysia, or by coming October in the UK, you would have, if you read the same UK book reviews as I do. His new novel, from Bloomsbury, will be called Old Men in Love. The late Anthony Burgess called him 'the greatest Scottish novelist since Sir Walter Scott' . The Evening Standard said, ‘He is our nearest contemporary equivalent to Blake, our sweetest-natured screwed-up visionary' .
The first line has a very upbeat rhythm, as apropos to the subject of valediction. But the next line shocks when the listener realises the felicitation is not for the recipient of the speech, but the ‘whole department’ who is happy that the colleague (‘you’) is dead. To compound this fact, the rhyming of 'dead' and the ‘d’ alliteration in ‘dead’ and ‘dedication’ have the effect like the speaker saying : you are dead dead dead!
Even the repetitions of ‘break’ and ‘time’ in lines 4 and 5 have this similar effect, as if slowly, in time, the ‘you’ of the poem is breaking down, as ‘dissolution’, sitting at the end of the line, as a run-on, confirms.
The sentence in line 5, after the pause in the middle, looks belyingly like telling the ‘you’ that the ‘whole department’ will consider his returning. But the next lines, with ‘rest assured/we manage without you’, is a hidden threat. ‘manage’ can also imply disposing of one, so that ‘you’ can be assured of his ‘rest’, in peace, that is.
‘Fear not!’ could well be addressed to the ‘you’ in question, but it could just as well be an assurance to the ‘whole department’ that it (‘they’) will remain. Gray, when reading this, gave stress onto ‘you’, and in a Parthian shot, also onto ‘We’, so that the listeners are in no doubt whatsoever who (‘you’) is dead and who still remain.