Shaped by Books
I am a student, in Cambridge.
I enter the familiar portals of Brown’s Bookshop,
thrilled, as always; eager to make the next “find”.
My life is shaped by books.  I have no concern
about spending time here: the bookshop is small,
and my life stretches, endlessly, ahead of me.
Ten years later:
I live in London, teaching English to foreign students.
My life is still shaped by books.  I revisit
the bookshop in Cambridge, but Brown’s has gone;
in its place the Amnesty Bookshop.  It has enlarged;
the books, the shelves, have multiplied.
I feel a strange disquiet, for my time here is short.
I begin to browse, but do not know where to look.
Thirty years later:
I live in Peterborough, working for
the civil service.  I find the tasks meaningless;
my life has always been shaped by books.
I head north, searching for succour.
In Carlisle I come upon the largest
second-hand bookshop in the country.
I stand, surrounded, dumbfounded,
by the endless books, on endless shelves,
in endless rooms, leading off from
endless stairs, into dizzying infinity.
There is no point in beginning to browse,
for my time here is so short now.
I put my hands to my head; feel like screaming,
for my life now seems bereft of meaning.

Stewart Bartlam

If you have any thoughts on this poem, Stewart Bartlam  would be pleased to hear them.