Children in Exile

James Fenton

“What I am is not important, whether I live or die—
   It is the same for me, the same for you.
What we do is important. This is what I have learnt.
   It is not what we are but what we do,”

Says a child in exile, one of a family
   Once happy in its size. Now there are four
Students of calamity, graduates of famine,
   Those whom geography condems to war,

Who have settled here perforce in a strange country,
   Who are not even certain where they are.
They have learnt much. There is much more to learn.
   Each heart bears a diploma like a scar—

A red seal, always hot, always solid,
   Stamped with the figure of an overseer,
A lethal boy who has learnt to despatch with a mattock,
   Who rules a village with sharp leaves and fear.

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