‘Goodbye’ is among those poems collected in Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets, published posthumously, in 1945. Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets is subtitled Poems in Transit, and in ‘Goodbye’, the idea of transit – of passing away or passing through –encapsulates the lovers’ sense of betweenness and of being out of place. The poem evokes a moment in which, as a narrator of one of Lewis’s short stories puts it, ‘[n]one of us are ourselves now…neither what we were, nor what we will be’.The poem’s title implies that its speaker is already moving off – but to where? His destination remains a mystery. Death, transition, ‘uncertain progression’, then, are some of the central concerns captured by the title. But the word ‘Goodbye’ also has an informal simplicity that belies the seriousness of the poem’s subject-matter. It establishes the colloquial, interpersonal tone that suffuses this poem like the glow from a lamp. The speaker’s restrained informality and use of understatement hints at an experience and a depth of feeling that remains inarticulable.
The visual form of this poem on the page, like the title, is relatively simple. Short, regularly arranged stanzas reflect an attempt on the part of the writer to clarify and come to terms with a newly complex world. The poem’s arrangement in quatrains and regular ABCB rhyme scheme aligns it with the ballad form. The ballad has its origins in folk culture, and is traditionally used for storytelling. This poem, too, tells a story of sorts. Rather like Lewis’s short stories, it speaks of his aim to ‘[make] live ordinary life’ through a form that is ‘simple, lucid, broad’.
Yet this poem does not use the conventional four-stress, three-stress metre of the ballad. Rather, its rhythms follow the modulations and patterns of the speaking voice – a technique borrowed from poets such as Edward Thomas. This conveys a feeling of naturalness and intimacy – qualities that, in Lewis’s view, were threatened by the mechanised, dehumanised conditions of modern warfare.
 Alun Lewis, Collected Stories, ed. Cary Archard (Bridgend: Seren, 1991), p. 169. From the story ‘They Came’, the last story in The Last Inspection (1942; the book appeared in 1943).
 Alun Lewis, quoted in Pikoulis, Alun Lewis, p. 80.
Comments on the Poem as a Whole
The poems in Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets were written after autumn 1941, and mostly when Alun Lewis was on service in India. The inner, poetic journey traced by the collection parallels Lewis’s lived experience of leave-taking, his sea journey to India via Brazil, and life there as an officer. Many of Lewis’s poems and short stories draw on autobiographical elements, taken from the journals that he kept during his time as a soldier. John Pikoulis describes ‘Goodbye’ as a ‘poem of farewell to Gweno’: it perhaps recalls their last night in a hotel together in Liverpool at the end of October 1942, before Lewis’s battalion set sail from the docks in the early morning. But it amalgamates any number of their snatched moments together in temporary accommodation during the war.
It is important to realise, however, that although this poem is anchored in lived experience, is should not be seen merely as a poetic record of Lewis’s individual story. As Cary Archard points out, he strived constantly to balance his personal, lyric vision with his social conscience. The unnamed lovers in this poem, then, are also tragic actors in a more universal drama: their experience, as the poem makes clear, is both extraordinary and ordinary, shared by many others like them during World War II.
The seeming ordinariness of the occasion portrayed in this poem – the lovers ‘pack and fix on labels’, as if the soldier were going on holiday – is transfigured by the dignity of their affection and their celebration of intimacy. This interweaving of the romantic with the down-to-earth speaks of Lewis’s recognition that ‘the gap between realism and romanticism [had] changed and narrowed because of the war’: everyday life had become heroic under the pressure of circumstances, and dreams were now essential to survival. However, traditional romantic gender roles are clouded and sometimes reversed in this poem: the speaker-soldier is imbued with fragility (signaled, for instance, by the patches on his uniform), while the lover he leaves behind shows strength in her will for life and continuity. His eyes are closed beneath her kisses, rendering him rather passive, yet hers remain wide open: she ‘stare[s]’. In a letter to Robert Graves, reprinted in Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets, Lewis wrote, ‘I find myself quite unable to express at once the passion of Love, the coldness of Death (Death is cold), and the fire that beats against resignation, ‘acceptance’. Acceptance seems so spiritless, protest so vain. In between the two I live.’ This poem moves between unwilling acceptance in the face of intractable forces of history, and ‘the fire that beats against resignation’, that is also ‘the passion of Love’.
 John Pikoulis, Alun Lewis: a Life (Bridgend: Seren, 1991), p. 138.
 Cary Archard, ‘“Some Things you See in Detail, Those You Need”: Alun Lewis, Soldier and Poet’, in Wales at War: Critical Essays in Literature and Art, ed. Tony Curtis (Bridgend: Seren, 2007), pp. 75–92 (p. 84).
 Archard, ‘“Some Things You See in Detail”’, p. 82.
 From a letter quoted by Robert Graves in his introduction to Ha! Ha! Among The Trumpets (London, 1945).