Cumbria Times
A Voice of the North
Steve Whitaker
Literary Editor
11:01 AM 4th September 2021

Poem Of The Week: 'The Couple Upstairs' By Hugo Williams

The Couple Upstairs

Shoes instead of slippers down the stairs,
She ran out with her clothes

And the front door banged and I saw her
Walking crookedly, like naked, to a car.

She was not always with him up there,
And yet they seemed inviolate, like us,
Our loves in sympathy. Her going

Thrills and frightens us. We come awake
And talk excitedly about ourselves, like guests.

Hugo Williams
Hugo Williams
Hugo Williams’ spare, stripped-back poem is an exercise in distilled reflection. With deliberate, minimalist simplicity, the poet gives expression to a vicarious fellow-feeling that, in studied innocence, mitigates the faint suggestion of voyeurism.

The steady metrical arrangement and sibilance of the opening lines animate the figure’s passage from the house to the car before the tortuous syntax of ‘Walking crookedly, like naked’, and the reversal of the next line, give momentary pause for introspection.

The narrator’s sense of verisimilitude – the likening of one existence to another is reinforced through repetition – draws the lineaments of an imagined life into a circle of recognition whose untouchable distinction confers heart and purpose on observer and observed.

‘The Couple Upstairs’ is taken from Sugar Daddy and was published by the Oxford University Press (1970)