Ode to a Postbox
by Aidan Andrew Dun
This apparently lighthearted but bittersweet poem was originally published in The Guardian.
Of you, humble postbox, positioned between people, halfway house
in the affairs of human beings, the poet sings, his business also the
transmission of letters.
Like you he is a go-between who doesn’t move about, who sends his
thought to faraway places, stamped and postmarked with the deep
furrows of his brow.
Like you, the poet stays in one place a long time, keeping guard, as it
were, over his meditations. Letterbox, do you meditate? Are you a
It’s a revolutionary act to remain in one place in the metropolis.
Letterbox, you project the colours of an activist and a militant.
Yet your dissidence is Gandhian, nonviolent. In the modern anthill of
hyperactivity you’re a smallish postbox with steel rimmed spectacles
and a loincloth.
The world’s motion sick. Who stands still in the city, a receptacle for
messages? Out in the rain, a lonely man and a letterbox could be
mistaken for one another.
Mailbox, geometrically, you have neither front nor back. But distinct
aspects of your existence fascinate the contemporary passerby, make
Take the act of posting. A metaphysical exchange which mysteriously
resembles the transaction of a priest as he or she offers a white host to
Holy medicine is placed between red lips. The world becomes
warmer, lighter, less substantial. A journey begins outside three
Postbox, offering, as you do, a short cut between people, you could be
said to represent a time machine invented several hundred years ago.
Let’s take stock of perspectives of you in a roughly bicentenary
existence. Now you’re an impressionistic smudge. Here, in cubism, a
pillar of the abstract sky.
Suddenly overflowing under turquoise winter heavens you wear a
superb white mantle, carrier of warmest salutations at the sun’s
But you’re not all blessed. There’s more to you than stageprop for
Father Christmas making his beneficent peregrinations through the
You’ve a dark side in spite of avuncular rotundity, high colour,
somewhat exaggerated corpulence. (You evoke a country gentleman
in gumboots on odd occasions.)
In shadows of the towerblocks at night, near the park, a sinister bulky
silhouette is a jumper-in-waiting. But relax, citizen, it’s only our
Whose nevertheless potent combination of wide black base in striking
contrast with the colour scheme of the whole upper structure gives a
Postbox, you resemble the overheated barrel of a shotgun pointed at
the poor. Those who can’t pay see punishment as stated in writing.
Sometimes we discover the phenomenon of a double letterbox,
corresponding without doubt to a double-barrelled shotgun.
Heroic mailbox, in some secret future life you might act as bunker in
the great siege of class war. Extremely small riflemen could use you as
barbican or redoubt.
Through a loophole, where envelopes fly and slide, through a military
embrasure, hails of lead! One more revolution not looked for. And no
But such activism would go against your Pasternakian non-
involvement. You’d be deeply compromised as the purest observer.
Yes, red organ of the true life, the human heart shall be transformed.
Love will inspire the uprising which will teach this cold world a much
It shall never be said, O cache of happy postcards, you were
indifferent. Pillarbox, you have a social conscience. You stand out in a
crowd. A dramatic individual.
Is it going too far to describe you as a free spirit? Is it over-optimistic
to imagine a beacon on dark nights issuing from you as from a sort of
If this were the case it would be a comfort! No hyperventilating lover
need ever say again: ‘O hell! I’ve missed it. The last post has gone.’
Future postmen and watchers of the skies would make their rounds
under the all-seeing zodiac. Not a letter would fall into the mails
without their knowing.
True placement of letterboxes is a science. They don’t just plonk
down at random. It’s more a question of exact location on the double
ordinance survey map of Middlesex.
O pylon of codex and papyrus. You stand as waysign, reminder,
example. But of what? We struggle to encompass your all-embracing
Perhaps you’re an omen of global warming. Perhaps other street
furniture, large objects of daily life, will also turn red in due course,
Letterbox, thanks to hyperbole, you are sometimes a blood-covered
whale expiring on the pavement. Your slitlike venthole spurts
lungfroth on unwary pedestrians.
The message of such life-affirming street-theatre is simple. All acts and
intentions are visited backward in the apocalypse.
To return to a more interior symbology. (No adroit philosopher likes
to be dragged into the fascinating turmoil of exterior illusion.)
Letterbox. For a sad man you mark the last outpost of a friendship
transcending finite conditionality. He passes you and murmurs the old
Yet at the other end of the spectrum you are merely a small red
mausoleum which commemorates the predecessor of email. How
reductionist and unromantic!
Yes, there is something romantic about a letterbox. Admit it,
diamond-hard alpha males who have never moistened a postage stamp
with your tears.
Wasn’t there a trivial Beatles song which went: ‘Wait a minute, wait a
minute, please, please, Mr Postman.’? (A cover of the Marvelettes on
Motown.) More evidence.
The letterbox is the glowing lantern of those mariners who sail the
wreck-strewn oceans of romance. Never forget this: One more letter
Yet as one man’s sunset is another man’s dawn the world is a duality
where contradiction raises its ugly head to spoil everything.
How charming. In some cliched green lane of middle class
imagination, a lovesick English gentleman reaches out to a postbox.
No going back once that declaration’s through the red aperture.
No return to level-headedness of stockbrokerdom possible.
O joys of commitment. Marriage! Mailbox as rubicund finger with
extra large diamond ring. But what is that fragrance, musky and pagan,
Feline stink assaults the nostril, miasma of the cat who rubs her
hindquarters on the circumference. Round and round the black base
on tiptoes. How suggestive!
Look at the animal! Far from any dream of shy maidens,
unapproachable sylphs, what about the presence of the scarlet woman
in the cosmos?
O letterbox. Why do you paint yourself so luridly and stand on the
corner of Keat’s Grove where certainly the sick poet often
encountered you in twilight?
‘I should have lived had I not seen her again.’ Last words of an
immortal. Singer of the fever hospitals. Shipwrecked genius,
you are your own mythology.
Heartbroken, oppressed pure one. May a mad dog bite the postman
with the postbag containing Lord Byron’s barb, blot on literature.
(What happens to hopelessly lost love letters, by the way? Does
anyone burn them? They can’t be returned. The sender has usually
‘I should have had her while I was well’. Words from the deathbed of
a poet. What fires of spontaneous combustion flare in each mortal
temple! Rest easy, John.
She was faithful in black many years, unmarried a decade after your
terrible departure. God bless, Fanny Brawne. All flesh knows the
valley of suffering.
A smile on the side of an red obelisk which stands in wind and rain at
the corner of a leafy London street means forgiveness.
The lover tastes death in disappointment. But an after-sensation of
sweetness is left on the tongue. Things go from bad to worse to
If any see smoke spiralling from the open mouth of a postbox and
wonder, here’s the answer. Something ignites in us, in the deepest heart.
The letterbox is the unassuming emblem of a transformation taking
place every day. You can read about it in any local newspaper.
‘Twice we have seen smoke issuing from a letterbox and are writing to
complain that such things are not possible. Disenchanted.
Letterbox, finally! Would it be true to say you are both erotic and
mystical simultaneously? Are you double like Mercury? Alchemically equal?
Mercury was the postman of the ancient world. Today the messenger
god wears airsoles, presents himself as expert breakdancer on the
Winged sandals are making a comeback among the planet’s
sunchildren. Eventually, the same spirit will lift all who tread the earth.
If the postman is the bee, then you, pillarbox, are a red hibsicus flower
full of the nectar of communication. One day we will stick our stamps
The world shall write a love letter to itself and entrust it to the poet
who will place it in the postal system at the earliest visitation of his
first class muse.
Sacred and profane. Sayonara. Farewell. We take leave of you,
mailbox of contradictory manifestation, not to say schizophrenic
Little round wayside shrine of communion, realistically we know our
giving and receiving sometimes shake a house of assignation in the
small hours of the morning.
But the definingly human encounter with the world is the balanced
reaction to the content of our experience, not the experience itself.
O pillarbox of pronouncedly phallic appearance, though you blush
for your visibility on the main street of existence, never feel low.
You are the red lingam of the chaste dancer Shiva, erect but controlled
and cooled by superconsciousness. Jai Shiva Shankar.
In a midland city of this island someone was arrested for worshipping a
letterbox, for scattering over it fresh milk and sunflower petals.
The latter extraordinary fragment of information was invented as a
tribute to the power of imagination locked up in the unimportant
It’s all under lock and key in the Royal Mails so that what is intended
to be shared may be delivered at the appropriate time and to the right
Her Majesty the Faerie Queen and no one else transmitted these
truths in a letter addressed to an obscure poet known as Voice of Kings
It was postmarked from the highest point in the galaxy and arrived just
after midnight in a marvellous explosion of sunrays, recorded delivery.