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Atonement is a story of lives of irredeemable sadness. Ian McEwan wrote the book that is faithfully portrayed in this 2007 film (rated R, 123 minutes) it got seven Oscar nominations—starring Keira Knightly (Cecilia), James McAvoy (Robbie), Romola Garai (child Briony), Saoirse Ronan (18-year-old Briony), and Vanessa Redgrave (mature Briony).

In brief: a child tells a dreadful lie about her sister’s lover, forcing both of them to live separate, desperately tormented lives during World War II.

This poem is my “Thumbs Up!” review.


This memory is lava hot,
it mingles, lava slow,
in all my thoughts,
in all my mind.

It is a crumble, peat, dark,
peat rich, no single whole,
but bits of all.
I cannot grasp it entire.

It fills me,
it is full of me,
full with my dread imaginings,
full with my discarded dreams,
so full…

It burns, it sears,
a red haze in my every gaze,
a scarlet shackle on each heartbeat.

I accept the impotence of atonement.

My long-ago childish deed cannot be undone,
that indulgence in excitement
and attention and novelty

and vengeance and purest love.

Unbidden, I saw an act I didn’t understand,
two lovers, I cherished them,
their coupling had no inner meaning for me,
yet showed they had more love for each other
than each for me…

Later, a twisted crime he did not—could not—commit,
yet I accused—“I saw him”—I lied,
to hurt him and to keep her, apart, for me.
That lie broke them.
At that moment, the words tasted brave
and older than my years.
The taste became gall.
Later, I was to know that I killed them.
My life has been my penance.

Now I understand what I could not see
and could not then feel.
Now I feel their horror that I invented
in place of their happiness.
Now I endure the unhappiness
they could not escape,
the terror born of a child’s simple plan
in a child’s heart.

…I keep those false words—“I saw him”—
spoken in righteous innocence,
in unknowable ignorance,
in unremembered pleasure…

I did not know I was trading my portion of happiness
for a memory that I keep
in a hole in my heart.

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