[Photograph from: https://brightshadow.org.uk/why-there-is-more-to-life-than-reminiscence/ ]
It’s almost time for the passing of the year. The days rush towards midwinter and the solstice, minds naturally turn to thoughts of what’s gone. As I write this, Remembrance Day is tomorrow, first time it’s fallen on a Sunday for a while. A time of remembering, as we wait for the Spring to come round again. The trees have a few leaves left, the late entries to the Autumn palette still have gold on their branches but the paths are covered with a carpet of leaves. First frost has come and we await snowflakes, ice and slush. The dark nights begin before teatime and that prompts thoughts, memories, of what went before. This theme is about memories rather than memory itself, there is a difference. What do we bring to mind when we allow our minds to roam the years? The first poem I’d like to share on the theme of memories is by Elizabeth Jennings. Born in Boston, Lincolnshire amongst the fields and hedgerows, Jennings was a fan of Auden and Graves. You can feel their influence in her work. This poem expresses well her reflections on people who have left us:
In Memory of Anyone Unknown to Me
At this particular time I have no one
Particular person to grieve for, though there must
Be many, many unknown ones going to dust
Slowly, not remembered for what they have done
Or left undone. For these, then, I will grieve
Being impartial, unable to deceive.
How they lived, or died, is quite unknown,
And, by that fact gives my grief purity–
An important person quite apart from me
Or one obscure who drifted down alone.
Both or all I remember, have a place.
For these I never encountered face to face.
Sentiment will creep in. I cast it out
Wishing to give these classical repose,
No epitaph, no poppy and no rose
From me, and certainly no wish to learn about
The way they lived or died. In earth or fire
They are gone. Simply because they were human, I admire.
Elizabeth Jennings, 18 July 1926 – 26 October 2001
[The Obelisk on Alderman’s Hill (also called Pots and Pans hill) overlooking Greenfield, the site of a remembrance service each year- picture from the Author’s collection]
My own poem this time is something different for me. A prose poem but presented in six verses. I wanted to show images from growing up in the Northeast. Just random things that came to mind from childhood while writing the piece. I suppose it’s almost ‘stream of consciousness’ but with a theme. I like to think of it working like a slide show, I can almost hear myself introducing each image and explaining it.
Running down the kitchen, dog and me and friend. My friend is invisible but that doesn’t matter, me and dog both know he’s there and we must win the race to the pantry. Mum looks on in puzzlement, why do dogs and boys have this mad urge to rush from place to place with no purpose but she can’t see our invisible friend. Dog knows, she also knows I love her more. Even more than invisible friend, warm, golden comfort.
Saturday, waiting at the top of the alley, for Dad to finish work. I know if I can meet him, he’ll let me ride the tank of the big, black BSA all the way to the back gate. Machine makes a loud noise and the tank is so very wide, I love the smell of the engine, the oil and my Dad. Fish and chips for dinner, cheese in the oven for tea. Warm, familiar times, the power to bring smiles years on.
Boy on his bicycle on a hot summer day, riding close to home, riding for the joy of it. A school bully is there, sudden and large, holding the wheel between his legs. Just there to frighten the boy and exert control, looking for the fear in his eyes, that’s his idea of ‘respect’. A day so joyful turns to tears, so close to home and not at all safe. I ride out again though, another time. A glorious summers day to the old aerodrome. Exciting explorations with a good friend. Imagination runs riot in the broken bunkers and trenches.
Laid in the hospital bed, a bandage round my head and pain in my ear, the nice man in the next bed shows me where the German bullet went through his shoulder. He likes the lovely nurse who looks after us, she is beautiful and kind but doesn’t let me listen to the telly on the headphones after 9:00. She thinks I need sleep. They buy me chocolate and comics from the trolley that comes round, I quite like the hospital with all these so very kind people.
Mum gets tokens, made of Bakelite, from the Co-op down the road. We leave them in the empty milk bottles for the milkman to collect. Doorstep tokens to pay for our milk. Without them no milk, my Mum unable to make her wonderful homemade rice pudding.
Walks by the river, it’s so black from the steelworks and the chemical plant. the mud, black too, stinks. Long grass on the bank with a surprise, an old slipway on which a boat rots, keel and ribs all that’s left. Great bridge painted green, spanning the river, with gaslights along its length. We walk across, peering over the rail, to big town.
[The Author’s maternal Great-Grandmother – picture from the Author’s collection]
As its Remembrance Day, We’ll finish with one of the most famous war poets of all, Siegfried Sassoon. Raised in Matfield, Kent, Sassoon studied at Cambridge before being sent to the Western Front. His poems carried a realism and a criticism of authority that led to him being detained in a psychiatric hospital. Britain’s other war poet, Wilfred Owen was heavily influenced by Sassoon and always spoke of his ability and humanity. This is one of his less controversial pieces and speaks of the changes in his memories as a result of his experiences. A sombre piece, but oh so very moving:
When I was young my heart and head were light,
And I was gay and feckless as a colt
Out in the fields, with morning in the may,
Wind on the grass, wings in the orchard bloom.
O thrilling sweet, my joy, when life was free
And all the paths led on from hawthorn-time
Across the carolling meadows into June.
But now my heart is heavy-laden. I sit
Burning my dreams away beside the fire:
For death has made me wise and bitter and strong;
And I am rich in all that I have lost.
O starshine on the fields of long-ago,
Bring me the darkness and the nightingale;
Dim wealds of vanished summer, peace of home,
And silence; and the faces of my friends.
Siegfried Sassoon, 8 September 1886 – 1 September 1967
[Ruined building on Marsden Moor, Yorkshire – picture from the Author’s collection]