A SHROPSHIRE LAD…


…is the first book of poetry I owned –

a breast pocket sized hardback, slightly foxing.

It was my father’s: his name neatly

in capitals on the inside cover

in indelible pencil – a Londoner,

the son of immigrants. When I was ten

my mother gave it me. I liked the first line

‘From Clee to heaven the beacon burns’,

imagining it set to music.

 

Following his death on active service, the book

was sent back with all his other things.

I never knew him. He never saw me.

He died, an ocean away, three months

after my birth. He could be my grandson now.

He touched this book. I touch it, sniff it.

Old paper smells almost aromatic

like incense, always comforting, always

intriguing. Into my forties, I

thought of him every single day.

 

The book falls open automatically

at poems 35 and 36:

 

…On the idle hill of summer, 

Sleepy with the flow of streams,

Far I hear the steady drummer 

Drumming like a noise in dreams… 

 

…White in the moon the long road lies, 

The moon stands blank above;

White in the moon the long road lies 

That leads me from my love…

but this is the one I return to always:

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

Is hung with bloom along the bough,

And stands about the woodland ride

Wearing white for Eastertide.

 

Now, of my three score years and ten,

Twenty will not come again,

And take from seventy springs a score,

It only leaves me fifty more.

 

And since to look at things in bloom

Fifty springs are little room,

About the woodlands I will go

To see the cherry hung with snow. 

 

 

 

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  1. #1 by Clive Watkins - November 25th, 2017 at 13:32

    A touching poem, David. My father’s childhood copy of Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, given to him by his grandfather on his eighth birthday, figures in my life in a rather similar way. (Like you, I made a poem about it.)

  2. #2 by Ashen - November 25th, 2017 at 14:37

    Your father’s premonition, maybe?
    I have a leather-bound copy of A Shropshire Lad, publ. 1942. The inscription inside says – To Kenneth from Joan, and indicates page 18, the last stanza of poem X, called March …

    In farm and field through all the shire
    The eye beholds the heart’s desire;
    Ah, let not only mine be vain,
    For lovers should be loved again.

  3. #3 by Emma Boden - November 25th, 2017 at 17:46

    Beautiful, evocative and perfectly phrased, David. Love the poem within poem too.

  4. #4 by Keith Johnson - November 25th, 2017 at 20:20

    ‘I never knew him. He never saw me’. I hadn’t realized that we share this grief, David. In me you have someone who can truly commiserate. I inherited my father’s library of history texts housed in the glass-fronted Minty bookcase he received as a wedding present in 1936 [he was a teacher before he joined the RAF and was killed 8 months before I was born]. Now and again I still browse them looking for inscriptions or comments in the margins that I previously missed. Great poem.

  5. #5 by David Selzer - November 27th, 2017 at 12:00

    Thank you so much, Keith.

  6. #6 by Jennifer Copley-May - November 27th, 2017 at 12:17

    Oh David! Your poems are the only ones I read with any regularity and some haunt me for days.

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