Today would have been my dear Mum’s birthday.
Interestingly I was talking about her to some friends just this time
last week - we were talking about poetry and my mum loved her poets, saving a special place in her heart for her beloved Rabbie Burns. Regular readers may remember that my mum loved all things Scottish and was sure she had roots somewhere in the Highlands
(though, I, the self-appointed Family historian, have not yet been able to locate them.) When I was born, I was immediately labelled “Lassie” which would have been oh-so-sweet were it not for the fact that everyone assumed I was named after Lassie
Our poetry conversation last week came about because one of my friends, not previously noted for his love of verse, had been given a book by Gyles Brandreth
entitled “Dancing by the light of the moon.” The book (I am putting it on my Christmas list) suggests that we could all improve our brain power by setting ourselves the challenge of learning off by heart two lines of a poem every day. At the end
of the week, Our Gyles suggests, we will have learnt a whole sonnet. Which is quite a thought.
There were three of us engaged in this conversation, two of
us being long-time poetry lovers who amazed our friend with the book by immediately spouting a selection of our favourite poems. Neither of us, I have to say, had learnt these odes two lines at a time. Indeed, Anne (who is in her nineties) couldn’t remember
how she had picked up so many examples of the Best of British Verse. I, on the other hand, knew exactly where my love of poetry began...
Picture a Saturday evening,
back in the Fifties. My sister and I have both had a bath and our hair washed. Our wet locks are bundled up in towels folded into the shape of a turban. (Incidentally, just to digress, how is it that virtually every female living, apart from the very youngest,
knows exactly how to wrap a towel around her head, turban-style - without ever recalling being taught how to do it? This is One of Life’s Mysteries.)
there we are, cuddled upon the settee, one each side of our mum who is reading to us from one of her many poetry books. Of all the poems we read, one sticks out in my mind - Matthew Arnold’s The Forsaken Merman. If you don’t know it, then the Daily
Blog will be pleased to provide a summary, in memory of my mum and those Saturday evenings long ago.
The merman of the title is married to a mortal wife who has
left her home on earth to live with him beneath the waves and to raise a family with him. Then, one Easter, on hearing the church bells ringing, she begs to go back for a visit because “I lose my poor soul, Merman, here with you.” She never returns.
The story was even more poignant to my Little Sister and me because the Faithless One was called Margaret, my sister’s name. “Call her once before you go / call
once yet / in a voice she will know / Margaret! Margaret! / Children’s voices should be dear ( Call once more ) to a mother’s ear.” Oh, the tragedy!
Our favourite oft repeated line, however, and the one we always joined in with, was: “The sea grows stormy, the little ones moan..” Recited, I kid you not, with great feeling.
From the advantage of the passing years, I wonder if it was the poetry that moved us so. Or was it that overwhelming feeling of safety, enveloped in loving arms, the rhythm of the words a verbal embrace. We knew that our mother
would never leave us, like Margaret the Merman’s wife. We knew we wouldn’t ever have to go looking for her, feeling scared and bewildered in a world strange to us. For us, the sea never grew stormy - and when we moaned it wasn’t for loss
of a dear mother, but for something far more mundane like having to eat a “duty sandwich” of cheese or Marmite.
Happy birthday, dear Mum. Thank
you for the (poetic) memories...