Retirement Arrival- a new journey


Retirement arrival

now is the day of much content
made so glorious by the thought
of this new road ahead

he places his hat carefully
on the sill against the back glass
declaring his status for all to see

he has arrived and when
he drives off taking the right turn
with the left indicator flashing

it is not totally unexpected
for he has arrived and this
unfortunately, must be accepted

Richard Scutter

A Subaltern’s Love Song – John Betjeman – Analysis

A Subaltern’s Love Song

Miss J. Hunter Dunn, Miss J. Hunter Dunn,
Furnish’d and burnish’d by Aldershot sun,
What strenuous singles we played after tea,
We in the tournament — you against me!

Love-thirty, love-forty, oh! weakness of joy,
The speed of a swallow, the grace of a boy,
With carefullest carelessness, gaily you won,
I am weak from your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn.

Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn,
How mad I am, sad I am, glad that you won,
The warm-handled racket is back in its press,
But my shock-headed victor, she loves me no less.

Her father’s euonymus shines as we walk,
And swing past the summer-house, buried in talk,
And cool the verandah that welcomes us in
To the six-o’clock news and a lime-juice and gin.

The scent of the conifers, sound of the bath.
The view from my bedroom of moss-dappled path
As I struggle with double-end evening tie,
For we dance at the Golf Club, my victor and I.

On the floor of her bedroom lie blazer and shorts
And the cream-coloured walls are be-trophied with sports,
And westering, questioning settles the sun,
On your low-leaded window, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.

The Hillman is waiting, the light’s in the hall,
The pictures of Egypt are bright on the wall,
My sweet, I am standing beside the oak stair
And there on the landing’s the light on your hair.

By roads “not adopted”, by woodlanded ways,
She drove to the club in the late summer haze,
Into nine-o’clock Camberley, heavy with bells
And mushroomy, pine-woody, evergreen smells.

Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn,
I can hear from the car park the dance has begun,
Oh! Surrey twilight! importunate band!
Oh strongly adorable tennis-girl’s hand!

Around us are Rovers and Austins afar,
Above us the intimate roof of the car,
And here on my right is the girl of my choice,
With the tilt of her nose and the chime of her voice.

And the scent of her wrap, and the words never said,
And the ominous, ominous dancing ahead.
We sat in the car park till twenty to one
And now I’m engaged to Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.

John Betjeman

Subaltern – junior officer in the British Army of rank below captain.
Euonymus – a tree or bush grown for its decorative evergreen foliage and clusters of orange or red fruits.

Ten syllable lines of flowing (dancing) iambic rhythm with ‘aabb’ rhyme as the story of a love affair unfolds – all be it an imaginary conceit.

This is a delightful poem reflecting English middle-class culture at the time it was written in 1941. I’m sure they had a glass of lemonade and maybe a cucumber sandwich as they sat in the garden recovering from their tennis exertion. And owning a car shows a certain status and so too membership of a Golf Club.

The context behind this poem is very personal to the life of JB. The muse of this poem is Joan Hunter Dunn the daughter of a Farnborough doctor. JB met Joan in London in 1940. She was working in the canteen at the University of London where JB was working. At the time JB was a married man of seven years but he was so taken by Joan’s beauty and manner that he composed the above 44 line poem fantasizing himself as the subaltern. At a subsequent interview in 1965 Joan commented that her life was very much like that depicted in the poem and that the poem and meeting JB gave some light relief from the stress of the war.

Aldershot is the home of the British Army and Farnborough is adjacent and many will know about the Farnborough Air Show. I am familiar with Farnborough, Aldershot and Camberley. I can easily identify with the woodland scenery of the country lanes in the drive to the Golf Club. There is such a contrast in sentiment between these towns and the angry word blast that came in JB’s  1937 poem ‘Slough’ when he reacted so strongly to the changing English urban architecture. That tragic first line –
‘Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough!’

It is quite obvious that a poet must be careful when including actual place names and actual people. This poem has both and hopefully today we would be more sensitive. For JB published the poem in a magazine without informing Joan Hunter Dunn. He then invited her to dinner and apologised. And in 1937 when he wrote ‘Slough’ JB was 31 without the recognition of Poet Laureate which brought more attention to the poem. On the centenary of Betjeman’s birth in 2006 his daughter Candida Lycett-Green apologised to Slough on his behalf saying her father regretted writing the poem.

Here is a link to details on Joan Hunter Dunn. She died in 2008 at the age of 92 …

John Betjeman on Wikipedia – he was Poet Laureate from 1972 until his death

Visitant – A. D. Hope – Analysis


Earth swings away to the cold.
Though I have what I came here to find,
Time changes and alters the mould.
As a new age replaces the old
I feel the world leave me behind.

It is not my world anymore;
But of course was it ever mine?
Bred up to a different law,
I came from a distant shore
To watch, to appraise, to divine.

Yet much which I saw became dear;
Some few were close to my heart;
Although it was perfectly clear
I was a stranger here
Standing aloof and apart.

Now it is time to return,
I shall miss this world more than I thought.
All I came here merely to learn
Holds me now with such love and concern,
To whom do I make my report?

A. D. Hope

There are four five line stanzas with rhyming scheme ‘abaab’.

We are here for such a short time and it is not our real ‘home’. We are only taking up temporary accommodation. So it is quite alright to consider ourselves as a visitor to the world – well that is the thought behind these words – so what has this visitation been like? And when we return to our true ‘home’ what report will be rendered (and to whom)?

The other underlying thought concerns age when the world of our youth is remembered with affection – was it ever ours anyway. As we age the changing world leaves us behind as much as we are about to leave the world behind too.

The world has been kind and will be missed. I like the nice sentiment to be held in the love of all that has been learnt.

Perhaps we should leave a written report below before that final journey then when we get to ‘wherever’ hopefully (excuse the pun) we may be able to reference it and then we won’t forget anything! Lines of communication may be a problem of course – a special type of Email?

Here is a link to the Australian poet A. D. Hope on Wikipedia …

A Poem Just For Me – Roger McGough – Comments

A Poem Just For Me

Where am I now when I need me
Suddenly where have I gone?
I’m so alone here without me
Tell me please what have I done?

Once I did most things together
I went for walks hand in hand
I shared my life so completely
I met my every demand.

Tell me I’ll come back tomorrow
I’ll keep my arms open wide
Tell me that I’ll never leave me
My place is here at my side.

Maybe I’ve simply mislaid me
Like an umbrella or key
So until the day that I come my way
Here is a poem just for me.

Roger McGough

Well, some days you wake up and you just don’t feel your normal self … you’re not just there. What have you got to do to regain your Me! … who is this depressing foreigner that has walked into your skin while you have been sleeping … remove at once I want my Me back again … to feel good … like yesterday. Well, we all experience such feelings so it is easy to identify with these words … the question is how do we remove this imposter that has caused such an uncomfortable feeling.

Perhaps Roger’s poem helped him feel better … perhaps a poet always feels happier after creating a poem – well a poem that he thinks is Ok! … and looking at the text above he has put some work in construction and there is a nice flow of rhyme. A nice touch of humour with self-deprecation.

But do we know ourselves enough to know what we really should be doing in life … the true ‘Me’ that fits the jigsaw of existence. Even so we all have our down days and that is part of life – but getting to and doing something always helps don’t you think – so perhaps it is time to put the kettle  on (metaphorically speaking).

A link to Paul McGough on Wikipedia …

Ant, Fish and Angel – John Blight – Comments

Ant, Fish and Angel

Part of me, in the morning, may be an ant
or a fish swimming away, as I spit,
or defecate, collectively fouling the bay.
So I am part of my world and can’t
escape the bare truth, I am part of it;
that somewhere, an ant, or a fish swimming away,
is part of me. Oh ant! oh, circling fish!
stay, and look hard at me. Is it your wish
to be part of man, to devour his innate fear?
Into the maw of an ant I disappear.
How trifling, – be it a minnows appetite
or some great fish in a more sizeable bite
disposes of me – as such to reappear!
Angels and gods come bite and take your share.

John Blight (1913 – 1995)
Taken from The Oxford Book of Australian Religious Verse.

This is such a different poem from my last Post in which Mary Oliver sees beauty in all nature and exhibits a sort of pantheistic undertone as she encounters the majesty of the world about her. But in this poem the whole of nature is reduced to a ‘dog eat dog’ devouring process. Everything is trapped in this process – we cannot escape for this is the way of the world. Everything is transformed to reappear as evolution takes its course, and we are all part of it.

One thing interesting is the implicit idea of zero waste for ‘everything’ is devoured – human waste is not wasted – thanks to the ant and the fish. It reminded me of the time I was in rural Vietnam a couple of years ago and being shown a ‘fish toilet’ by a villager.

Does it really matter how we are ‘devoured’? Well, there is a plea to the angels and the gods to come and take a share! Perhaps this is implicit anyway – if you take a pantheistic view of things!

Perhaps the creator didn’t have a waste-bin – something digest.

Sonnet – rhyming scheme abc/abc/dd/ee/ff/e/g
Maw = the mouth, stomach, jaws, or gullet of a voracious animal

John Blight on Wikipedia –

The Summer Day – Mary Oliver – Comments

Mary Oliver is re-known for aligning the natural word with femininity. Here is one of her well known poems. I have broken the poem into a number of components with my commentary following in italics.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?

… from the general nebulous consideration to that of the very specific – the grasshopper … let us consider creation at this level where we can get our hands and eyes easily engaged

This grasshopper, I mean –
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down –
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

… so looking at the grasshopper and with personal observation … the jaws and eyes are stand out features

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

… you can imagine interest kept until the grasshopper floats away … implying a sustained focus … and admiration in the movement of the insect

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

… an introduction to what is prayer for MO

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.

… prayer can involve kneeling which is very apt … prayer can involve focus and awareness … so too appreciation … in this case an appreciation of nature for MO has spent the summer day in idle blessing of the wonder of nature … a way of saying thank you in the form of a living prayer of just being … exudes a certain contentment

Tell me, what else should I have done?

… very apt to be appreciative of nature on a summer day … we should all do this too … say thank you for the blessing of the natural world … defined specifically by our own place and time … whether or not we have fields at hand to wander in wonderment

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

… make the most of every moment – appreciate what we have … now and to the full

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your wild and precious life?

… a question that only the reader can answer … you are wild – part of the natural world … and of course you are precious … like all life

Mary Oliver (1935 – ) from House of Light

Perhaps this poem highlights the need for us to stop for a moment and say thank you … and interesting to look closely around us too … to see our blessings which we quite often take for granted … and be content on where we are … I guess we all need to do this at times.

A link to Mary Oliver reading this poem .

Mary Oliver on Wilipedia. 

The Poor, Poor Country – John Paul Neilson

The Poor, Poor Country

Oh ’twas a poor country, in Autumn it was bare,
The only green was the cutting grass and the sheep found little there.
Oh, the thin wheat and the brown oats were never two foot high,
But down in the poor country no pauper was I.

My wealth it was the glow that lives forever in the young,
‘Twas on the brown water, in the green leaves it hung.
The blue cranes fed their young all day – how far in a tall tree!
And the poor, poor country made no pauper of me.

I waded out to the swan’s nest – at night I heard them sing,
I stood amazed at the Pelican, and crowned him for a king;
I saw the black duck in the reeds, and the spoonbill on the sky,
And in that poor country no pauper was I.

The mountain-ducks down in the dark made many a hollow sound,
I saw in sleep the Bunyip creep from the waters underground.
I found the plovers’ island home, and they fought right valiantly,
Poor was the country, but it made no pauper of me.

My riches all went into dreams that never yet came home,
They touched upon the wild cherries and the slabs of honeycomb,
They were not of the desolate brood that men can sell or buy,
Down in that poor country no pauper was I.

* * * * *

The New Year came with heat and thirst and the little lakes were low,
The blue cranes were my nearest friends and I mourned to see them go;
I watched their wings so long until I only saw the sky,
Down in that poor country no pauper was I.

John Shaw Neilson (1872 – 1942)

Pauper = impoverished person
Bunyip = legendary Australian monster

JSN did not have a formal education. He attended his local school for less than two years and as a small child worked as a farm-labourer for his father. Much of his life was spent labouring.

His Scottish family migrated to Australia and they took up a selection to clear and farm in the poor scrub covered Mallee of Victoria. It was a continual struggle trying to develop this harsh environment. It was aptly named as ‘poor country’.

JSN must have heard his father curse his predicament. The land was only seen in economic terms to escape poverty. But JSN saw the land as a boy discovering Nature without the dictate of financial gain. He was observant to all that this ‘poor country’ had to offer and unlike the improvised land he recognised the great wealth of his surroundings. And perhaps given the task to labour the land without siblings or children to play with he welcomed the birdlife as his friends. He saw the land from a different perspective and although without education gave his contrast voice to it in this poem.

The story of his life as a labourer and how he became recognised  as a poet is set out in this Australian Dictionary of Biography link

Perhaps his most well-known poem is ‘The Orange Tree’

Originally – Carol Ann Duffy – Analysis


We came from our own country in a red room
Which fell through the fields, our mother singing
our father’s name to the turn of the wheels.
My brothers cried, one of them bawling, Home,
Home, as the miles rushed back to the city,
the street, the house, the vacant rooms
where we didn’t live any more. I stared
at the eyes of a blind toy, holding its paw.

All childhood is an emigration. Some are slow,
leaving you standing, resigned, up an avenue
where no one you know stays. Others are sudden.
Your accent wrong. Corners, which seem familiar,
leading to unimagined pebble-dashed estates, big boys
eating worms and shouting words you don’t understand.
My parents’ anxiety stirred like a loose tooth
in my head. I want our own country, I said.

But then you forget, or don’t recall, or change,
and, seeing your brother swallow a slug, feel only
a skelf of shame. I remember my tongue
shedding its skin like a snake, my voice
in the classroom sounding just like the rest. Do I only think
I lost a river, culture, speech, sense of first space
and the right place? Now, Where do you come from?
strangers ask. Originally? And I hesitate.

Carol Ann Duffy

A poem about being asked this question … ‘where do you come from originally?’ … obviously you are now in another place. But being asked that question you have to give the questioner your own personal response to your original home place … and of course this may be many locations back depending on the extent of relocation in your life coupled with the time lapse of how long ago it was that you were back home in that original location.

This poem is the first poem in the book ‘The Other Country’. Arguably the first poem in a book is usually a key poem to entice readers to delve further. In similar regard the first stanza of that poem is most important.

For this Post I am going to look at that first stanza in the context of having read the whole poem enabling greater contextual background which might empower the text to greater understanding. That first line is so important too and the words ‘red room’ catch the reader into a bit of a thought puzzle. Here are my thoughts …

The poem is about the grief of a child in leaving their first home in the city to a place in the country. And the child remembers that time dearly and the journey is by car. The child is in a ‘red room’ so it could be reference to a red car. A child’s room in a house is very important to that child. Her new home in transit as she rides with her parents could in fact refer to the space in the car. ‘Red’ is a highly emotive colour for example a colour which promotes anger in a bull. The car is also ‘falling’ ‘through the fields as it travels personifying grieve.

Quite clearly there is great contrast between the emotional state of the child and the joy expressed by her mother as the mother sings to the tune of her husband’s turning wheels.

The child’s brothers appear to be younger but in great sympathy. And the contrast is again highlighted by the bawl of the brothers against the song of the mother. The brothers to not actually say ‘home, home’ – the ‘bawl, bawl’ states this meaning through these cries.

Although the car is travelling away from the city – in the eyes of the children each mile away is a mile back to their original home. Back to the city, back to the street, back to their original home and back to their precious first rooms. The rooms are now vacant which adds poignancy. Again there is great contrast in the two directions associated with the change of location. Joy in one direction sorrow in another.

It appears the child has something in her hands in the car to remind her of her room. She is holding the ‘paw’ (hand) of her precious mute toy-friend. A friend that is ‘blind’ to the predicament of the journey.

This poem gives reinforcement on why Carol Ann Duffy is such an eminent poet in the minds of many readers and gives authority to CAD in being chosen as the UK Poet Laureate in 2009.

Some more questions that you may be hesitant to contemplate – Where do you come from originally? and How does your current mind create the image of that past place?  How does it differ from the actual reality of that original first experience?

Carol Ann Duffy on Wikipedia