A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Hidden Treasures

Yesterday - half-way through a mass clearout and springclean of the house - I was delighted to rediscover a large wooden chest I hadn't opened in a long time. It was packed full of books. I shouldn't have opened it, but I did - and that put an end to clearing and sorting for the rest of the day. It was a treasure trove of odd books and esoterica; a window into my past. In among such fascinating curiosities as Apocalypse by D. H. Lawrence, The Notebooks Of Leonardo Da Vinci and The Life Of Rembrandt by Hendrik Van Loon, were 3 little series of booklets which in an instant transported me back 40 years.

The first series - a collection of illustrated children's histories - used to be my mother's, so must date from the late 1920s/early 30s (there's no printed publication date inside). Titles include The Story Of Prehistoric And Roman Britain, The Story Of Saxon And Norman Britain and, tellingly, Our Empire's Story:

Published by Sankey, Hudson & Co of Manchester, they tell the story of Britain almost exclusively in captioned illustrations; and, as you can see, these pictures (some of which I'd coloured in) are very fine:

I also unearthed a series of booklets which accompanied the radio (or should I say wireless) programme Adventures In English, which was broadcast for schools on the BBC Home Service (now Radio 4) in the mid-1960s:

These books and programmes must have been among my first introductions to poetry, and they hit me with a force akin to mystical revelation. The choice of poems certainly didn't make any attempt to talk down to the 10 and 11 year olds who were listening and reading along. There were poems by Auden, Robert Graves, Edith Sitwell and - that most prolific of poets - Anon.

Later, in my mid-teens, I took out a subscription to a local literary magazine called Lincolnshire Writers. I even submitted one or two poems to it, but they were politely declined. This magazine revealed that there were lots of talented poets and short story writers unexpectedly lurking in those neat, mellow-stone Wolds' villages and windswept fenlands. It showed me that you didn't have to go to Liverpool or London or San Francisco (it was now the late 60s) and rub shoulders with the Mersey poets or the Beatles or the Hippies to be creative. You could do it in your own back yard.

The standard of writing in Lincolnshire Writers was exceptionally high. Here are a couple of poems from it, chosen more or less at random:

Journey Into Autumn

Coming south, it seemed the train
Travelled faster than my watch.
It was summer in the north.
Cornfields where the wind had lain
Still were waiting to be cut,
Children trailing the afternoon's
Listlessness behind them found
The blackberries still tart. But
Here the fields bear straw-bales strapped
For winter and the stubble burns.
The boys have gone now who lounged
All summer long beside the track.
Diesels pass unwaved. The last
Down drifts from willow-herb to find
A niche for next year's purple
Flowering. Summer here is past.



Spire and crescent moon
So close in this autumn sky
They form one ikon.



George said...

It's always interest to stumble upon the relics of our past; to know where we have been tells us something of where we are, as well as something about where we might be heading. I stumbled upon something last evening that caught my eye because of your last posting on winning and losing. It's a Merton interpretation of a Chuang Tzu poem that he (Merton) calls "The Need to Win."

When an archer is shooting for nothing
He has all his skill.
If he shoots for a brass buckle
He is already nervous.
If he shoots for a prize of gold
He goes blind
Or sees two targets --
He is out of his mind!

His skill has not changed. But the prize
Divides him. He cares.
He thinks more of winning
Than of shooting --
And the need to win
Drains him of power.

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, most relevant and interesting. If we just go for something, as naturally and as spontaneously as possible, without fear and for the sheer joy of it (of course this action may be the result of much practice and skill), we can sometimes be blessed with that wonderful feeling of 'shooting for nothing'.

I had that feeling once years ago in the middle of an English exam at school. One task was to write a poem - specifically, to continue and conclude the poem 'Kubla Khan', the poem Coleridge left unfinished after being interrupted by that 'person from Porlock'. In an amazing and sudden visitation of calmness, an utter lack of exam nerves, and an unforeseen burst of creativity, I was inspired to write - quickly, urgently, as though a hand were guiding me. I remember the incident very vividly to this day, and it still gives me a feeling of wonder and astonishment. I wasn't writing for the teacher's or exam's sake. I was writing for the sheer pleasure and necessity of it (by necessity I mean my own urgent need, and the joyful realisation I could do it). The poem was later published in the school magazine - but, flattering though it was, this subsequent act of publication was completely incidental.

John Morrison said...


Enjoying your blog. Anyone who references Krishnamurti and Maggie Holland can't be all bad. My blog might strike a chord...



The Solitary Walker said...

Great blog, John - superb photographs, echoing sentiments.

ksam said...

You've no idea how often I cut and paste and the post your poems and postings in my padded cubicle at work! Gracias, Karin

Rebrites@yahoo.com said...

nice. I love your mother´s books. Which of us would attempt to sit our children down with one of those now?

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, Karin - I'm so glad you find things which strike a chord with you here... Can't you make a jail-break?

Reb - indeed. Society's dumbed down so much we're all practically illiterate. Maybe, one day, we'll discover a few sticks and pigments and daub some stuff on cave walls and start all over again.