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

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


No sooner had we left than I regretted
Going with you.
The price one pays for pity.

I was embarrassed
How shy and quiet you seemed.
Others found you odd

Or so I thought,
Being twenty-one
And ultra-sensitive

To what I arrogantly
And mistakenly believed
Were others’ feelings.

How blind I was, how selfish,
How pitiably wrapped up
In my own self-importance!

We inter-railed round Spain
The south of France, north Italy,
Ending up in Switzerland.

The sharp wedge of the Matterhorn
Rose magically above the hostel
Full of drunk Germans.

You turned in early.
I got drunk and cursed you,
Remembering how I’d snapped at you

Earlier on the beach at Nice
Where we were sleeping,
And afterwards felt guilty.

In Strasbourg we admired
The doll’s house Fachwerkhäuser,
Kitsch balconies, geraniums,

Drank beer in smoky Gaststuben,
Which eased the silences between us, 
Not knowing then that you,

My only sister, would so soon
Carry the tumour that would prove to be
The death of you at only twenty-nine.


Ruth said...

Robert, this beautiful but painful memory feels like a Philip Larkin poem to me, which is high praise.

The sudden tears that burned my eyes at the end are testament to the stunning recognition I felt in that revelation, that she is your sister, first, and then, the catch far worse and irretrievable, that she would die so young. Those guilty feelings we've all had of embarrassment over a sibling or parent, and then their sudden illness or loss. It's quite powerful.

Dominic Rivron said...

We are foolish when we're young.
I think it's fair to say it used to be kind of taken as read that one would be sorted out round about becoming 21. Key to the door and all that. How else could one take it when people didn't talk openly about feelings? But it takes at least until 35 and once out of one's teens the world sort of tells you to get on with it, in my experience, and perhaps there is no other way. I do think people should talk more about the experience of being in one's twenties though, that you're-supposed-to-have-it-sorted-and-so-you-have-to-pretend-you-have decade.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I remember meeting your sister Robert - a lovely girl but, as you say, very quiet. It was so sad that she died so young. I can only imagine the effect that this had both on your parents and on you. This comes with my love - such a beautiful poignant poem.

Bouncing Bertie said...

One of the many unsung advantages of advancing years is that one becomes less wrapped up in one's own self-importance. How tragic that your sister did not live to experience this. A beautiful, touching poem.
Thanks, Gail.

Goat said...

A beautiful, moving piece, SW.

The Solitary Walker said...

I'm pleased this worked on the reader the way I hoped it would, Ruth, though I wrote it so quickly — it just fell onto the page — that the shock of the ending was more felicitous than planned.Thanks for appreciating the poem so acutely.

Dominic, yes, the self-absorption and over-sensitivity of youth!

Pat, I still feel strangely guilty that I could not get as close to my sister as I would have liked. Her one-time extreme introversion I found difficult. However, during the last years of her illness her personality became a lot more more open and we were able to communicate much better.

Thanks for commenting, Gail . . . and Goat, welcome back! Thanks for all your recent catch-up comments, which made me smile, though I shouldn't really find knackered feet amusing, as I know how painful they can be.

George said...

A poignant and beautiful poem, Robert. How painful it can be to look back on the arrogance of our youthful judgments, especially under circumstances such as yours. At this moment, however, you speak from a place of love and humility, and that is all that matters.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, George.

am said...

Maybe these difficult memories come so that we can be open to self-forgiveness and healing of the spirit. That's been my recent experience.

Great to hear about your online poetry site, "The Passionate Transitory." As always, it is good to read your poetry. I'm still in quiet mode, but feel the need to speak up every so often!

Thoroughly enjoyed hearing Oysterband singing "On The Road To Santiago."

Cris M said...

Hi Solitary Walker,
The words written down there are wonderful(and painful). I lost my mother when I was 5, 32 years ago now.
One of the most painful things of this life event for me is lacking of memories of things shared with her (I can not remember anything). Even sad memories, for representing missing opportunities, bring the chances to go there and "at least" feel it was a time when we were together and had the time to share at least each other presences.
Sad life-events (and the Camino and the walking and our fellow pilgrims) give us the opportunity to think about past things but most importantly, give the chance to change the way we live our lives.
Warm hug from Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Cris M

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, am, for your visit and comment. Your presence — quiet or otherwise — is valuable to me on this blog.

Hi, Cris, and how wonderful my poem has brought back these memories for you. As am says above, and as you say yourself, recall of sad and painful events can bring about healing and transformation. As can the Camino, walking, pilgrimage and interaction with our fellow pilgrims. Thanks so much for your visit, and hope to see you again round here!

Anonymous said...

Sometimes a poem looks towards prose more than it does to poetry?

The Solitary Walker said...

That's a debate and a half, Anonymous! Naturally there are prose-poems and there's poetic prose and fifty shades in-between. A poem though often has a concision, a spareness, a density, an intensity, and often an oblique, metaphorical and/or symbolic slant which distinguishes it from most prose. My own "poem" here — which I make no great claims about as "poetry" — certainly has a prose-like directness, almost a conversational tone. Thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

Yes it is indeed a huge and endless debate. I myself am unable to define satisfactorily what poetry is. It is easier to say what is not. I'm OK with that. Each time I defined poetry, I found something more I had not included. I stopped that!

Some poems seem like rearranged prose, and yet may still have insight. For writing to be called poetry is a very very tough call.
And I am unable to write it. This I know, and value criticism for the revelation it gives to poetry. I have learned much about poetry by my criticism (if it was for peers, thus making me scrupulous) and that of others. Good criticism is a joy, only taking second place to the joy of the poem. Good criticism can be an epiphany in itself, only taking second place to the epiphany of the poem.

I loved a poem, 'The Late Wasp' by Edwin Muir. I thought it was infinitely compassionate; then one day I suddenly saw it as cold, distant, dispassionate. The poem hadn't changed, I had. So I can't define poetry.

There are of course many good critics, but if you have not alreadv read S. Heaney's 'Government of the Tongue' and other critical works by him, it's well worth it.

I too am a serial pilgrim, and have recently begun to collect poems to be read on my next camino.