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

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Grass Roots And Broken Towers

Among my newly-discovered, neatly-typewritten sheets of juvenilia, this poem raised a smile. So cynical for one so young! Or perhaps it's just unflinchingly realistic — an honestly-observed and ironic view of the materialist society I'd been born into, seen through the eyes of an 'outsider' adolescent, with a dominating businessman father figure hovering in the background.

Lexicon of Life


This is the ladder of life
Climb it climb up
Rung by rung
Plastic faced
Computer programmed
Come on lad
Pull yourself together
Chin up tie straight
Hands out of you pockets
Come and make some money
Some lovely lovely money
Just like me

What no ambition?
And you don't believe in marriage?
Son don't be an animal
And come and join society
What no money?
Then bloody well earn some
And you can be a Capitalist
A Christened Classified Schooled Degreed
Numbered Loved Married Sexed
Hated Conformed Dreamed Resigned
Retired little Capitalist
Just like me

It's clear that I'd been listening to Dylan's All I Really Want to Do and Subterranean Homesick Blues, and probably been reading subversive Beat literature too.

I'm amazed at the passion and yearning in these early poems — and also at the world-weary resignation. But that's youth all over, isn't it? I think many of us felt these extremes between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five, those years of swinging precipitously between unfettered enthusiasm and nihilistic despair. I'm never surprised when statistics show a suicide peak among young people of that age.

The next poem is about my place of birth and childhood, a rather bleak, flat and treeless part of north-west Lincolnshire called the Isle of Axholme — in former times a forbidding marshland dotted with small, inhabited hill-islands.

Isle of Axholme

Hey, brother, I'm back again,
Back to the grass roots and the low hills,
The broken towers and the emptiness,
The weary bus at eight,
The curlew's cry.

Wish me gone and I will stay anyway,
In the silence of the cornfields
Furrowed by the earth wind.
They say the soil is good round here
With a little luck and rain.

The church is still here but older,
Trying to hide her age with a new clock
Black and gold like a cigarette packet.
The river still carries barges
Flowing down without colour.

The hollow sky, the wide arena,
Open up for me indifferently.
I will accept for the moment, but later
I will leave for other parts without sorrow.
Meanwhile you till the land.

This week we are picking the potatoes,
Thirty bob a day plus friends and dreams.
When we are finished I will anticipate
The frigid winter and be gone.
So long, my brother, my only friend.


am said...

Grass Roots and Broken Towers.

Do I hear an echo of full moon and empty arms in the title of your post today?

"Lexicon of Life" recalls my own businessman father who was passionate about his work in the oil industry but after retiring said simply, "I should have been a farmer." He was disappointed in me until he wasn't. I wonder if I did what he secretly wanted to do. Thus the conflict. I was disappointed in him until I wasn't.

I am moved by "Isle of Axholme." The brothers. The landscape. Coming and going. The curlew's cry, the low hills, the fields, the church, the river, the sky, the so long, and the friendship.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for this comment, Amanda. And I'm glad the poem reached you.

My businessman dad was a miller — but small-scale farmer too. Some of my cousins were/are farmers. My dad didn't seem to mind too much when I rejected the five-generational family business, but he was quite dubious at first about other activities I pursued. He was disappointed in various things I did, but I know he loved me in his distant, austere, Victorian way. He was so different from me, Then again, lately I've been discovering some resemblances (not all of them pretty!) Do we end up like our parents? No, we don't — but we do, I think, appreciate and come to value our parents in more mature and subtle ways.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, the computer reference. Computers were not ubiquitous back then. How would one allude to computers in that way now? Some sort of reference to software? I'm always fascinated by the way what we mean by what we say changes over time.

You say "so cynical for one so young". I might have said it too of myself but, on reflection, don't we get less cynical as we get older? (Stops typing and wonders...) Hm. When I was young, people told me I was cynical. The accusation implies that, actually, things were better than I thought and my view was distorted. Now I realise I'm not (and never was) cynical. The world really is like that. :)

The Solitary Walker said...

That was fascinating, that stream-of-consciousness thought process, Dominic, as you appeared to give us spontaneously your ideas and opinions as they occurred to you.

I think you had good reasons to be cynical when you were young — your school, your politics. But realism, as you make clear, is the real word. And, accepting the reality of the world, one can then perhaps become less cynical... and more pragmatically idealistic?

Anonymous said...

Off the top of my head, perhaps the realization that kicks in as one gets older is that most people (even if they're idiotic, misguided, falling short, etc.) are trying to do their best most of the time?

Just watched the old footage of the 1924 Everest Expedition. They said the Abbott of Rongphuk Monastery (I think it was him) offered the members of the expedition friendship and every possible help -even though he told them the Lamaist gods would prevent them from succeeding. There's a moral there somewhere.