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

Sunday, 1 December 2013

In Search Of Lost Time

With apologies to Marcel Proust

I only have to dunk a Jammie Dodger
In PG Tips and I’m transported back
To Lincolnshire and the old railway track

I mooched along in melancholy youth,
The line long gone; now flowers grew between
Abandoned sleepers: eyebright, eglantine,

Foxglove, selfheal, Good King Henry, poppy, 
Dock, dandelion, mayweed, bryony,
Vetch, viper’s bugloss, mallow, ox-eye daisy.

I’d read somewhere the smell of hawthorn flowers
Evoked the musky tang of randy girls,
A hint of almond and vanilla twirls;

So I breathed long and deep, imagining
A girl beside me lying on the grass
Resembling Odette in Montparnasse,

Though what I’d do with her was rather vague.
Recite Le Cyne? Tickle her with a frond?
I wasn’t yet au fait with demi-monde.

I wandered on, entered the secret wood
Which reeked of foxes, made for the hollow tree
Where I'd concealed Health and Efficiency.

I thumbed its pages. Naked bodies romped
In games of tennis, beach ball and croquet;
Pas érotique, I really have to say.

What would I do with women anyway?
Especially those healthy, sporty dykes
On pedalos or pedalling their bikes?

No, it was better to admire from far,
And not immerse myself in the corporeal,
But rusticate myself in the arboreal

Railway embankment and its milieu.
My back against a tree, my mind in haste
Returned to former loves both pure and chaste:

A cuddly toy, a hoop, a spinning top,
A sailor suit, glass marbles in a jar —  
And, best of all, a kiss from dear mama.


Ruth said...

Way to claim your memories in a detailed and delicious list, in your own Proustian way.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for appreciating this, Ruth. I must admit I had a bit of a giggle deconstructing Proust!

George said...

Clever, Robert, in the best sense of that word, and speaking of words, you sent me to my dictionary. I now know the meaning of "bryony" and "eglantine," though I'm still at a loss with respect to "pedalos." Whatever the case, the dance of words, including those I didn't know, made the whole poem very entertaining.

am said...

There's a little bit of young Woody Guthrie in there, too. Remembrance of hollow trees way down yonder in the minor key. Yet another of your poems that could be set to music. Just now I happened to be listening to a piano version of "Carol of the Bells," and parts of your poem jumped right into place with the music:


Thank you for this today!

The Solitary Walker said...

George — 'pedalo': a paddle boat, driven by pedalling…

'I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite overcanopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk roses and with eglantine.'

SHAKESPEARE A Midsummer Night's Dream

My idea was to introduce historically romantic words and phrases (e.g. 'eglantine', 'melancholy youth' etc.) to counterpoint and contrast with the modern vernacular (e.g. 'Jammie Dodger', a type of English biscuit, 'PG Tips', a make of English tea etc.) All interspersed with a young man's (retrospectively embarrassing) pretentious love of French phrases and verbosity ('rusticate', 'arboreal' etc.) The youth is half-way between childhood and manhood, and, although he has a keen, natural and healthy interest in sex, it's still all misdirected and clueless; he has the desire, but it's diffused and can't yet be practically realised! The whole is, I suppose, a fond satire based on key events in Proust's 'In Search of Lost Time' (e.g. the epiphany of the madeleine dipped in tea; the hawthorn flowers; Swann's demi-monde lover, Odette; mama's kiss; the general nostalgic looking back to one's childhood and youth etc.)

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, Am, and I'm pleased you liked the poem!

BTW, I enjoyed listening to 'Carol of the Bells'. I must listen to more of George Winston's piano music — I hadn't heard of him. My knowledge of a lot of new, minimalist, 'mood' music is woefully small.

The Solitary Walker said...

PS In country folklore the smell of hawthorn flowers has traditionally been likened either to the smell of death and decay or the scent of female arousal.

Nick said...

Oh dear, the problems of youth. Thank god we transcend them in the end.

The Solitary Walker said...

Nick, :-)

Friko said...

I take it you have learned all about the pleasures of the flesh since then. Although the pleasures of non-fleshy nature have much to recommend them also.

The Solitary Walker said...

Indeed, Friko. I'll follow the Buddha's lead and settle for a balance of flesh and non-flesh, neither too much of one nor too little of the other.

Dominic Rivron said...

I was going to say "Ah! the time I've lost trying to read Proust!" But I then realised the joke must have been made a million times.

Similarly, being a double bass player I wish I had a pound for every time someone has said "I bet you can't get that under your chin, mate".

The Solitary Walker said...

Dominic :-)

dritanje said...

delicious in rhyme
these souvenirs sublime
who needs a French cake?
mind you
a croissant or two
would be good

btw, who links the smell of death and decay with female arousal? PS That question is rhetorical and does not require an answer!!

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for your poem, Dritanje!

If you check out country folklore, there are lots of different, subjective interpretations of the hawthorns' scent, ranging from sweaty armpits to sweet frankincense. The two I mentioned are not necessarily linked in any way!