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Posts Tagged ‘remembrance’

Transformations

May love lend wings

May love lend wings to prayers we send
In memory of those who fell ;
That they may fly, all hurts to mend
In hearts where evermore shall dwell
Remembrance.

And shall that love be felt, by those
Who know the pain of sadness’ darts ;
To draw condolence and repose
From understandings in the heart’s
Acceptance.

Let formless thoughts, that drift as mist
In troubled minds, so be distilled here
To form the stream of words that list
Coherent prayers designed for sheer
Relievance.

For there’s a purpose, suffering
In grief’s unholy mad disguise ;
That, discovered, shall surely bring
Fresh comprehension, wherein lies
Transformance

Jamie MacNab 2012

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Possibly one of the most poignant poems ever written in English.  It is one of those meditations where archaisms, such as thee and thine, are indispensable ; without them, the sheer intimacy evaporates and the thoughts become mere platitudes – as in so many modern poems.  Here the poet is doing her job, as did her great predecessors.  Chaucer, Shakespeare, Wordsworth ( to name only a few) rescued many fine words from oblivion and breathed new life into them ; and they are with us today.

Remembrance

COLD in the earth—and the deep snow piled above thee,
Far, far removed, cold in the dreary grave!
Have I forgot, my only Love, to love thee,
Sever’d at last by Time’s all-severing wave?

Now, when alone, do my thoughts no longer hover
Over the mountains, on that northern shore,
Resting their wings where heath and fern-leaves cover
Thy noble heart for ever, ever more?

Cold in the earth—and fifteen wild Decembers
From those brown hills have melted into spring:
Faithful, indeed, is the spirit that remembers
After such years of change and suffering!

Sweet Love of youth, forgive, if I forget thee,
While the world’s tide is bearing me along;
Other desires and other hopes beset me,
Hopes which obscure, but cannot do thee wrong!

No later light has lighten’d up my heaven,
No second morn has ever shone for me;
All my life’s bliss from thy dear life was given,
All my life’s bliss is in the grave with thee.

But when the days of golden dreams had perish’d,
And even Despair was powerless to destroy;
Then did I learn how existence could be cherish’d,
Strengthen’d and fed without the aid of joy.

Then did I check the tears of useless passion—
Wean’d my young soul from yearning after thine;
Sternly denied its burning wish to hasten
Down to that tomb already more than mine.

And, even yet, I dare not let it languish,
Dare not indulge in memory’s rapturous pain;
Once drinking deep of that divinest anguish,
How could I seek the empty world again?

Emily Bronte

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The sun is but a step away

Beneath the feet of younger generations
I bide my time as cousins should.
The seasons come, as do the years,
To nutrify my dwelling place
With healing water, goodness-laden ;
All that’s needed for life and limb ;
All, that is, but the light of sun.

For how many  generations have I lain?
Cast by fate and forgotten of men.
Do they write of me, the lost child,
In glowing terms of remembrance?
Do I live in their hearts?

Jamie MacNab

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A man of his times

When I was young, there was no WW1 and WW2 ; we had the First War and Hitler’s War instead.  Jack Feekings lived and served through them both.  Chance, if chance it was, caused our paths to cross in 1955, the year when I found myself removed from living in a condemned wooden hut on the de-commissioned Army camp in Rainham, and residing in a posh new council house in Gillingham, some two miles away as the crow flies.  Jack found himself living in a posh new old-people’s flat next door ; he had come from about two miles in the other direction, his mean terraced house alongside the gas works having been declared unfit for human habitation.

I guess that Jack had not been long retired when he came to his flat, and not long widowed either.  All his long working life he had been employed in the Gas Works, first as a stoker and then, when his health gave out, as a labourer operating the giant hoppers that filled the lorries with coke to be sold on to the merchants, and with slag to be dumped somewhere or used as hoggin.

I first found Uncle Jack (as he would have me call him) on one of his shopping trips.  The round journey to the shopping centre was five-hundred yards or so, but Jack’s breath would begin to give out well before he had shuffled home.  He would pause every fifty yards or so and rest on one of the low brick boundary walls that fronted the houses.  It was natural to offer to carry his ancient grocery bag made of cheap patch-worked imitation leather.  It was natural also to carry it to his door, up an external  flight of dreary concrete steps.  For a man of his times it was natural for him to offer a ‘cuppa tea’ in reward, and a golden thrupence sometimes, too.

His flat was tiny and sparsely furnished ; a small table against the wall ; two wooden chairs ; a coal scuttle, fire irons and hearth mat ; and, surprise, a dozen geranium pots that cluttered both window sills and seemed to give out a light of their own.  The smell of distemper on the walls still hung in the air.  On the table was a little plastic wireless set, and next to that a couple of photo frames.  In  one of the frames was an elderly woman – his late wife?  In the other was a soldier – stiff and erect in an immaculate sergeant’s uniform and sporting a broad Empire moustache not unlike that of Kitchener himself.  Could this possibly be Jack?

“I wa’n’t in the reg’lar army.  Reserve  occ’pation.  Gas Works all me life.  I was in the Territorials.”   He seemed to straighten a little as if getting ready for a photo.  Or maybe a parade.

We sat at opposite sides of the table, backs to the wall, and sipped our cuppas – his had a spoonful of Epsom salts in, and I was to find out why later.  Once he had got his breath back, his voice was strong for a bit and he sat more upright.  He placed a few coals on the subdued fire.  After that began his first inquisition of me ; the first of many.

Over the next four or five years we were to speak of many things.  You could say anything you liked to Jack.  He always understood.  “Scrumpin’?  Oh-hooo, I can tell yer a thing or two!”  And he was no stranger to even more daring exploits, “Knock out Ginger?  I know that one!  Oh-hooo, what capers we used to ‘ave!”  In Jack’s world, boys would be boys but, mind you, it was all wrong, really.  “You’ll come to see the error of your ways.  See if you don’t!” he cautioned.

It was a wonderful thing to watch Jack as he shed the years over a ‘cuppa tea’ – or even over a small glass of Guinness.  In truth, he was a broken man who followed the footsteps of many a stoker before him.  He had a double hernia and wore a huge steel truss “to keep me guts in”.  He popped a nitro-glycerine tablet every so often “to keep me ticker workin”.  But once he had settled down of an evening, to listen to the wireless or to have a talk, his mind came alive and his face flushed.

It was once while he was in such a mellow mood that he suddenly stopped what he had been nattering about and said suddenly, “D’yer play cards?”  His eyes betrayed a hope and a wish that must have long been burning within.  “Well,” I said, “I can play whist and rummy.  And I know patience, too.”

“That’ll do then,” he said.  “I don’t s’pose you know crib?  Euchre?  No?  Well, we’ll get round to them all in good time.”  He directed me to get the cards and the cribbage board from the little sideboard.  And so began the expansion of my young mind to include the customs and practices of the pubs and clubs of Lower Gillingham, where the stokers, labourers, sailors and ne-er-do-wells congregate of a Friday night.  Not that Jack was typical of them ; he was a Sergeant, remember, and a man of some standing ; a man of substance and even a kind of leader.  It was he who kept order of a Friday night – and many a tale he had to tell of that.

The memories will always out with old people.  In the case of the old, the lonely and the infirm, it’s often all they have.  To begin with, he spoke only of everyday things ; but, as our friendship grew, he drew ever nearer to matters of more substance.  He would then talk of his late wife, and his voice would catch on something ; a shy glance confirmed that his eyes were overflowing.  Or he would mention the name of an old colleague and the same would happen.  One of his sons had been wayward.

Even to my young mind, barely teen-aged, it became apparent that Jack was not ‘just a clapped-out pensioner’ ; here was a person.  A big thing is a person.  Here was a man who had more to tell than boyish tales for a youngster ; more to him than hilarious larks in the Territorials.  Even now there was more to this shambling, shuffling, scruffy old-timer.  Here was a man of rich and ripe experience, full of years and wisdom.  Here was a man touched by tragedy and by wrongs done as well as rights.  A man of regrets and sorrows.  A man who knows that, however great the will, it is too late to say sorry, too late to amend the follies and hurts committed carelessly in the past.  Here was a man of that kind of wisdom that needed no book-learning.  He would often terminate such an episode with a sigh and , “Man proposes and God disposes,”  and he was not ashamed of his tears.  His life had been his to live for good or ill ; but his fate was not his to decide, and he found hope in confession.

Why are the Uncle Jacks of this world important?  Well, in a sense, they are not ; they are merely atoms in the substance of humanity ; lone, unknown faces in that endless pageant we call Life or History.  But they are also the ploughmen in Gray’s churchyard ;  they are the unknown soldiers, unknown benefactors, unknown doers of ten-thousand kindnesses. They are the great ones who never became great.  And some might say, “By all that is good, they were spared the curse of fame.”

And yet, Jack is famous.  He is famous to me and doubtless to other folk likewise unknown.  I can only relate my part and his – and even then, only as far as I can tell.

Jack Feekings

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