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Widows and ghosts

Author: joe

Thursday, 11 November, 2010 - 22:28

- on the haunting of the dead.

In the grey tumult of these after years
Oft silence falls; the incessant wranglers part;
And less-than-echoes of remembered tears
Hush all the loud confusion of the heart;
And a shade, through the toss'd ranks of mirth and crying
Hungers, and pains, and each dull passionate mood, --
Quite lost, and all but all forgot, undying,
Comes back the ecstasy of your quietude.
 
So a poor ghost, beside his misty streams,
Is haunted by strange doubts, evasive dreams,
Hints of a pre-Lethean life, of men,
Stars, rocks, and flesh, things unintelligible,
And light on waving grass, he knows not when,
And feet that ran, but where, he cannot tell.
 
Hauntings by Rupert Brooke

It being armistice day I pulled Rubert Brooke off the shelf again. In previous years I've been drawn to his poetry; it is adolescent at times, pining, twee, yearning. But there's something else to it, beyond the famous stuff - The Soldier and The Old Vicarage, Grantchester. His poem, The Life Beyond reminds me of an embryonic John Donne writing The Apparition, while The Hill hinges precariously, half-loose, on a last line that jack-knifes the heady, laughing breathlessness of what went before. Some of the appeal has changed now - The Way That Lovers Use is a voice of solidarity for the lovelorn: I'm not the envious one any longer. But I still love his spontaneous rhythm and natural ease - "Hear the calling of the moon, / And the whispering scents that stray / About the idle warm lagoon. / Hasten, hand in human hand, / Down the dark, the flowered way, / Along the whiteness of the sand, / And in the water's soft caress, / Wash the mind of foolishness, / Mamua, until the day." - from Tiare Tahiti

Brooke's life, cut short as we know, also adds a pathos to the poems. The patriotism and apparent valour in the sonnets belie his doubts and fears; his commission to join the expeditionary force for the campaign at Gallipoli, which he never saw, dying from an infected mosquito bite on the way there. There seems something even crueller about a death in service but which doesn't grant the victim any claim to heroism. My own great-grandfather survived the Great War, but died on the return journey, disqualifying my great-grandmother Annie, his widow (who survived him without dreaming of remarrying for another 74 years), from receiving a war widow's pension.

In one of his surviving unfinished pieces, Fragment, he lingers on the deck of a ship, looking in the window at his friends, "heedless" of the battle that awaits them.

"fainter than the wave's faint light,
That broke to phosphorus out in the night,
Perishing things"

- He seems a ghost himself, dwelling on their imminent "pashing" and "scattering", torn between pity and pride. And there on the sea in 1914 where he wrote the lines from Hauntings, he conjures an image of the ghost's own ghosts - the spirit of the dead haunted by vanishing intimations of a long-gone life. I imagine Brooke himself, kneeling by the misty river separating the afterlife from this world, with evasive dreams of his loves, his heart-breaks and his confusions... his feet on the grass, a clock set forever at ten to three, images that seem familiar and yet are always receding into shadowy forgetting. I also think of William, my great-grandfather, waiting by that river for 74 years, not knowing why, not comprehending the time, not even recognising any memory of a left-behind wife, a tiny daughter, and a son he never met. I like to think that Annie finally joined him, full of unknown joy to find him still there. And I hope Rupert, too, found someone to dispel his ghosts.

Categories: poetry, armistice day, Rupert Brooke, William and Annie, poetry, ghosts, haunting, love, death, Lethe,
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A Cherry Tree and Memories

Author: joe

Saturday, 26 December, 2009 - 18:18

I went for a walk by Pond House and Horsepool Hill in search of a cherry tree and memories of my father.

Boxing Day 2009 Walk in Shipley Country Park set on Flickr

Download the podcast (mp3, 23:53, 55MB)

Duration: 23:53; Size: 56MB

Categories: xmas, grief, boxing day, shipley country park, memory, place, walk, pond house, cherry tree,
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