Friday, October 05, 2007

Belated National Poetry Day Celebrations

There are lots of posts I intend to make on this blog, but to which I never quite get round. But this one sets a record in being a year and a day late.

It was National Poetry Day yesterday, something I didn't spot until it was over. A shame because I intended to mark it with a posting, indeed with a posting I meant to make the same time last year.

The day before National Poetry Day 2006, I found myself on Coventry Railway Station. I had been visiting my grandfather who was seriously ill and who died just a few weeks later.

On a plaque on the platform for London bound trains, I spotted the first stanza of Philip Larkin's 'I remember, I remember', which I confess to not having read before. Sadly, it was partially hidden behind a Virgin Trains noticeboard.

It is a sad poem and the the circumstance in which I became aware of it was sad too, not to mention it being a cold, dark autumn evening. But happily, while Coventry may have brought back unhappy memories for Larkin, for me the site of signs for Coventry, the city of my birth, always gladdened the heart for it meant a visit to doting, and in turn much loved, grandparents.

I Remember, I Remember

by Philip Larkin

Coming up England by a different line
For once, early in the cold new year,
We stopped, and, watching men with number plates
Sprint down the platform to familiar gates,
"Why, Coventry!" I exclaimed. "I was born here."

I leant far out, and squinnied for a sign
That this was still the town that had been 'mine'
So long, but found I wasn't even clear
Which side was which. From where those cycle-crates
Were standing, had we annually departed

For all those family hols? . . . A whistle went:
Things moved. I sat back, staring at my boots.
'Was that,' my friend smiled, 'where you "have your roots"?'
No, only where my childhood was unspent,
I wanted to retort, just where I started:

By now I've got the whole place clearly charted.
Our garden, first: where I did not invent
Blinding theologies of flowers and fruits,
And wasn't spoken to by an old hat.
And here we have that splendid family

I never ran to when I got depressed,
The boys all biceps and the girls all chest,
Their comic Ford, their farm where I could be
'Really myself'. I'll show you, come to that,
The bracken where I never trembling sat,

Determined to go through with it; where she
Lay back, and 'all became a burning mist'.
And, in those offices, my doggerel
Was not set up in blunt ten-point, nor read
By a distinguished cousin of the mayor,

Who didn't call and tell my father There
Before us, had we the gift to see ahead -
'You look as though you wished the place in Hell,'
My friend said, 'judging from your face.' 'Oh well,
I suppose it's not the place's fault,' I said.

'Nothing, like something, happens anywhere.'

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