My Grandfather, Will, had apparently always loved poetry, and in this respect, his son, and my Dad, Fred, was to follow willingly in his father’s footsteps. This burgeoning love of rhyme was nurtured and encouraged by the fact that, like many children in the British Empire, Fred possessed a set of “The Children’s Encyclopedia” by Arthur Mee, a famous, familiar and popular book of the 1930s:
Arthur Mee believed that the English, and in particular the English boy, were the “peak of creation”, although my mother, well familiar both with me and her husband, thought he was a madman. Each volume of Mee’s ten volume set of encyclopedias contained sixteen different themes or subjects and great prominence was always given to the Poetry sections, which were selected by Sir John Hammerton, a famous contemporary historian. Fred also liked the dinosaur pictures too:
Fred would often quote poetry, and his three favourite lines were……
“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness ”
This is a line of Keats which was automatically triggered by any mention whatsoever of autumn. Or by a walk into a wood in autumn. Or a TV programme about autumn.
Keats’ best pal, Shelley, wrote the lines which are in second place:
“Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
Bird thou never wert,”
These words would invariably emerge should any sighting of a skylark occur, perhaps during a walk alongside a field of corn. Quite often, it would be just any bird seen to be doing skylarky type things:
In third place came the rather wise, and arguably, slightly incorrect ……
“What is this life if so full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare ? ”
The correct version has no “so” and, surprisingly, no question mark:
“What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare. ”
The poem was written by William H Davies, a Welsh poet, who spent many years as a tramp or hobo, in the United Kingdom and the United States. Presumably my Dad did not know that he was Welsh. Being Welsh was never a plus point with my Dad.
Fred always professed that his favourite poet was John Clare. You can read about him in one of my early and probably over long posts, here.
And this is John Clare, perhaps “before” and “after” the boiled egg hairstyle became popular:
In retrospect, I have always felt that Fred saw Clare as the simple, agricultural working class man, held firmly in his place in a world dominated by the upper classes, who were, for the most part as poets, fairly worthless and useless aesthetes, lacking Clare’s poetic talents, his intelligence and his capacity for accurate observation of the world around him. Perhaps too, as a native of the simple country village of Woodville, Fred could recognise the truth of the statement by Ronald Blythe, the President of the Clare Society, that the impoverished poet was “England’s most articulate village voice”.
It is not a giant leap, of course, to say that Fred probably saw his own life as directly paralleling that of Clare, denied as he was for purely financial reasons, the chance to go to a grammar school, and to have the same education as the more successful, and much less talented, upper class people that he would meet during the rest of his life, particularly in the RAF.
Given this love of John Clare, therefore, every time that he physically saw one running about, perhaps in a school playground when he was on yard duty, Fred would always identify this black and white bird as the “little trotty wagtail”, a phrase taken from one of Clare’s most frequently quoted poems: