A New Road Or A Secret Gate

Image 1Yesterday morning I went to the memorial service for an ex-colleague of mine.  It was both a sad and a joyful occasion.  Sad because Chris died far too young, yet joyful because he was a man full of life and those of us who gathered had so many happy memories to share.  He was interested in everything and always eager to pass his enthusiasms on to the students he taught and, through his media work, to the wider public.  You couldn’t be bored around him because he would always have some new scrap of information that he had just discovered and which he was itching to pass on to all and sundry.  As someone said, Chris bored was a dangerous to be around.  He would have to find something to be interested in and given his extreme sense of humour that something could turn out to be dramatic.

I was surprised then when one of the poems chosen for the service was Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken.  I’m sure that you know it.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

If ever there was someone who travelled down as many roads as possible it was Chris.

I love this poem but more because I love the idea of taking the road less travelled and not being phased by society’s reaction than because I think it isn’t possible to deliberately step aside and take another way.  I have a young friend who all her life has marched to the beat of a different drum and who, when she finishes university at the end of this year, already has a job lined up in a field that will bring her very little in the way of material or financial recompense but which will fill each day with hard work, friendship and gladness.  She will take the road less travelled and she will make a tremendous difference.  Chris also made a difference, but in his case because he took so many roads.  I thought the other poetic choice was better thought through.  Not perhaps of quite the same literary merit but very appropriate for a man who was always conscious of living in the land that inspired much of Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate;
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.

Chris was always looking for that new road, that secret gate and I shall miss sharing the news from strange places that he brought back with him from his wide ranging journeys.

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Emergency Poet

06d11e3a0263b62966ea48fc5e990cc3One of the things I find myself bemoaning is how little poetry I read these days.  At one point I would take a poetry book with me as the perfect way to pass the time on a long journey: something that I could dip in and out of without losing the sense of what I was reading as a result of the inevitable interruptions. Maybe it’s because I don’t seem to do long journeys by public transport any more that I’ve fallen out of the habit, I don’t know.  I was gratified then, yesterday morning, to find that, despite my lack of  recent attention to the genre, I was acquainted with all the poems that turned up in a radio interview with the Emergency Poet.

I don’t know if you’ve come across the poet Deborah Alma, aka The Emergency Poet,  I have to say that until yesterday I hadn’t, although from the information on her website she appears to be reasonably local to me.  The basic idea is that she and her 1970s ambulance, accompanied by Nurse Verse, appear at festivals, libraries, schools and various literary events to offer consultations for the sick and needy followed by the prescription of an appropriate, and hopefully, healing poem.  To quote from her website

a mix of the serious, the therapeutic and the theatrical, the Emergency Poet offers consultations inside her ambulance and prescribes poems as cures.  In the waiting room under an attached awning Nurse Verse dispenses ‘poemcetomols’ and other poetic pills and treatment from the ‘Cold Comfort Pharmacy’…

Dressed in white coat and stethoscope, Emergency Poet travels in her 1970s ambulance, accompanied by Nurse Verse or the Poemedic…anywhere where poetic help may be urgently required…

The poetic version of the Novel Cure, I suppose.

A full consultation takes about ten minutes but if you haven’t got time for that or if the Emergency Poet is busy then you can get a supply of ‘poemcetomols’ from the nurse or poemedic.  These appear to take the form of small capsules with a section of a poem inside.  Yesterday the radio presenters found themselves prescribed works by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Keats and one of my favourite e e cummings poems:

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Unfortunately, I find that I’ve missed a local appearance by just over a week but I shall certainly keep an eye on the website to see when Deborah Alma is next going to be in the area.  I suspect a ‘poemcetomol’ would do far more good to a troubled soul than any amount of its pharmaceutical counterpart.

National Poetry Day

Today is National Poetry Day and this morning, as I was driving over to Stratford in sparkling Autumn sunlight this sonnet by the nineteenth century Jesuit poet, Gerald Manley Hopkins, flashed into my mind and I thought I would share it with you as part of the celebration.

I caught this morning morning’s minion king-
    dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
    Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
    As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
    Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
    Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
   No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers,  ah my dear,
    Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.