So – week 5, just two days left of April and the end of this challenge.
I can’t resist renewing my acquaintance with two more old friends this week. Both poems from my early childhood, good memories from my mum, who seems to have got me started on this caper.
The first is From a Railway Carriage by Robert Louis Stevenson. My parents gave me an illustrated copy of A Childs’s Garden of Verses, I must have been very young at the time, because I have very clear memories of reading it in bed (when ill?) when we still lived in the flat that backed onto the railway line. We moved away when I was 7. [I wonder if I still have this book somewhere? I do hope so, it was very very special to me as a child].
Trains were important in my early life – the regular noise as they passed by the end of the east London close where we lived on their way through to Liverpool Street; the trains that went past my aunty’s house in Tottenham, where we visited most Saturdays and school holiday days, and stayed when my dad was very ill; the trains my mum got into work and back in Shoreditch. I have a strong (but maybe mistaken?) memory that they were steam trains in the early days. I certainly remember for sure that there were regular fires along the embankment, and that seeing the fire engine come to deal with them was very exciting.
Anyway, for me this poem evokes beautifully the speed and rhythm of the train, and the entrancing but fleeting views from the windows. And I still love love love that when I’m travelling by train. Best of all is the view as we pass gardens or allotments (ah, the joy of travelling through Germany and all those allotment plots edging the railway lines).
Another old friend, introduced when I was very young by my mum. From an earlier printing of A Puffin Book of Verse – an anthology put together by Eleanor Graham* (though I think the cover was the same). First she read to me (us) from it, then I was able to read it to myself.
Matilda – Hilaire Belloc. A cautionary tale, complete with wonderful Gratuitous Capital Letters (which even at a very young age I understood were fun). As I’ve said above, I was familiar with London’s Noble Fire Brigade. I also knew Hackney Downs ( my aunty and uncle and cousins lived there, and my mum had lived there with them for a brief time after her parents died), and Bow. I already knew the story of the boy who cried wolf, and the importance of telling the truth had been impressed on us from a very early age. So, clearly, this poem was written both for fun and for me. Of course.
The end – or not
And there we have it, the end of my poetry month. A moment for reflection. I have had fun, I’ve learnt a lot, I gained a new awareness of the poetry in my life and our lives and language, and best of all, I know that I will carry on being friends with the poets – both old friends and new, and those I’ve not yet met.
Thank you for coming along on this journey with me, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it too.
* and oh I love these ‘connections’ – I have just discovered that, like me, she was born in Walthamstow. And oh my goodness, I hadn’t made the connection before that she was the author of the extraordinary The Children Who Lived in a Barn – a book deserving of a post of its own.