Posts Tagged ‘memory’

For Thu-Van


I’m not going to scream
Or tear my clothes
(I’m far too British anyway)
But simply say
“I can’t believe you’re gone”.
I don’t know how or why,
Especially why…
You’re gone, but you are.
And I can’t believe it.
I remember
Giving you lifts to work
Or waiting with you for the bus
As a wren sang in the trees above.
And the conversations,
How we sorted out the world…
Rain drops in the river now
That flows into the sea,
Evaporates to fall as rain again tomorrow.
I’m not going to scream
Though I want to,
I’ll listen for the rain,
Think of you there,
Your gentle voice amongst
The rustling leaves
As the wren sings in the trees.




New Year’s Day 83,
I climb the hill to the castle,
Look down and over
The oystercatcher speckled water
Where the Towy meets the sea,
To misted Gower beyond.
From the battlements,
My shoulder on medieval stone,
I watch a train on the far shore
Pass Ferryside with a toot,
Remember last night,
Frosted sharp, skin biting night,
My glance up rewarded
With a meteor’s death streak.
Who else saw that?
That split-second flare
Ending a million year journey
To mark the passing of my year?
In that second
I forgot everything,
That fiery hot death lit me,
A gentle fire I could warm myself with
On frosty nights,
As thirty years on
I still do.

My Grandparents’ House


Such attics cleared of me! Such absences! Philip Larkin

The last time I went to the house
Was the day we cleared it.
I arrived, as I always had:
Train then car, renewing my familiarity
With the happy highways that led here:
The Runcorn Bridge, dual carriageways
Suburbs, the streets
Narrowing after each turn,
Until finally, parked outside,
I could have been a child again as
Another school holiday begins.
No. Closed too long, the house was musty.
Men with scythes and saws
Were chopping back the jungle
The garden had become. I choked then,
Their pride and joy, recalled the hours
Lavished on it, mowing, weeding,
Seeding, picking, a feast of flowers and fruit,
I used to wonder how
They ever had time to go to work.
As we moved from room to room,
I expected them to walk in, and ask
What the hell we thought we were doing.
I looked in my old room:
Single bed, wardrobe screwed to the wall
And Grandma’s sewing machine
Folded into a table.
I sat on the bed, breathed
Deep and slow the air of that room,
Remembered the first night’s sleep
Of any holiday, the excitement
Of being here again
With all the days or weeks ahead.
Of days out, days in the garden,
Of Test Match Special,
And bowls on the lawn.
Now it feels like I was never here,
Just another stale space to be cleared
With all the others:
Wardrobes, cupboards, closets
Emptied now of all but memory.
If the bricks could talk,
What conversations we could have.


A Bonfire (2014 revision)


Flames caress the letters
As I feed them in,
One by one, words crumbling.

I watch them lick the photograph,
Hers, taken that last day
Before I caught the train.

I can’t find it later
When I rake over still warm ash,
Blacker than her hair.

Memories smouldering into suburban sky,
A few shovelfuls of soot,
Smoke in my clothes.


A Bonfire


This is one from the archives, written in 1995. I’ve never been entirely satisfied with it as it’s a bit too tell not show. Here’s the original, the next post has the revised version.

Flames lap-up the letters
As I feed them in,
One by one, words crumbling.

I watch them lick the photograph,
Hers, taken that last day
Before I caught the train,

Bubbles and hiss, it flakes,
Burns a part of me off.
I can’t find it later

When I rake over the still warm ash,
Blacker than her hair,
Smouldering into the suburban sky

Above the greenhouses,
Mown lawns and
Neatly pruned shrubberies.

Memories compressed into
A few shovelfuls of soot,
Smoke in my clothes.


On Nostalgia, Into My Heart an Air that Kills, A.E. Housman


This short poem is from A Shropshire Lad, first published in 1896. Its two stanzas of four lines each form a dialogue on the nature of nostalgia. In the first, the poet asks a question, prompted by a sudden, painful remembrance: “an air that kills” has blown straight into his heart from some “far country”. The recollection takes the form of an idealised pastoral scene of “blue remembered hills” with church spires and farms nearby. Just what is this place? the poet asks.

He answers his rhetorical question in the second stanza. He sees his past, a time when he was happy: “the land of lost content”. Clear and close, yet he knows he can never get it back, never return to “the happy highways where I went”. This is, I imagine, a common experience: it’s certainly one I often feel. Yet it’s surely the mark of a great poem where the poet can describe such an experience so originally and effectively, with some truly memorable language: “blue remembered hills”, “the land of lost content”, “the happy highways”. And he describes it so concisely, capturing in eight lines both the power of memory and its ultimate futility. Futile it may be, but it’s a very human impulse which this beautiful short poem captures to perfection.

from A Shropshire Lad


Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

A. E. Housman (1859-1936)


Unreliable Memories


I’ve always prided myself on having a good memory, yet today, I wondered. I was on YouTube, playing eighties music and came across a link to a song called “Broken Land” by The Adventures (1988). It sounded familiar, so I clicked on it. As soon as it started I was flooded with a powerful rush of feeling. It was instantly familiar, I recalled how much I had liked it at the time, and I was able to accurately sing along. I’ve written before of the power of music to evoke feeling and memory, and this was a good example of it. So what’s so surprising? Until today, I probably hadn’t heard the song for twenty-five years. I had neither bought it nor taped it from the radio (apparently it was the most played song on Radio 1 that year) yet I’d forgotten all about it. It had fallen through a hole in my memory.

Yet this rush of renewed memory was so powerful, was brought so suddenly close, I could almost touch it. I was instantly borne away on a warm river, back to being a nineteen year old away at university. How could I have forgotten this song? It seems incomprehensible. But forget I did, though that has made the rediscovery all the sweeter: it’s a pity I can’t hold on to the feeling I got when I first re-played it, turn it into some sort of pill… A rush? Quite probably. Hearing it again certainly lifted me, and I could do with more of that.

Comfort me through this stormy weather/From where I stand/I see a broken land


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