Sunday, 1 March 2015

poem for the day: by Edward Lucie Smith

'Your father's gone,' my bald headmaster said.
His shiny dome and brown tobacco jar
Splintered at once in tears.  It wasn't grief.
I cried for knowledge which was bittered
Than any grief.  For there and then I knew
That grief has uses - that a father dead
Could bind the bully's fist a week or two;
And then I cried for shame, then for relief.

I was a month past ten when I learnt this:
I still remember how the noice was stilled
In school-assembly when my grief came in.
Some goldfish in a bowl quietly sculled
Around their shining prison on its shelf.
They were indifferent.  All other eyes
Were turned towards me.  Somewhere in myself
Pride, like a goldfish, flashed a sudden fin.

Edward Lucie-Smith comments:  "This is set in Jamaica, where I was brought up, during World War II.  I was at a boys' prep school, where I was badly bullied.  My father worked for the old colonial government, and died rather rapidly of lung cancer in 1943.  I never saw him during his illness, and was in fact only rather remotely aware that something was wrong.  In any case I had been largely brought up by servants before being sent to boarding school:  I wasn't close to my parents and today have very few memories of my father as a result.  The poem is essentially about the difference between what one is supposed to feel and what one actually does feel,  when faced with some sort of 'shaping' event.  I think I wrote the poem itself sometime in the 1950s, and it reflects my then interest in strict verse forms."