The poetry group is for discussion. We have no format, the content emerges organically from our interest. So a mention of metaphysical poetry results in me, as leader finding a metaphysical poem for us to discuss next time, and a mention of Edward Thomas's Adlestrop leads us to another of his poems and some discussion of his life. We recite bits we remember from our childhood, poems we learned at school, nonsense etc. Gradually emerging, again organically, are poetic qualities like metaphor, simile, assonance, off-rhymes and so on. And so it will go on, following our noses, and enjoying ourselves. The group is small, enough for an enjoyable discussion, but we have room for one or two more.
We meet at the St. David's Centre, Pensarn from 2 p.m until 4 p.m on the second Wednesday of each month.
The poetry group had a break over the summer recess, but continued on the 14th September (being the second Wednesday of the month) at the Dewi Sant centre, 2pm. The theme was ‘member’s own choice’ so it was a wide and varied selection, and as enjoyable as our sessions always are. In October we looked at poetry about animals and creatures, and again we were all impressed by the variety of work available.
November’s meeting focused on the weather at the same venue, same time, same place ....as of next year we will need to find an alternative.
If you think that poetry is just no more than “I wandered lonely as a cloud...” or similar verses that you were forced to learn at school, come along and be prepared to be pleasantly surprised.
Last month Ken Wllis announced that he was standing down as leader of the poetry group and that his place would be taken by Geoff Skellon. To mark the occasion Geoff wrote the following poem for Ken.
He’s standing down as leader
He’s steered us through the lines and rhymes
There and back again
His knowledge is outstanding
His love for verse is pure
And all the help he’s given us
Inspires us to learn more
Although he’s passing on the reins
We’re very glad to say
He’s staying on within the group
For many another day
Geoff Skellon led the September session which he first intended to be about railways. Geoff is a very good poet and has written poems about railways, and with his brother, songs about railways. However, he decided to extend it and the subject became Transport.
Everyone said what a very good, enjoyable session it had been.
One of the poems he used was Adlestrop by Edward Thomas, voted one of the nation’s favourite poems. A favourite place to visit and see the platform and the name, but alas, it is long gone. But clearly the villagers were not going to lose it and if you look in the bus shelter, there is a seat and on it the name of Adlestrop lives on.
Yes, I remember Adlestrop --
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop -- only the name
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
At the May meeting instead of Ken Willis’ contribution of a verse or two, Ken handed over to Geoff Skellon to tell us of his recent visits with the Rupert Brooke society. Geoff has kindly reproduced what he told us for the magazine.
Rupert Brooke and a visit to Skyros.
I have been passionate about poetry ever since I attended Grammar School at the end of the 1950s, and that was a long time ago... I had an English teacher, Miss Snow, who introduced me to poetry, to war poetry in particular, and to the poems of Rupert Brooke specifically. Not that I consider Brooke to be a war poet in the same league as Sassoon or Wilfred Owen; his reputation for that genre is based on a mere five sonnets, no more than 70 lines of verse in total, and they were all written at the very beginning of the first world war, in 1914. To me, Brooke is predominately a romantic poet, and many of his verses express the emotions and feelings that I also experienced as a young man.
Brooke never saw conflict, except for a couple of days during the British retreat from Antwerp. He was on a troop ship en route for Gallipoli when he succumbed to blood poisoning from an insect bite. He died on a French hospital ship moored off the Greek island of Skyros in the Aegean Sea on the 23rd April 1915, just about 100 years ago; at the age of 27. He was buried in a rough grave in a grove of Olive trees, and his presence there has led to a slow trickle of poetry pilgrims who have brought some income and prestige to what is far from being a tourist destination.
I joined the Rupert Brooke Society only a few months ago and via their website learned that a visit to Skyros was planned for the week immediately before the centenary of his death. This had been on my wish list for many years, so I arranged my own flight to Athens where the group (12 of us in total including the tour leader) were to meet. To keep the costs down I opted to fly from Manchester and my outgoing flight was with Lufthansa, changing at Munich with a 4 hour stop over.
An hour by metro from Athens airport brought me to the city, and a 20 minute walk to the Hotel Central, not far from the main square. It was modern and clean, with a roof terrace and bar which looked straight across to the Acropolis, a stunning sight both in the evening sun and at night when it was floodlit. The group had already departed to a local restaurant for dinner when I arrived so I was quick to join them. The tour package included all the evening meals, and a different restaurant was found for each night. The food, and the wine were as excellent as the company proved to be, we soon made good friends, all bound by our love of poetry and the works of Rupert Brooke in particular.
We had two nights stay in Athens so the first full day was devoted to a visit to the Acropolis, and a tour of some of the Grecian architectural remains and several other local places of interest in the, including the church of St George (the patron Saint of Greece as well as England) which houses the bell of freedom, which rang to convey the news of the Greek victory for freedom from the Turkish Ottoman Empire.
Back by metro to the airport the following day for our short flight to Skyros, typical of the beautiful islands which lie across both the Aegean and the Ionian seas. We were blessed with sunny and warm weather throughout, and on the starboard side of the aircraft the bay where Brooke had taken his last breath was clearly visible as we descended,
The hotel chosen for our stay was small, but very welcoming and comfortable, run by Nicos, a Greek, and his Dutch wife Roos, the parents of two lovely small daughters who spoke no English but spoke their maternal and paternal tongues fluently.
Nicos was also the driver of the hotel's minibus, and we visited the local museum, and a private house owned by a local Greek woman who had met some of the group on an earlier visit. Then in the afternoon, the main focus of our trip; the drive along a narrow road that wended its way upwards, higher and higher amongst the trees until we came to Brooke's resting place. The grave has now been improved more in keeping with its significance, and is maintained by the Anglo-Greek Association under the auspices of the War Graves Commission. It has an upper stone of a marble cross, surrounded by railings, and at the foot is inscribed his most well know sonnet 'The Soldier', which starts with prophetic lines:
"If I should die, think only this of me;
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England'.
The grave stands alone, and the olive grove where it is situated has an atmosphere of tranquillity and peace. I fulfilled my own long held wish to recite 'The Soldier' and another of his poems; recorded on video for later consumption.
Too soon it was time to return to our little hotel, with a log fire burning and the bar open; and the following day another flight back to Athens for our last night in Greece. Farewells were said, (somebody caused a delay to the minibus journey to the airport because he had forgotten a pullover, a fleece and a leather jacket which contained his passport. I deny all accusations that it was me. Well, yes it was!).
I flew back with S.A.S. changing at Copenhagen with a 12 hour stop over.....not to be recommended.
That was not the end of our group activities however because over the weekend of the 25th and 26th of April we met up again in the small village of Grantchester, south of Cambridge. Brooke lived for about four years in Grantchester, firstly in a house known as “The Orchard” and then a short distance away in The Old Vicarage', which became the title of a longer poem he wrote whilst in Berlin, feeling nostalgic for England and his home in Cambridgeshire. It ends with the lines:
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?”
We were able to watch an unveiling of a Blue Plaque on the wall of Orchard House, and listen to some readings by descendants of the granddaughters of Noel Olivier and by the Radio DJ and celebrity Mike Reid, who helped to found the Rupert Brooke Society and who has written a biography of the poet 'Forever England'. The current owners gave us a tour of their home and it was emotional for most of us, myself included, to visit the rooms he lived in, and where he wrote his poem 'Home', which begins:
”I came back late and tired last night,
Into my little room,
To the long chair and the firelight,
And comfortable gloom......”
After a welcome buffet lunch provided by our hosts in the same pavilion in the orchard gardens that Brooke would have known, we walked across to the Old Vicarage, for a tour of the property by its owners, Lord and Lady Jeffrey Archer, well known as a novelist, amongst other things...
Again we were able to see Brooke's rooms, and stroll in the well cared-for gardens and down by the Mill Stream and the line of chestnut trees mentioned in his poem. A book signing had been organised for a new publication, 'The Second I Saw You' by Laura Becket, the current Chair of the RBS, who had taken on the task of writing the history of Brooke's love affair with Phyllis Gardner, using the letters they wrote to each other which were opened by the British Library after a fifty year embargo. My copy of the book now sits alongside my copy of 'Song of Love', the letters between Brooke and another love, Noel Olivier; and his 'Letters from America'; and also the first poetry book I ever bought, in 1962, 'The 'Poetical Works of Rupert Brooke'.
Finally for those of us who had a long journey home to make, we were able to watch a performance by Jonathan Race of one man play Rupert Brooke by Mark Payton, which recounts in the most moving way the life and death of Brooke, one of England's most well loved poets of his generation. A man of conflicting sentiments and emotions, but who was able to express them so passionately in his poetry; and who died so tragically young.
As always there is the desire to ask “What if.....?” We will never know.
The sleeper in the valley
There is a small green hollow, where a stream flows,
Near fields of grass and growing wheat;
Caught by the sun’s last golden glows,
A valley where sunlight and shadows meet.
A young soldier, sleeps in the cool green grass,
Bare-headed, mouth open a little, he lies,
His neck in a patch of watercress,
Pale on his green bed under God’s skies.
His feet in the flowers, he sleeps and he smiles
The smile of a sick child, smiling for days,
Cold, in the warmth of the sun’s dying rays.
The scents of the flowers don’t trouble his rest,
He sleeps in the sun, one hand on his breast
He has two red holes in the side of his chest.
Translated from the original French poem by Arthur Rimbaud By G T Skellon
In a completely different mood Ken read the following poem to the members at the November meeting.
Who ran away from his Nurse and was eaten by a Lion
There was a Boy whose name was Jim;
His Friends were very good to him.
They gave him Tea, and Cakes, and Jam,
And slices of delicious Ham,
And Chocolate with pink inside
And little Tricycles to ride,
And read him Stories through and through,
And even took him to the Zoo--
But there it was the dreadful Fate
Befell him, which I now relate.
You know--or at least you ought to know,
For I have often told you so--
That Children never are allowed
To leave their Nurses in a Crowd;
Now this was Jim's especial Foible,
He ran away when he was able,
And on this inauspicious day
He slipped his hand and ran away!
He hadn't gone a yard when--Bang!
With open Jaws, a lion sprang,
And hungrily began to eat
The Boy: beginning at his feet.
Now, just imagine how it feels
When first your toes and then your heels,
And then by gradual degrees,
Your shins and ankles, calves and knees,
Are slowly eaten, bit by bit.
No wonder Jim detested it!
No wonder that he shouted ``Hi!''
The Honest Keeper heard his cry,
Though very fat he almost ran
To help the little gentleman.
``Ponto!'' he ordered as he came
(For Ponto was the Lion's name),
``Ponto!'' he cried, with angry Frown,
``Let go, Sir! Down, Sir! Put it down!''
The Lion made a sudden stop,
He let the Dainty Morsel drop,
And slunk reluctant to his Cage,
Snarling with Disappointed Rage.
But when he bent him over Jim,
The Honest Keeper's Eyes were dim.
The Lion having reached his Head,
The Miserable Boy was dead!
When Nurse informed his Parents, they
Were more Concerned than I can say:--
His Mother, as She dried her eyes,
Said, ``Well--it gives me no surprise,
He would not do as he was told!''
His Father, who was self-controlled,
Bade all the children round attend
To James's miserable end,
And always keep a-hold of Nurse
For fear of finding something worse.