Monday 3 January 2022

'I had not thought that it would be like this'

 And here's another case in point: Charles Causley. I knew he was good, I was familiar with several of his children's poems and other popular works, and I remember thinking that, with his simple direct style, he'd have been the perfect successor to John Betjeman as poet laureate (as did Ted Hughes and Philip Larkin). However, I had no idea of just how good he could be until the other day I chanced on his 'Eden Rock', a poem of love and memory and death that seems to me just about perfect...

They are waiting for me somewhere beyond Eden Rock:
My father, twenty-five, in the same suit
Of Genuine Irish Tweed, his terrier Jack
Still two years old and trembling at his feet.

My mother, twenty-three, in a sprigged dress
Drawn at the waist, ribbon in her straw hat,
Has spread the stiff white cloth over the grass.
Her hair, the colour of wheat, takes on the light.

She pours tea from a Thermos, the milk straight
From an old H.P. sauce-bottle, a screw
Of paper for a cork; slowly sets out
The same three plates, the tin cups painted blue.

The sky whitens as if lit by three suns.
My mother shades her eyes and looks my way
Over the drifted stream. My father spins
A stone along the water. Leisurely, 

They beckon to me from the other bank.
I hear them call, ‘See where the stream-path is!
Crossing is not as hard as you might think.’

I had not thought that it would be like this.

I think I find this particularly moving because I remember picnics just like this from my own childhood (and indeed have photographs of them). We were rather better equipped, as my father had a picnic canteen, complete with spirit stove and small kettle, in a leather box – and my mother would never have served milk from an old sauce bottle – but the feel of this childhood scene is just the same, and just as poignant. Of course, like Causley's parents when he wrote this, they are long dead now... This is a late poem, from his last collection, A Field of Vision, which I have now ordered from AbeBooks.  
  Andrew Motion once said that, if he could write a line as perfect as the one that ends 'Eden Rock', he would die a happy man. 

1 comment:

  1. It’s a fantastic last line. Direct, unpretentious, honest, reassuring. It’s a good idea to search online for Causley reciting this poem. His Launceston accent is so so familiar.