I keep trying to write about memory and not being satisfied with what I have written. Neither am I satisfied with this, but, for the moment at least, it is the best I can do.

Dr Johnson wrote this:

It would add much to human happiness, if an art could be taught of forgetting all of which the remembrance is at once useless and afflictive, that the mind might perform its functions without encumbrance, and the past might no longer encroach upon the present.

This is one of the aspects of memory with which I am interested (obsessed, actually): the idea that memory can prod something into your mind that disturbs or troubles you, causes pain; something you would rather forget: the past encroaching upon the present.

This is in villanelle form, so I have called it


                         Your memory, you know, will tell you lies,

                               But, kindly, offers an alternative

                               Between a fancy or a bargain price.

                                   The moment, time insists, is born and dies,

                              At once is past and enters memory’s sieve;

                              And memory, you know, will tell you lies;

                              At some innocent moment will surprise

                              Your rest, the only succour it will give

                              The choice of a fancy or a bargain price.

                              The bargain price is simply tears and sighs,

                              The ruin of the way you wish to live;

                              For memory will always tell you lies.

                              The fancy version pins open your eyes:

                              Each moment brings a sight you can’t forgive.

                              What a choice! The fancy or the bargain price.

                              You live the moments : remember all your life;

                              Each eve, each anniversary, each octave;

                              And each time memory tells you lies

                              At either a fancy or a bargain price.

The model for this is W.H.Auden’s poem ‘If I could Tell You’

Time will say nothing but I told you so
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

There are no fortunes to be told, although,
Because I love you more than I can say,
If I could tell you I would let you know.

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reason why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
The vision seriously intends to stay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Suppose the lions all get up and go,
And the brooks and soldiers run away;
Will Time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Wonderful, eh? That’s how it should be done.

Men Improve With The Years?

I watched ‘Bob Geldof on W.B.Yeats: A Fanatic Heart’ the other day. It is terrific- still available on BBC i-Player (for another 8-9 days, I think).

Yeats wrote a poem called Men Improve With The Years, which is a kinder message than most poets have for old geezers like me.

This is called ‘If Only’:

If only if only if only

The things your mam told you were true

That if you say your prayers

You will climb heaven’s stairs

On the day the grim reaper reaps you.

          If only if only if only

          Time had stood still when you were still young

          And though aged 93

          You’re still fit as a flea

          Still running around having fun

If only if only if only

Your lovers were just as you’d dreamed

As good in your bed

As they were in your head

Love as wonderful as it had seemed

          If only if only if only

          Success and fortune was your fate

          That through all of your days

          You received the world’s praise

          Good things handed to you on a plate

Much more likely is that you are skint

Have no lovers or friends, and are lonely

And when the time goes

And you turn up your toes

They will carve on your gravestone ‘If Only…’


Folkestone’s Patron Saint

The patron saint of Folkestone is St. Eanswythe, who lived between about 614 and 640. The daughter of Eadbald, King of Kent, she dedicated her life to God and, although her father wanted her to marry, he eventually gave in to her and built a chapel in his castle at Folkestone, where she settled with a community of nuns. Her miracles include providing water for the nuns by making it flow uphill from a stream a mile away; and restoring the sight of a blind man.

These days, miracles are difficult to comprehend.


                The Evidence

You imagine, as you click the shutter,

You have captured a moment for ever:

Your wedding; that once-in-a-lifetime trip;

Your daughter one day old; first day at school;

               But as you stoop, perplexed, to view the cache

               Where photographs of Eanswythe have been found,

               Imagination wears a different face,

               And looks over your shoulder at the past.

Eanswythe, Daughter of Eadbald, King of Kent.

Eanswythe Making the Water Flow Uphill.

Eanswythe Giving the Blind Man Back his Sight:

Marvels that made her Folkestone’s patron saint.

               You try to look and think at once, but fail.

               Your daughter one day old was a miracle;

               But water running uphill can’t be caught:

               You try and trust her joyful, haloe’d face.

We could do with a few miracles in Folkestone,

But nobody seems to do them any more.

You stand with your back to the pictures, take a selfie,

And make a prayer for peace in our time, not war.

The second line of the last verse is a steal from Bob Dylan, from a song called Red River Shore, the final verse of which is:

Now I heard of a guy who lived a long time ago
A man full of sorrow and strife
That if someone around him died and was dead
He knew how to bring ’em on back to life

Well, I don’t know what kind of language he used
Or if they do that kind of thing anymore
Sometimes I think nobody ever saw me here at all
‘Cept the girl from the Red River shore

which must be one of the best verses ever written for a song. Thanks, Bob.