(Content Warning: Discusses Dementia)
“Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.”
This week I recited poetry with an old guy that I work with. He’s been sharp as anything ever since.
This is the old guy who occaisionally thinks I’m his daughter. Which, is not particularly easy for me, though it’s a damn sight easier than it was immediately following my Dad’s death.
“A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;”
Dad and I did not always agree on poetry. I don’t think he would actually have been able to recite Chesterton, I’m not totally certain of that but I mostly heard Dad recite Paterson, although, I know who he learnt his appreciation of poetry from and I think that my Great Uncle Arthur might have liked Chesterton. Again, not totally certain of that but he is absolutely the right generation.
“A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.”
Chesterton’s poem is about freedom, it’s about a lot of things but one of the way’s it’s been interpreted is being about how the right to drink equates to the right to freedom, he was very anti-Prohibition afterall. The imagery he uses is getting to places from other places nowhere near them. To Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands, to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier etc. I personally read more about the drunkard’s relationship with violence in some of the images, but that does just seem to be me. That wasn’t what I was thinking about this week though. I was thinking about memories and the similarity of the suddenly appearing memory from out of the floating darkness of being drunk to the sudden consciousness of someone floating amidst dementia.
“The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which was which,
But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the ditch.“
Poetry is like a series of floating memories and contexts to me, and all the people that it brings to mind are men, processing emotions and thoughts in altered states of consciousness.
“God pardon us, nor harden us; we did not see so clear
The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier.”
Dad and Jacques and Great-Uncle Arthur and Cornish Bloke and Man of Taste all drunk or high and reciting lines back and forth.
“My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,“
And now, there’s me and the old guy, managing to reach inside a mind going to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands.
“I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,” he said
“Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,
The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands.” I replied.
And there we were, talking Chesterton and O-Levels and beer along a rolling English road. Sometimes I am very proud of the way I do my job but I don’t really think I can explain the whys and wherefores because he has his very obviously mazy road, I have mine and I think sometimes that it is disregarded. I’m very reflextive but my road is still a reeling one.
“But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;“
There’s a lot to do yet though, I don’t know how much I can use this knowledge or find these contexts to get him sharp but I’ve got some Chesterton under my belt, unfortunately he doesn’t think much of Elliot and knows no Paterson at all so I can’t pull off my best.
“For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.”