This little poem by Edith Scovell (1907-1999; see also weeks 97 and 503) is perhaps most likely to appeal most to those of a certain age, like myself, who see their family, friends and ex-colleagues dying off at a rather alarming rate around them, but who are consequently all the more inclined to find a wistful consolation in the continual arrival of new faces on the stage. In the words of the Old Shepherd in ‘The Winter’s Tale’: ‘Heavy matters, heavy matters. But look thee here, boy. Now bless thyself: thou met’st with things dying, I with things new-born’.
To An Infant Grandchild
Dear Katherine, your future
Can never meet my past.
So short our common frontier,
Our hinterlands so vast.
Yet at the customs post
Light airs pass freely over
And all we need to know
We know of one another.
Though day will wake your country
As dark flows over mine
Your outback sleeps in shadow now,
Your smile is cloudless dawn.
Last week’s offering by Frances Horovitz led me to remember this other fine flower-and-death-themed poem by Edith Scovell (1907-1999). If you are going to stake a whole poem on one image it had better be a good one and it had better be original, but I think Edith’s beautifully observed tulip certainly does the job in this elegiac yet life-affirming piece. And take a moment to appreciate the precision of that ‘flamboyant’ in the penultimate line, and how fittingly the word’s modern sense of ‘showy’ is underpinned by an awareness of its etymology, coming as it does from the French flamboyer, to flame or blaze.
Deaths Of Flowers
I would if I could choose
Age and die outwards as a tulip does;
Not as this iris drawing in, in-coiling
Its complex strange taut inflorescence, willing
Itself a bud again – though all achieved is
No more than a clenched sadness,
The tears of gum not flowing.
I would choose the tulip’s reckless way of going;
Whose petals answer light, altering by fractions
From closed to wide, from one through many perfections,
Till wrecked, flamboyant, strayed beyond recall,
Like flakes of fire they piecemeal fall.
E. J. Scovell
For me, this love poem by the English poet Edith Joy Scovell (1907-1999) more than makes up in resonance for what it lacks in length.
Nothing will fill the salt caves our youth wore:
Happiness later, nor a house with corn
Ripe to its walls and open door.
We filtered through to sky and flowed into
A pit full of stars; so we are each alone.
Even in this being alone I meet with you.