Finding the light

Most of us can remember the first book of fiction we read as a child. Treasure Island, perhaps, or one featuring The Famous Five. Most of us can also remember a book we read at or maybe years after our maturity, the style and/or content of which helped form or transform the way in which we thought about the world and about our fellow man and about ourselves. For each of us such a book is a true friend in the sense that it is something we will turn to when we most need one; a friend, that is.

So when somebody asked why it took so many years for me to begin any serious writing of poetry and fiction I dug out and sent him the poem I wrote in '94.

This poem is about my finding of Professor Logan Pearsall-Smith's 1928 book (a slim one, little more than an extended essay actually) called On Reading Shakespeare. I was just sixty years old and for the next three years read nothing but the thirty one works attributed in whole or in vast majority to the bard. I read the Arden editions, with ones with copious explanatory footnotes. I read and re-read them, totally obsessed, totally awed. Such a giant of a mind amongst men, such an understanding, such a way had he of putting each one word in its one and only rightful place ...

Finding the words

After sixty years
Focussing on right now
I found the two fine walkers
Coleridge and his friend
Mr William Wordsworth,
Had a brief skirmish with
That other wondrous set,
The dreamer Keats, the
Poetic mister Shelley
And the bad Lord B,
Went backwards in time
Through Swift and Pope
And Dryden to blind Milton
In his metronomically
Agonistic anti-Paradise
To find my friend John Donne,
A love-struck island to himself,
The whiff of something
Of great meaning thus
Becoming ever obvious;
Like incense
As the swinging starts.

Breathless, reading much of
Elizabethan stuff and such
I circled Shakespeare,
But warily, for a long while
Keeping nervous distance
Unsure about this Everest
Or maybe of my ability
To climb it or find the light
That so many others find,
Went back a long stride
But Chaucer was too tough,
Loved Spencer's Faerie Queen
Then fell on Tamburlaine,
From reckless Marlow and,
Ah! Here it is, (I thought,)
The source! that river
Of sweet scented mists
Still coiled and flowed
And thrust and heaved
And his words lived
And in his halcyon shade
I lay and took my rest awhile
And read how Shakespeare
Was perhaps Marlowe
Come live with me and be my love
They or some one wrote.
Although to me it mattered
Only that their words were.

And then in Winchester
In the dust-silent attic
Of that antiquarian book shop
Logan Pearsall-Smith's
1928 jewel of a treatise,
On Reading Shakespeare,
Lay opened in my hand
As when something flashed
Brightly in a muddy field
And you stooped to pick it up
And you were looking
Into the bright sun-colours
Of a diamond.

And so the good professor
Opened up the door
Switched on the lights
And there for me that wondrous treasury
Of works to brighten up my days
To hold an explanation for my nights.:
Thus, in the beginning,
Were his Words.

***

So that was my personal re-awakening after sixty years of feeling about in the dark. But my first wake-up came forty years before, and that is something I'll write about at a later date.

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