My father is not a vocal man, as a rule, except that he can still be fired up by the excesses of politicians or, on occasion, the injustices shown to fair minded men. Indeed, when I recall any in-depth conversation we might have had over the years then these are the topics which crop up most and produce the most ire. As a young man he was a farm labourer, as was his father before him, before he tragically died at the age of just 37, from a brain tumour, when my father was just 7 years old. But in his schooling my father was lucky, and it would seem, quite an intelligent boy, since he was bright enough to attend the local grammar school, when they had such things. Though, as I say, he left to farm and provide for his mother upon reaching 16.
So, what did I get from my quiet, unassuming, father? Any number of traits and beliefs, I suspect. But I have long credited my father with creating in me, knowingly, or accidentally, my love of poetry.
We were not a well-off family by any means, living in a two-up two-down terraced house in a mining village in Derbyshire, working and waiting for “the eagle to fly on Friday”. But I remember one day I found in our bedroom (the boys bedroom) a heavy bound copy of The Complete Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
My father said that a friend of his was throwing it out of an old house he was clearing and so he’d claimed it, thinking I might like it. The strange thing is, the book just appeared. There was no ceremony, no presentation. Just – there it was.
At first, being very young, I found Longfellow impenetrable, and reverted to my favoured copies of The Victor.
(This image shows the issue from 30th April 1966. There is NO DOUBT that I read this copy at the time 🙂 )
But sure enough, when The Tough of the Track
and Sergeant Sampson could hold me no more, I fell under the spell of The Song of Hiawatha.
(extract from the introduction to The Song of Hiawatha)
“And the pleasant water-courses,
You could trace them through the valley,
By the rushing in the Spring-time,
By the alders in the Summer,
By the white fog in the Autumn,
By the black line in the Winter;
And beside them dwelt the singer,
In the vale of Tawasentha,
In the green and silent valley.
“There he sang of Hiawatha,
Sang the Song of Hiawatha,
Sang his wondrous birth and being,
How he prayed and how be fasted,
How he lived, and toiled, and suffered,
That the tribes of men might prosper,
That he might advance his people!”
The Victor still reigned for a while but I believe that it was from that judicious punt by my father that the seed of my love of poetry was sown. How different my life might have been if he hadn’t “claimed” a discarded book.
A life long gift – just because he thought I might like it.
I must tell him.