It is Margaret We Mourn for: a Poetic Blog

Doncaster Museum exterior, January 2016

Doncaster Museum exterior, January 2016

Margaret are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves like the things of man,
You, with your fresh thoughts care for,
can you?

Spring and Fall“, Gerard Manley Hopkins (1880)

As a morbid adolescent, I fell in love with this poem the first time I read it. Unlike the rest of Hopkins’ work – at least, what I came across in anthologies – it seemed both beautiful, and short, and to the point. I even recorded it, on a GE tape recorder (1), as I read the poem aloud to my cat.

Pretentious, as well as morbid.

The people from the Get a Grip Dept. (GGD) – in Yorkshire, they’d be telling us “frame yourself” – have been busy this past week, telling people not to be so upset about the death of David Bowie (69, cancer) and / or Alan Rickman (also 69, also cancer: I do hope the GGD aren’t opening their gobs around those of us who are 68 or 69).

I’ve been surprised by both the depth of my grief over Bowie, and my relative lack of it with regards to Rickman. Alan Rickman, you see, has long been on the list of slightly older, well known, and extremely talented actors who I, as an anti-cougar, fancied from afar. Emphasis on “afar”: I’ve never gone to the effort of meeting him, or any of my other silver fox fancies.

Several people far cleverer than I have pointed out that when we grieve over an artist, we are often also mourning the times in our lives, and the people, who we associate with a particular song, album, film, etc., which they created, and/or starred in.

As Manley Hopkins says at the end of “Spring and Fall,” it isn’t just the “worlds of wanwood [which] leafmeal lie” that trouble Margaret:

“It is the blight that man was born for
It is Margaret you mourn for.”

Tree, sunflowers, and autumn light: Chatsworth, 2015.

Tree, sunflowers, and autumn light: Chatsworth, 2015.

When I think of Bowie, I think of the friend mentioned in the first part of the poem below. Whilst it sadly lacks the power of Manley Hopkins’ verse, Bowie’s lyrics, or Rickman’s power with words, I’m putting it out there anyways. It’s a slight rewrite of a poem from 2010.

For you, Cyndi. And you, Jake. And, as almost always, the Beloved.

Fish and Chips Once

I thought I saw her
this morning,
on the 08:13 to Sheffield:
the woman had
her face
her build.
Even the specs
were right.

Which is odd, as
last I knew,
she had moved to New York,
and was dead.

I lift him out of the box.

Padded feet dangle,
fuzzy legs extend
like questions marks,
trailing the five Ws and one H
so beloved of my journalism teachers:


And, even as I exclaim
over expressive eyes,
and whiskers,
I know that one day,
in a decade or two,
I will place him
in another box,
and that
will be that.

Sometimes, you waltz
around the subject:
thanks to that knee,
it’s practically the only dancing
which you do.

Others, you meet head on
as though we were in a shop
full of costly Wedgwood,
and you a feisty Taurus.

That day was the latter sort.
We learned of a young teacher
who didn’t go to work,
but won’t be requiring
a sick note.

And even as I sympathise,
I think: will it be you first,
or me?

If me, will I be able
to see myself through
a half life of fish and chips once,
Yule cards which no longer require
a second signature,
no one to share
the weekend bathwater with,
or to hold a cat
whilst I shove a hated pill
down its unwilling throat?

That which survives: Conisbrough Castle keep, Sept 2015

That which survives: Conisbrough Castle keep, Sept 2015

(1) I was a phenomenally uncool kid.


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