Featured

POST #249: FREEDOM

This evening – Friday 15th April – will be the beginning of Passover, when Jewish families all over the world will be sitting down to the Passover Seder.  Every year, the Passover story is told.   How we, the Jewish people, were once slaves in Egypt and are now free.

Jesus, who of course was Jewish – as were his disciples – was celebrating the Passover meal (Seder) at The Last Supper.

PASSOVER DITTY

When you’re celebrating Easter,

it’s Passover for me,

no bread or cake or biscuits,

just matzos for our tea!

We have to eat unleavened bread

that’s matzo don’t you know,

they’re rather tasty crackers

but for eight days it’s a blow.

We cannot bake with flour

so use substitutes instead,

coconut and ground almonds

because there isn’t any bread.

It’s the festival of freedom

when we fled Egypt long ago

but just as relevant today

with what’s going on you know!

If you would like to know about Passover, here’s an excellent link from the British Library: https://www.bl.uk/learning/cult/inside/goldhaggadahstories/goldenhagg.html

© Andrea Neidle, My Life in Poems

© Photo by Andrea Neidle

Featured

THE POWER OF POETRY

With everything else going on in the world, I somehow managed to miss International Poetry Day on 21st March.

I feel I should be saying or writing something profound.

I don’t have a new poem to offer you. But some interesting news.

It seems that people who have dementia respond to poetry – sometimes with just a smile or a flicker of recognition. Sometimes even joining in with the words.

This does not surprise me. Those of us who learned poems as kids can often still recite them – even when we can’t remember the title of the book we last read – or even what we had for dinner the night before!

I  remember how at our daughter’s wedding ceremony we were all moved to tears when my son-in-law’s grandfather, who had dementia, seemed to respond to the familiar words and melodies. I had also seen it when prayers were said in the synagogue at his nursing home. Elderly people – many of them with dementia – joining in with the songs and the familiar prayers. Sometimes mouthing the words or even saying them out loud.  It was amazing to see.

So yes, there is power in poetry, prayer and music. To these things that we all hold inside us.

When it’s my turn, I want Robert Louis Stevenson,  Wilfred Owen, Leonard Cohen and also to hear the cherished voices of my own children and grandchildren.

So, to celebrate National Poetry Day, let’s all learn a poem by heart today – and tell it to our children tomorrow.

Here’s an easy one to remember from Robert Louis Stevenson:

The world is so full of a number of things

I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.

Or how about this one – from me.

Poems are very hard to write

I think about them in the night

I wish that I had time to play

Then I’d write poems in the day!

Happy National Poetry Day everyone!

© Andrea Neidle, My Life in Poems

POST #186 – MORE ABOUT MY FIRST LOVE

I’ve loved poetry since an infant school teacher first delved into her handbag and put a poetry book in my hands. 

I had read all the reading books in class and she was looking for something to keep me occupied until the school bell rang for the end of the lesson.

My late father, the writer Ralph L Finn, used to quote poems at me all the time. It drove me mad. But now I find myself doing exactly the same to my own children and grandchildren.

I’ve been writing poetry since I was about eight years old. My first poem, written when I was in junior school, was entitled, “The Squirrel and the Hare”.

The Squirrel and the Hare

“What of the woods?”

said the squirrel to the hare

“branches bare, thick moss

everywhere

where nuts can be found

and the ground

is as flat

as a beaten door mat “

“Well? What about that?”

said the hare.

“So, what do I care

for the branches bare?

I have the hay

and seeds can be found

on the ground which is sweet

and lies lush at my feet …”

“Please come to the woods!”

“No thanks,” said the hare

“I’m quite happy here.”

Then they both said together

“Never mind the wind or weather

We will always stay together

 Squirrel and hare.”

Now, should you find their bush

Please tiptoe and don’t stare

For you may find them sleeping there …

Squirrel and hare.

The headmistress contacted my parents, convinced they had helped me with it or even written it for me. Fortunately, they managed to convince her otherwise.

From then on I was hooked.

What about you? What was your first love? And did it remain with you – as poetry has for me – all your life?

    

My father, Ralph L Finn    (1912-1999)

© Andrea Neidle. My Life in Poems

TWO TRADITIONS. ONE WISH.

As Kyle sang in South Park: “It’s hard to be a Jew at Christmas.” 

Growing up, Christmas to me always felt like I was looking into a toy shop or sweet shop window at things I couldn’t have.

I enjoyed the Christmas parties and the festivities – still do – but, being Jewish, I always felt like the outsider at the party.

At home, growing up, we neither celebrated Xmas nor Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights, which takes place around the same time. Father Christmas didn’t visit Jewish children and my parents treated Christmas just like any other day.

When I had children of my own, not wanting them to feel left out, OH (other half) and I experimented briefly with Christmas. We left out mince pies at bedtime and crumbs on the plates when they awoke.

Our children had pillowcases rather than stockings which we filled with goodies. I would stash these away until Christmas Eve.  One year our six year old son found my hiding place.  He marked all the things he’d found with a felt tip pen so, when they later turned up in his pillowcase, he was able to prove once and for all that Santa did not exist!

As our children grew older, Chanukah replaced Christmas. So our kids wouldn’t feel left out we gave them a gift every day. Something special at the beginning or the end and small presents in-between such as you might put in a stocking. As Chanukah lasts eight days it more than compensated for Christmas!

Each night of Chanukah we light a candle on the special eight branched candlestick known as the Chanukiah or the Chanukah menorah. At the end of the eight days all eight candles are lit. Actually nine – because there is an extra candle on the Chanukah menorah that’s used to light all the others.

There are Chanukah parties, songs, games and special Chanukah foods such as donuts and latkas. A spinning top – “the dreidel” is spun. Raisins are won or lost depending on where it lands.

Our son, when he was seven, wrote a poem about Chanukah:

“How I love to go to bed with the candles shining in my head.

And when I have dreams, how lovely Chanukah seems.”

He’s now a father himself. Each year, until Covid 2020, he and his wife have made a Chanukah party for their children, friends and family. The story of Chanukah is told and acted out with costumes, arts and crafts.

 

In fact, you could say that we enjoy the best of both worlds!

 

 

REMEMBERING MY FATHER

 

It was my father, the writer and sports journalist Ralph L Finn,  who gave me the love I have of poetry.  I am dedicating this post to some of his – and my – favourite poems.

Crossing the bar – Alfred Lord Tennyson

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.

The next two are favourite poems by Christina Rossetti.

When I am dead, my dearest

When I am dead my dearest

Sing no sad songs for me;

Plant thou no roses at my head,

Nor shady cypress tree:

Be the green grass above me

With showers and dewdrops wet;

And if thou wilt, remember

And if thou wilt, forget

I shall not see the shadows,

I shall not feel the rain;

I shall not hear the nightingale

Sing on, as if in pain:

And dreaming through the twilight

That doth not rise nor set

Haply I may remember

And haply may forget.

Remember

Remember me when I am gone away

Gone far away into the silent land;

When you can more hold me by the hand,

Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay

Remember me when no more day by day

You tell me of our future that you planned:

Only remember me; you understand

It will be late to counsel then or pray.

Yet if you should forget me for a while

And afterwards remember, do not grieve:

For if the darkness and corruption leave

A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,

Better by far you should forget and smile

Than that you should remember and be sad.

Christina Rossetti

I read this next poem – another one of his favourites – at my father’s funeral.

Sea Fever – John Masefield

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

This next one, by Charles Kingsley, was another favourite of his.

Be good, sweet maid, and let who can be clever,

Do noble deeds, not dream them, all day long;

And so make life, death and that vast forever,

One grand sweet song.

It was my father who introduced me to the poems of Robert Louis Stevenson:

Requiem

Under the wide and starry sky

Dig the grave and let me lie:

Glad did I live and gladly die,

And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you ‘grave for me:

Home he lies where he long’d to be;

Home is the sailor, home from the sea,

And the hunter home from the hill.

Finally, just to show that it’s not all doom and gloom, here’s another Robert Louis Stevenson poem.  My father used to recite this one to me when I was little. And I in turn, read it to my own children.  There is a lovely song by Alison Krauss, “A hundred miles or more” which evokes this poem.

Where go the boats?

Dark brown is the river.
Golden is the sand.
It flows along for ever,
With trees on either hand.

Green leaves a-floating,
Castles of the foam,
Boats of mine a-boating—
Where will all come home?

On goes the river
And out past the mill,
Away down the valley,
Away down the hill.

Away down the river,
A hundred miles or more,
Other little children
Shall bring my boats ashore.

Robert Louis Stevenson

A last apt word from one of my father’s favourite quotations:

For when the One Great Scorer
comes to write against your name,
He marks – not that you Won or Lost
but How You Played the Game.    (Grantland Rice)

Ralph L Finn

Born:  17 January 1912

Died:   30 October 1999

© Andrea Neidle, My Life in Poems

HAPPY NATIONAL POETRY DAY EVERYONE!

Today is National Poetry Day.  To celebrate it here are three poems.  Not mine I hasten to add. But three poems I particularly like.

Why not comment below and let me know your favourite poem?  And please feel free to post it so others can enjoy it too.

National Poetry Day is a fairly new thing.  It was started in 1994 by the charity Forward Arts Foundation. Their mission is to celebrate excellence in poetry.

The first poem I’ve chosen to share with you is Where Go The Boats? by Robert Louis Stevenson. (1850-1894).

I have loved this poem since I first read it as a child. It’s all about a small child’s imagination and the idea of floating a paper boat in the gutter.

I love the concept that “away down the river” other children will find the little paper boat and play with it themselves.

I doubt that many children today would want to play with a paper boat or even know how to make one!

 

Where Go The Boats?

Dark brown is the river.  
  Golden is the sand.  
It flows along for ever,  
  With trees on either hand.  

Green leaves a-floating,
  Castles of the foam,  
Boats of mine a-boating – 
  Where will all come home?  

On goes the river  
  And out past the mill,  
Away down the valley,  
  Away down the hill.  

Away down the river,  
  A hundred miles or more,  
Other little children  
  Shall bring my boats ashore.

My next choice of poem is The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost (1874-1963).

I think this is a poem that strikes a chord with many people, particularly when they get older and imagine what might have been!

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

My last offering today is the poem, Do not go gentle into that good night by Dylan Thomas (1914-1953).

I’ve recently returned from a holiday in Wales. OH (other half) and I visited the village of Laugharne  (pronounced Larne) where Dylan Thomas lived for the last fifteen years of his life.

We saw the shack where he did much of his writing, the boathouse where he had lived with his wife and children and also visited his simple grave in the nearby churchyard.

Do not go gentle into that good night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

© My photos show a wooden statue of Dylan Thomas, “The Boathouse” where he lived for the last four years of his life and his grave.

© Andrea Neidle, My Life in Poems