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 page to some of his – and my – favourite poems.
Crossing the bar
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.
Alfred Lord Tennyson
The next two poems 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 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.
I read this next poem – another one of his favourites – at my father’s funeral.
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 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:
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