When I was small I lived in a green land --
Revisited, sparse enough, with bright red brick
Springing between the calculated flowers.
But in that seeking time it seemed to me
Nothing but fields stretched out on either hand
Until they reached the blue horizon's edge.
For me the trees grew green, adventurous in Spring,
Rich in the Summer and in Autumn, finally
Intricate pattern of iron work, austere in Winter.
For me the fields grew flowers. Each new plant
Was like the finding of a continent
To me, conquistadora. All my senses
Greeted whatever lay before them, glad
To recognize the texture of a mat
(Thrusting my hands among the long-haired fleece)
The rough and granular work of a pebbled wall,
Digging out shards with broken nails and watching
The glint of sun om granite, feeling
Sunlight absorbed by stones sink down again
Into my body, leaning full against them.
\ I felt things with my feet: the rich black squelch
Of mud or macadam between my toes,
The springy, sheep-bit turf, the leather arms
Of our much harassed armchairs, or the bed,
Sharp with its pointed pebbles, of a stream
So shallow it barely reached above my toes.
Water I loved indeed to touch and handle:
Black and perhaps unfathomable pools
Lurking in gullies at the foot of hills,
Sea, on the rare occasions when I saw it
(Making me almost drunk with exaltation
When the wave bucked beneath the boat) but most
Of all the shallow little stream that ran
Through fields and woodlands, breaking and curvetting,
Surrounding tiny obstacles, then smoothing
Itself to a small, sleek imitation of
The long Atlantic swell, in little frets
Caused by the pattern of its two inch bed.
A wood and fields comprised my known world:
A golf course lay beyond. A small estate,
Yet endlessly productive of delight.
Of terror too. Imagination helped.
One day I found an egg beneath a hedge,
In texture quite unlike the eggs that broke
To form a clamorous nest of early birds,
Their beaks still gaping for the endless worm
That nest was safely tucked inside the hedge
And some way further up, concealed from travelers
Who did not so minutely scan as I
The objects they encountered on their path.
This egg was horny skinned and strangely hued
With oily hues like dribbled gasoline.
I thought of all that I had ever read
Of snakes, their habits and of dragonets.
The end of school meant anxious visiting
With wary step and timorous roving eye
To look for alteration in the egg.
A boy who found me hovering round the hedge
Which marked their garden's limit took me in
And showed his rabbits and his bicycle;
I soon escaped to mark the spot again.
I hardly know if I was frightened when
My daily visit showed a broken shell,
A vanished occupant. For weeks I went
Another way, to shun the cockatrice.
Another vision, scarcely less suspect,
Came monthly rolling on down Manor Lane.
There, at a turning near the school,
The gypsies' never ending caravans
With their full complement of men and boys
And walking mothers wearing their old shoes
Taken from garbage cans along the road,
Superlatively down at heel but fine,
Magnificent in dirt. They always wore
Most curious wrappers, black with orange sprigs,
Tying across the side with thin black tapes.
I used to wonder where they got them from,
For I never saw them anywhere for sale.
They were disturbing but they never stopped.
They seemed to breathe a different air from we;
Dragons and snakes were closer than they were.
And yet they never once disturbed my dreams.
Strange as they were, they were no cause for fear.
The passing pattern of my days assumed
A patchwork glory. Nothing was too small
To be excluded from experience
And nothing was so great it over-topped
The rest of life and minimized its worth.
We never had to go to church, yet still
I felt a thrill on entering that place--
Unforced and therefore stronger holy fear.
The massive vaulting of the church, so huge
I could not force my head back far enough
To view the timber arches of the roof,
Formed far too vast a box for my small heart
Thudding between the hassocks and the pews.
Eternity made strange the monuments
And dusty marble wigs of antique men
With all their sculptured virtues at their sides.
Large things seem larger to a ten year old.
That sentiment was strong indeed, and while
I drifted down an aisle like some church mouse
Or even, bold with dread, approached the Bird
That held the Book in fierceness and in bronze;
While this suffused my soul I dared not own
Another feeling than magnetic dread.
But when I found myself outside again,
Alone with sounds and leaves and mossy stones
And sorrowing angels drooping in their wings
With testimonials to local names,
I plucked up courage far enough to rout
Amid the graveyard garbage for old flowers
And fly with shrieks and scattered trophies from
Indignant hobbling guardians of the tombs.
I could not wish myself at any time
Returned again to that remembered past
For every joy brought compensating grief
And anguishes to great to bear again.
But while I lived in childhood I could yet
Forget each grief the moment it was gone
And meet the constant bully with surprise
On each occasion. Joy I too forgot,
Living the moment as it came. One thing
I could grudge at this hour and that is time:
Continual leisure of the infant life
To spend as long examining a leaf
As it demanded and no moment less.
And what prevents me now from watching leaves?
I own no fewer seconds in the week.
All the life of his life,
My grandfather, who is long dead,
Worked in the Jewelers' Quarter.
He had a big red nose and mild blue eyes
And a silvery white moustache.
To look at him in his overalls
You would never think him aesthetic
But he would buy pictures instead of meat
When he was young with two little boys
And a careful, brisk young wife.
They stood in a group for their photograph:
Grandfather wistful, Grandmother blurred
From holding her restless sons.
Only her hands stood out --
Iron hands, imprisoning little boys.
Her hands held tight and never let go,
But Grandfather's hands hung open
For experience to run through.
Grandfather bought and sold and gave.
Grandmother made, kept and mended.
These were their patterns through life..
If I choose to go back further,
I come to my Great Grandmother.
She was named Barbara Morrison --
I am named Barbara after her --
And she was born on a croft.
When she grew up she was pretty
And she fell in love with a sailor --
Most of the boys were sailors --
But her family said No.
They found her a rich, middle-aged husband.
My Great Grandfather whom she married
Was a very remarkable man.
At the age of fifty he was the richest man
With the widest whiskers on the whole of Bernera.
He was also an Elder of the Kirk.
But he didn't start out that way.
Hear the tale of my Great Grandfather!
For thirty years he sat and thought --
Not all the time-- He worked a turn --
But when his work was over, he
Would think and let the cabbage burn.
The thought that occupied his mind
Was how to find the proper way --
And to finance the plan, when found --
To make his lobster fishing pay.
He sat and thought for thirty years --
For thirty years and then some more --
And finally the plan was born
When he was nearing thirty-four.
He shipped upon a cargo boat
Destined for Canada.
He flexed his muscles every night
And said a little prayer.
He prayed like Samson he might be
Great, tall and stout and strong
And likewise wise as Solomon
Without doing anyone wrong.
Upon arriving at the coast
He leaped upon the shore
And started chopping trees like mad --
No other could chop more.
They were well paid, Great Grandfather
And all the other men.
But while they squandered he would save
And earn some more again.
Before he had been many years
Upon that fortunate shore,
He'd saved five hundred pounds in gold
And sailed for home once more.
Once home he hired two men to dig
And with their help he made
A most enormous lobster pond --
Like Aberdeen harbour, it is said.
He filled that pond with lobsters blue
From all the seas around
And when the other men sailed out
No lobsters could be found.
They all were with Great Grandfather
Who sold them -- at a price.
He was the richest man for miles
And got Barbara, which was nice.
Now this great man is dead and gone
But still the things he did remain.
He built that pond like Pyramids
To win an everlasting name.
Some time ago an engineer
Officially sent up from London
Came many miles to see this pond
And could not think how it was done.
Great Grandpa used his natural brains
To do what others could not do
And even now the Government
Is baffled by the things he knew.
Barbara survived him. She bore two sons
And adopted two children as well.
She was made with a leaning to hope
And a heart like the widow's cruse.
Furthermore she had natural curls.
For a matron these were improper
But she tried to repress them in vain.
Since her marriage had failed to depress her,
Nothing could ever achieve it.
She died in her sleep, smiling.