This blog is about a poem I wrote last week and read out today at my Auntie June’s funeral. I share it because a number of people have asked to read it.
I wrote it (a) because I was grieving and wanted to express what I felt, and (b) because I couldn’t find any reading that said what I wanted to say, or that wasn’t very religious (which as a family, generally, we’re not – pray for us if you must), or overly sentimental (‘So dear old Mum now flaps her angel wings in highest Heaven’), or so familiar that everyone might as well recite a line each (‘Stop all the clocks’, ‘Do not stand at my grave and weep’, etc.), or indeed just a bit scrappy, random or inappropriate (‘Alas! the people now do sigh and moan for the loss of Wm. Ewart Gladstone’ – a William McGonagall classic).
But anyway. I felt the need to write a poem of my own, which is below. I tend to think poems that need to be in any way explained – something usually done in a title that’s almost as long as the poem (e.g. Wordsworth’s ‘Lines Left upon a Seat in a Yew-Tree Which Stands Near the Lake of Esthwaite, on a Desolate Part of the Shore, Yet Commanding a Beautiful Prospect’), are missing the point of poetry and perhaps of life in general. While I make no claims to poetic quality – really I don’t, why else do you think I am doing avoidance-waffle like this? – here is a personal poem about a much-loved member of my family, as well as my much-loved family as a whole. So I’ll just explain that it’s themed around the Thames because of the long family connection with the river.
So after all that preamble, think of what living and working generation after generation on and near a great river might come to mean to a family, and read on.
We are like the Thames.
We are born, we are pushed out new,
Rising from the loving source
Of mother and father.
Small at first, we grow as we begin
The flowing journey of our life.
We flow, slowly at first, learning about
Others as we learn to be ourselves.
Meeting and knowing
Family, friends, neighbours.
Spouse, children, grandchildren.
They become part of us,
Like tributaries of our Thames –
Counter’s Creek, Beverley Brook,
Wandle, Effra, Evenlode –
They join and stream with us
To love us and help us on our course.
Sometimes we flow fast, too fast;
We rush and regret.
Sometimes we flow slow, too slow;
We falter and fail.
But we flow on.
Happiness comes to us like sudden sunshine
Glittering on rippling waters at
Goring, Shepperton or Hurley.
We wish we could stop and stay.
But life washes us on.
Once in a while, as we swirl gently along
Sadness falls on us like rain.
Perhaps a momentary shower,
Perhaps lengthy, pelting us from slate-grey skies
But like our Thames we are not to be stopped.
Not us. Not yet.
Rainwater tears only give us new depth,
Strength, courage and understanding
To push onward, fleeting under bridges,
Through the locks, weirs and reaches
We flow through villages, towns,
Busy Reading, proud Windsor and great London.
Looking around us, seeing lives lived,
Making plans for our own.
Some we make happen.
Some we don’t.
Then we see ahead what we have sometimes feared,
The arms of the sea opening
Waiting to take us where others
We have known and loved
Have been taken.
We look back over our years, knowing others
Will follow, and one day join us.
We would dearly like to wait for them
And go together.
But we go alone.
Trusting we will be remembered
Kindly, with some sadness but with many a smile.
Hoping the love we have given
Flows on and on,
Like our Thames.