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O where is the sailor with bold red hair? [Aug. 24th, 2017|09:01 pm]
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Today is the centenary of the birth of Charles Causley. There's a festival in Launceston to mark the occasion, but it doesn't seem to have troubled the national media.

The first poetry book I ever owned was Dawn & Dusk, contemporary poetry for children edited by Charles Causley: it was published in 1962, so I think it must have been given to me when it was new. There were a couple of Penguin Comic and Curious Verse collections which I knew cover to cover and inside out, but they were household property, and Dawn & Dusk was mine. Causley had included a couple of his own poems, so that's where I first read Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience. He's often described as a children's poet, and he did write poems for children, but he also wrote poems about children, which is not the same thing at all. There's nothing in the form or the language of this poem which a child couldn't manage: he's perfectly justified in calling it a 'nursery rhyme'. But the theme of innocence and experience, the series of disquieting questions with which the poem ends - there's nothing childish about those.

Later in the 1960s (I can't find an exact date) Causley was included in the third of Penguin's 'Modern Poets' series, and that's where I first met his Ballad for Katherine of Aragon. Being a ballad, it lends itself to being sung: this isn't the setting I first learned, and I like that one better - but this is the better performance:

The other poem from that collection of which I can still recite solid chunks is a bit of an anomaly: Betjeman, 1984 envisages an Orwellian future in which Betjeman's love for the past is applied to the disdained trivia of the writer's present. Jerome K. Jerome got there first, but Causley achieves an unexpectedly wicked pastiche:
Take your ease, pale-haired admirer,
As I, half the century saner,
Pour a vintage Mazawattee
Through the Marks & Spencer strainer
In a genuine British Railways
(Luton Made) cardboard container.

Eventually (presumably in 1997) they brought out a 'Collected Poems', a volume to get lost in> I open it now and find myself reading an old favourite, or something entirely unfamiliar. I could sit here all night. But [personal profile] durham_rambler would not forgive me if I failed to mention the Ballad of Jack Cornwell, another little-more-than-a-child whose innocence was taken from him in the Battle of Jutland:
I woke up one morning
Unwound my sheet of clay,
Lifted up my tombstone lid
And asked the time of day.
I walked out one morning
When the sun was dark
Left my messmates sleeping
Deep on Manor Park...

Search the internet and you find plenty of obituaries and appreciations, not so much poetry: which is perfectly proper, as it is still in copyright. Go buy the books. But first, a few free samples:

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.

[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2017-08-25 08:35 am (UTC)
I love the Ballad of Jack Cornwell.

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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2017-08-25 10:36 am (UTC)
I like parts of it, without feeling it entirely succeeds as a whole - but there's a family connection...
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