Autumn, Anzac Day and Gerard Manley Hopkins

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Autumn, Anzac Day and Gerard Manley Hopkins

Where we live, in the bush, by the sea, autumn for me is the best time of year.   We moved to our house on the hill in autumn twenty something years ago, and it was the still air, the mellow sunshine, and the leaves dropping in the garden, that captured our hearts.   The harbour is quieter this time of year, calling us to kayak.    The cicadas have ceased their courtships and the wasps are out, lured by the Easter spices.   I’m affected by the light, the warmth, the sense of peace that only autumn seems to bring.

And then, it is Anzac Day and the brass band, the bagpipes and the haunting bugle, bring another layer of nostalgia peculiar to my Kiwi childhood, that lovely in-between season thing where summer has ended, but winter hasn’t yet begun.    I ran behind my granddaughter today on our nature walk, she was wearing a hand-knitted cardigan in strawberry, aqua and bluish hues.  I watched her back running through the bush collecting special sticks so we could block the creek further up the hill.  When she snuggled for a cuddle I could smell shampoo and wool and the damp soft mud beneath our feet.  I bought her a poppy to wear on Wednesday and she loves red.  We looked for the toadstools we’d seen the week before, and mourned their loss, wondering what had happened to them.

I was reminded of this beautiful poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins that I only encountered late in life studying English Literature at Victoria University when I was 50, and indeed, I used a line or two of this poem in my first novel ‘About turns’.

          “Spring and Fall” (1880)   Gerard Manley Hopkins

 To a young child

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

My granddaughter and I will meet outside the local school on Anzac morning.   Then we will march alongside the war veterans (there cannot be many left, but perhaps from the Vietnam War), and I will be stirred by the music on two counts.  One because I was a marching girl in the 50’s and 60’s and two because I’ve always followed the Anzac Parade, to see my Dad in his shiny and freshly polished shoes, wearing his war medals that Mum would stitch temporarily on to his suit, so they hung straight.  Now I have his medals and his Crete badge and his small barbed wire pin, remnants of his war efforts.   Perhaps this year I will wear them.   When he was alive, and after I was married with a family, he would sometimes come and stay with us and we would do the Dawn Parade in Wellington and then our own local parade.   We couldn’t get enough of it.   Nowadays, I just do the local parade and adjourn to the RSA for the home-made pikelets, sausage rolls and cups of tea, followed by an obligatory beer with my friends and we toast my Dad.     This will be my first Anzac Parade with my granddaughter.

In 2002, I travelled with my husband to Greece and to Crete to retrace my father’s war journey and to Poland where he spent four years as a prisoner of war.   I wrote about it and the story was published in the New Zealand Listener.  Regrettably, I inadvertently wrote of Stalag VIIB instead of Stalag VIIIB, and neither the Listener nor I picked it up before it went to print.

Here is a link to the story: Looking for Curly

What prompted this post about Anzac Day is one of my favourite blogs Surprised by Time.and on reading this blog I found more information about where my Dad might have been on mainland Greece, before arriving at Suda Bay for the Battle of Crete.     This is part one of a two-part blog that includes excerpts from New Zealand and Australian veterans of the Greek campaign, both on mainland Greece and Crete. It is well worth reading.

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Mulling it Over

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A couple of years ago, a friend of mine, Mary McCallum decided she would begin hosting poems on her blog.    It sounded like such a fun thing, and as it was around Easter, I suggested that I had a poem she might like.    Well, Mary is a very talented poet and a perfectionist.   I sent her my run-on Easter poem and we chatted via email over the weekend before it was ‘published’.     There were queries about words and line breaks and eventually, my run-on poem became the shape of an Easter cross.    Yes, I can’t take the credit for this, was the clever eye and editing of Mary.    I like the cross, and too, I liked the run-on of the poem when it wasn’t a cross.   It’s interesting how a poem can change shape and yet the meaning more or less remains.   I’m not big on overt symbolism so I worried that my poem wasn’t strong enough to carry the Easter Cross.

I am going to re-post the poem here on my blog, without the shaping, first because  it’s tricky on a blog to get the poem to stay in shape, so hat’s off to Mary, but also because I thought the poem might work in its more or less original form, as a kind of run-on.

Mulling it over

Cinnamon, cardamom, almonds

and wasps, plump imported raisins,

currants;    Uncle’s aluminium pan.

The sunlight is thinner and Maria

who is Greek is fasting; orange peel

floats in the dark pool of wine.

I add sugar and schnapps, watch

the liquid almost boil and ladle it

into warm mugs.  We breathe in

the alcohol, swat at the wasps

remember last Easter and the one

before.  We marvel at the yeasty buns

suck the sticky glaze from our fingers

and lift the pale crosses to our lips

knowing that Pilate will wash his hands,

Veronica will wash his face, a

soldier will lance his side, and that

he will chat to a couple of thieves

just before he dies.   But, it is

the triumph of the empty tomb

we most admire as we raise our

hot mugs of wine in relief, glad.

Although, I’m not religious, I love Good Friday and the poem is about the way we celebrate our Good Friday.   We have friends over to eat my home-made hot cross buns and drink our (top-secret) staggeringly alcoholic mulled wine.   It includes aquavit or schnapps, Muscat de Frontignac (when we’re feeling flush), vermouth and red wine, not to mention cinnamon sticks, orange peel, cardamoms, seedless raisins and almonds.   The red wine is usually run of the mill, or even cask red, as once you’ve added sugar and almost boiled the stuff…. well…  but one year, my daughter-in-law’s sister had just celebrated her summer wedding and there were a spare few bottles of rather nice red left over which were generously donated to the mulled wine.   Many of us, sipping that particular brew, rued the fact, we’d cooked it!    The buns have crosses, but my family get their own bun decorated with their initial instead of a cross, and now I have a granddaughter who has the same initial as her father – they are both the ‘S’ bun.   My youngest son is a ‘T’ bun, which is more or less, a cross I guess, but as he lives overseas, there won’t be a‘t’ this year.

When I say I’m not religious, this does rather omit my Catholic (leaning toward Irish) upbringing.   So, I have fond memories of Good Friday, the three-hour pageantry, the stations of the cross, the kneeling the standing, the drama.   We had handsome Irish priests to lust after, and one passionate local priest, Father Bradford who would hurl himself at the floor in true grief at almost every station, building to a heart-rending finale.   I was glad when Simon came along to help carry the cross, I loved it when Veronica wiped the face of Jesus, and we all fell in unison, once, twice three times, when Jesus fell, down on our knees, urged on by the theatrics of  Father Bradford.   But, I must confess, I was sometimes distracted by the gorgeous outfits of the girls from Waimea West by the time they laid him in the tomb.  You see, Easter was a time of religious fervor and fashion.  It was the between seasons moment when you could wear your new winter outfit, and admire everyone else, including their hats.   We were a small parish and at Easter for some reason, we would collect the surrounding countryside parishes into our church – oh, a host of fabulous fashion, girls my age whom I saw perhaps once or twice a year, and we’d all be wearing our very best brand new Easter outfits.  Yes, I loved the Stations of the Cross, Father Bradford leading us in what was I suppose, our own modest Oberammergau – we were part of the passion play, standing, kneeling, in thrall to his grief, perhaps exploring our own, and peeking, as you do, to see what the girls from Waimea West were wearing.

Postscript:

A curious thing; my links are not working unfortunately, on either this or my last few posts.  I have sent a message to WordPress and hopefully I will find a solution.   So, in the meantime, if you wish to see the poem as an Easter Cross as first published, try this http://mary-mccallum.blogspot.co.nz/2010/03/tuesday-poem-mulling-it-over.html.

Also do check out the Tuesday Poem blog which has now taken off and is a big success – so well done to Mary and all the other contributing poets.  http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.co.nz/