In Defence of Aging

People often talk as though the worst thing that can happen in a woman’s life is when she looks at her aging face in a mirror. Well, yes, and no. No-body likes to grow old, but providing you have health – and that’s a big providing – old age can be a good time. We enjoyed our sixties very much. With more leisure than we’d ever had before we travelled to places we’d always longed to see, Richard joined a choir and I went to Life Drawing class, we spent time with our grandchildren, walked on the hills and generally had a good time. There’s an aged character in one of Anne Tyler’s novels who says that while she’d never want to be young again, she’d quite like to be middle-aged. Extreme old age probably isn’t much fun for anyone, but the foothills are different.
I think it’s young women in the public eye that I feel sorry for these days. As far as the media are concerned, all they’re valued for are faces and bodies. If the Duchess of Cambridge, however efficiently she carries out her royal duties, were to put on a stone, she’d be mocked and reviled in the media. Female TV presenters are put out to grass while their male counterparts are allowed to go on becoming grizzled and fat (looks distinguished on a man, apparently) It’s sad when you see one of these pretty young women leaves our screens for a few weeks and return with a peculiar puffy face. After a certain age, year by year, Hollywood actresses look odder and odder, and presumably they’ve ruined their faces for ever with the ‘work’ they’ve had done.
Well, I’m seventy now, and while I must admit that I do spend some time looking at the wrinkled old bag in the mirror and slapping make-up on in a vain attempt to neutralize her a bit, I don’t spend too much time at the mirror. She’s what I am now, and I live with her without too much regret.
And I’m cheered by the appearance of many women of my age. For women in their sixties and seventies can be quite extraordinarily beautiful. Certainly it’s a different kind of beauty from that of the unlined twenty year old, but given a bit of good bone-structure to start, an older women’s face shows all the intelligence, humour, kindness, intuition and insight of her years, and surely that’s as good, if not more desirable, than clear skin. Of course these women don’t stop doing all the things they’ve done all their lives; they keep active because they see no alternative. They don’t moan about the terrors of old age. And they don’t spend long peering in mirrors – they simply don’t have the time.

Dear Reader

I was reading David Copperfield the other day, and couldn’t help noticing the aplomb with which Charles Dickens addresses his reader – confident that the reader is out there, and hanging on to his every word. And it’s not just a reader, but The Reader. Sometimes he even seems to be a personal friend of this Reader, talking to him or her as he’d talk to his own family: (‘I am in danger of wearying the reader whom I love, with personal confidences and private emotions…’) Charlotte Bronte, speaking as Jane Eyre, had no compunction in addressing her Reader directly, in that famous announcement of the marriage. Victorian writers were quite happy about doing this, it seems- typical of the confidence – the intellectual confidence, anyway of the age in which they lived.

We’re not nearly so comfortable about that, these days. You very seldom find a modern writer addressing his or her Dear Reader – we aren’t even sure that this personage exists, by the time the Publishing Industry with its marketing strategies and sales figures and projections has finished with our poor little offerings. Are our books there to be read, or to be marketed? Do we have to jump up and down and wave our hands to grab our reader’s attention, or do we just sit quietly at our desks, quill-pen in hand, in a pool of lamplight, knowing the reader is out there waiting for us?

I found myself thinking about this the other day; wondering who I’m writing for, and who my Ideal Reader is . Am I writing for a multitude of readers, or just a single, sympathetic soul? When I write for children, do I really imagine a classroom of thirteen year olds devouring my prose? (Scary!) Or do I write for my thirteen year old self? Sometimes, I know I do, and I have to stop myself, or my characters start exclaiming ‘Gosh’ and ‘Crikey’ and other words from my long-ago youth. Great mistake.

I suspect that though we might be telling ourselves that we’re just writing for ourselves, we’ve always got in our mind that Ideal Reader, adult or child, who is longing to read what we’ve written, will share our ideas, who understands. I suppose it’s one of the reasons why bad reviews are so painful: You aren’t my Ideal Reader! How dare you say such things! No matter how our book will be sold, or who it will be sold to, the image of the Ideal Reader stays in our mind, even though he or she might be just a figment of our imagination. But….

Some years ago, I gave a talk at a Literary Festival. Things didn’t start off well. Rain was bucketing down from an angry black sky. Someone had got the timing of my talk wrong – the children who were supposed to make up my audience had mostly gone back to school the day before. I noticed a small boy, brought along by his mother and I felt bad on his behalf, because my book was really aimed at small girls. Still, I gave my talk and in spite of my misgivings, people seemed to be enjoying themselves, and all went quite well.
Later, as I left the Festival ground, I was pleased to see the rain had stopped and the sun was shining. And there, also leaving the ground with his mother was the small boy. In his hands he held a copy of my book, and as he walked along in the rain he read and read..Dear Reader, that boy was was my ideal reader…..!

Eleanor Farjeon and Edward Thomas

My first impression of Eleanor Farjeon, whom I hope to write about some time, – and it’s certainly an impression she cultivated in later life – was of a cosy dumpling of a woman who wrote poems about cats. But we saw another side of her in Nick Dear’s play about Edward Thomas, performed at the Almeida a couple of years ago, ‘The Dark Earth and the Light Sky,’ which showed her intense relationship with the poet. Eleanor was then a young woman from a literary family, who moved in a busy circle of musicians, Fabians, writers and psychologists. It was in 1912, when Thomas was receiving treatment for his depression from a young doctor, Godwin Baynes who specialised in nervous diseases, that Eleanor first met him, and very soon fell in love with him. The affair was platonic – Eleanor probably wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Though Thomas became very close to Eleanor and emotionally dependent on her, he didn’t reciprocate her love. They exchanged numerous letters – his to her survive, hers to him don’t – spent much time together, went for long walks – Eleanor wasn’t a strider by nature but she learned to keep up to Thomas’s long loping steps. They talked about poetry – Eleanor was one of the people who suggested to a diffident Thomas that he might try writing it – Robert Frost was another, and fortunately for us, Thomas took the hint.
Thomas’s long suffering wife, Helen, must have been unsure at first about Eleanor’s place in her husband’s life, but when they met, they became good friends and remained so. Helen came to see her as an ally rather than a rival.
Eleanor had been writing poetry all her life – it came naturally to her; too naturally sometimes. D.H.Lawrence said it might be a good thing if she never saw another Elizabethan sonnet in her life again, since she could fall so easily into pastiche. But when she was moved by real emotions, her poetry was beautiful and moving. She wrote this sonnet when Thomas had just been called up, and it must capture the feelings of many women who wonder if they are seeing their loved ones for the very last time.

Now That You Too…

Now that you too must shortly go the way
Which in these bloodshot years uncounted men
Have gone in vanishing armies day by day,
And in their numbers will not come again:
I must not strain the moments of our meeting
Striving each look, each accent, not to miss,
Or question of our parting and our greeting –
Is this the last of all? is this- or this?
Last sight of all it may be with these eyes,
Last touch, last hearing, since eyes, hands, and ears,
Even serving love, are our mortalities,
And cling to what they own in mortal fears:-
But oh, let end what will, I hold you fast
By immortal love, which has no first or last

(copyright Eleanor Farjeon)

Comfort Books

What makes a comfort book?You don’t have to be ill or even tired, to feel the need for one, but you know you just want something familiar and reassuring. A comfort book won’t hurt you or bewilder you, or tax your brain. It doesn’t have to be sticky or sentimental – sometimes it can have quite rough edges – it just depends what works for you at that moment. There are all sorts of books out there – worthy, good, enjoyable books – but just for the present, they aren’t for you. You’re after comfort.
When I knew that I was to start chemotherapy, I put aside ‘Middlemarch’ for my comfort read and it’s stood me in good stead over many an evening -Dorothea’s ghastly marriage, Lydgate’s slow corruption and Rosamund’s complacency- so many stories, all against the background of small town intrigue and politics. Dorothea does become annoying as the story progresses, Ladislaw is annoying throughout, but it’s a book to lose yourself in.
Where to go from ‘Middlemarch?’ Well, surely it has to be Trollope. I looked on our shelves and found ‘Phineas Finn’ which I haven’t read for so many years, I’ve quite forgotten it, and so far am absorbed by this story of a young, confused but ambitious man thrust into Parliament. And I’ve just discovered that I can download most of Trollope for free on my Kindle – so hooray!
Jane Austen is the ultimate comfort read. All of them, of course, but I’m fond of ‘Mansfield Park’ though I know it isn’t her most popular book. Fanny Price is tougher than she seems at first glance, and Mrs Norris is probably Austen’s most monstrous monster.
Here are some more of my comfort books:
I Capture The Castle – Dodie Smith
Bilgewater – Jane Gardham – a teenage novel, long out of print, but worth chasing up.
Enchanted April – Elizabeth Von Arnim – A friend gave me this once when I was ill. Three women rent an Italian castle on spring in the inter-war years – lovely.
The Great Gatsby – Scott Fitzgerald. Maybe not an obvious comfort book, with such a strong skein of melancholy and disquiet running through it, but the beauty of the writing, and the atmosphere make it a book to float away on like a dream.
And perhaps my favourite contemporary writer for comfort – Anne Tyler. She writes about ordinary people leading ordinary lives, but transformed by a deep humanity and warmth, and full of unexpected twists and turns. Recently I’ve read ‘Digging to America’ in which two very different American families adopt Korean babies, and ‘A Patchwork Planet’ about the black sheep of a stuffy well-to-do family.
Of course, comfort books are quite personal and idiosyncratic. What works for one person might not work at all for someone else. You might be bemused by my choice, I might be left cold by yours. So what does work for you? It would be lovely to read some of your suggestions.

The Unwelcome Guest again

The Unwelcome Guest seems to have been taking up far too much of our time and attention recently what with hospital visits and appointments for this and pills and injections for that. Much as you’d like to, you can’t avoid it, though cancer’s not a subject you’d ever chose to become an expert on. But I know for many people it’s difficult to broach – is it rude to talk about it, or ruder to pretend it isn’t there? ‘I wanted to ask, but I didn’t like to,’ people say, and I guess you can’t blame them for feeling awkward.
Well, I suppose everyone’s different – some people don’t mind talking, some people just want to go away into a hole. But I think that most want to stay attached to reality during the process of treatment and that means being quite happy to talk. I don’t need anyone to put on one of those special serious voices: ‘Do tell me, my dear, how are you?’ I don’t want people to give me advice on what medication I should or shouldn’t be taking, or which alternate treatment will make me feel so much better. But there are all sorts of light neutral questions that you can use to broach the subject; How’s the chemo going? How much longer will it go on for? Have you got a nice consultant? What’s the worst thing about the treatment? What are you looking forward to doing most when it’s all over? How do you pass your time? If someone doesn’t want to talk, you’ll soon get the hint and change the subject. Otherwise, it’s just a very big elephant in the room.
People will tell you you’re ‘brave’ and that you’re ‘fighting’ cancer. But you have the treatment, and it’s probably better for everyone around if you can be upbeat about it, but bravery is something different and special, and doesn’t really come into it. Likewise there’s no ‘fight’ involved. It’s a fairly passive process. You have the treatment, and wait for the results. If they’re good you’re pleased, if they aren’t, you’re despondent, but ‘fighting’ involves something a bit more proactive. People talk of ‘winning’ or losing’ the fight against cancer, but really you just take what you’re given. Of course, if eating organic vegetables, or having alternate medicines, or praying, makes you feel a bit better, or more in control, that’s fine, but it’s the poisons coursing through your body that are actually doing the business.
I guess the worst thing is the boredom of not being yourself during the treatment. In my case I have a bad back, so I’m hobbling around weakly everywhere. Your brain sort of works – just enough to remind you that you still have one – but concentrated effort is a bit beyond you. But, I’m looking forward to a bit of normal life again – believe me, I shan’t take it for granted. At any rate, I might not be brave and I might not be fighting, but I’ll try to keep the door shut on the Unwelcome Guest for just as long as I possibly can.

Second Lieutenant P.E. Thomas

Edward Thomas grave

…otherwise better known as the poet Edward Thomas, and whose grave we went to visit earlier this year, in the little cemetery at Agny, near Arras.

Edward Thomas was a strange and difficult man,  depressive and quite unsuited to  domestic life, despite the attempts of his adoring wife Helen to make it a perfect one for him. He went for long, gruelling walks through the English countryside, during which he absorbed more than most people ever could, of its  sights and smells and sounds, although he didn’t start writing his poems until the last years of his life. Yet he was not a gloomy companion. Eleanor Farjeon, who also loved him, wrote: Edward lived thirty-nine years. In all of them he kept his senses fresh and liked what he saw. He saw more than anybody I ever knew and he saw it day and night. The seasons and the weather never failed him. It made him wonderful to walk with, and to talk with, and not to talk with.

            As an older married man, he could have avoided enlisting, but he joined the Artist Rifles in 1915. In many ways the life of the army camp suited him – it gave him a kind of liberty and a purpose in life, and we was popular with his men. In 1916, he was sent to France.  He died at Arras on Easter Monday 1916. The story that Helen believed was that he had just paused to light his pipe when a shell whizzed close to him, and he died from the blast without a mark on his body. Apparently, though, there may be other versions of this story, and I believe there is a new biography in preparation which I shall await eagerly.

After the war, his reputation seemed to dwindle, maybe because unlike the other war poets, he chose not to write about the horrors of war, except indirectly. He was also tarred with being that terrible thing, a ‘Georgian’. But I’m glad to say that seems to be over now, and his poetry is admired for the subtle and complex thing that it is. Ted Hughes described him as ‘the father of us all.’

Here’s a short and moving poem from 1915 about the losses of war and what is left behind.

 

In Memoriam

 

The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood

This Eastertide call into mind the men,

Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should

Have gathered them and will do never again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Girls of Troy

owl

I bought this little owl in Nauplion in Greece a few years ago, and ever since then, she’s been sitting on my windowsill, watching me as I write. We were then on our way to Mycenae, where I stood under the Lion Gate and thought about Agamemnon and Troy. The Iliad is the strangest of epics – it doesn’t begin at the beginning nor end at the end, the heroes die, and anyway don’t behave heroically. War isn’t depicted as something splendid and manly – quite the opposite in fact. The Iliad must be the first great anti-war story.

Of course, as you’d expect , from the time and the culture in which it was composed, it’s an overwhelmingly male story, full of dark age masculine values,  killing, looting, revenge. Women don’t have much of an active part to play. Yet it seemed to me that lurking in the nooks and crannies of this great male epic, there were a number of stories of women and young girls that would be be fascinating to explore. For example, what about Helen’s only daughter Hermione.  What was it like to be the daughter of the most famous beauty in the world? How must it have felt to her when her mother deserted her? Were they close? Were they affectionate? And things became even more intriguing when I found that Hermione was also linked with Achilles’s son Pyhrrus. Two children of impossibly famous parents. There must  be a story there.  And then poor Cassandra, cursed with the gift of making prophecies that no-one would believe . She  must have seen what was happening to her, and maybe tried to prevent it, but could do nothing for she was under the control of the powerful god Apollo. And finally, Electra, driven by the constraints of honour to seek that horrifying revenge on her own mother.

These stories gave me the idea for my Girls of Troy trilogy. The first volume, Helen’s Daughter, is the story of Hermione, and leads up to the start of the war and the sacrifice of her cousin Iphigenia. The second, The Burning Towers, tells the story of Cassandra, through the eyes of her slave-girl, Elissa.  There are no happy endings for anyone in the Trojan story, especially poor Cassandra, whose final days are particularly gruesome, so without giving too much away, Elissa will find a way out and a life of her own.  Athene’s little owl will play an important part in her story.  And finally, Electra, whose story I am still working on.  She sees her beloved father murdered by her mother and her mother’s lover – and feels that she and her brother Orestes have no choice but to seek revenge in their turn.  It’s a difficult story, and one that is  challenging to write about, but I’m enjoying the challenge.

I’m lucky to be working with http://www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk/    to bring this dream to fruition and I hope to write about the process from time to time on this blog,

History again.

medieval painting

 

Let me introduce you to a piece of artwork by Frances Thomas aged twelve-and-three-quarters.  As you can see there is a lot going on in this picture, and I can assure you that all the detail is accurate. I was obsessive about detail, and still am to a certain extent. I can’t move on until I know what my character is wearing, is seeing and how they’re going to get about. Luckily it’s so much easier when you can find stuff out in ten minutes on the internet rather than spending a morning in the library. In those days, my bible was  the Quennell’s marvellous  History of Everyday Things in England, which I still consult. I  was also obsessed at that time with the Middle Ages – it must have been a particular book which triggered the obsession but I can’t remember now which one.

As you can also see from the painting, I was more of a story teller than an artist, though in those days, I longed to be both. There was always a story or seven running through my head, though I didn’t start writing them down till much much later. And of course it’s obvious that without books, I wouldn’t have been either. As a slightly nerdish only child, the trip to the library was one of the high points of my week. I read anything that attracted me- not so easy as in those days library books were stripped of their dust jackets and blurbs and bound in drab library bindings, so finding out what you were reading was always a bit hit-or-miss. I’ve put what I can remember of my favourite childhood reading list below. I also read historical fiction as an older teenager, where it filled the gap between childhood reading and the more difficult world of adult books – then I devoured Mary Renault,  and Robert Graves’s Claudius books. I also read a lot of romantic stuff by people like Jean Plaidy and Georgette Heyer, though I was aware that these weren’t quite, er, top-class.

Anyway, though I shall probably wake up screaming in the middle of the night as I remember the really really important book I’ve just left out, here are my top ten childhood historical books:

 

Rosemary Sutcliff  – anything and everything by. But if I have to single out:

Simon

The Eagle of the Ninth

The Armourer’s House

 

Geoffrey Trease    – again anything and everything by. But let’s go for:

Cue For Treason

Crown of Violet.

 

Barbara Leonie Picard  – Ransom For a Knight   A beautifully written story by a writer whose translation of The Odyssey was one of the seminal books of my youth.

 

R.D.Blackmore  -Lorna Doone    Oh, how many of those stories-in-my-head involved wild moonlight rides over the moors and fearful blood feuds and beautiful maidens.

 

Dorothy M Stuart – A Child’s Day Through the Ages. Probably a little dry. But I loved these stories, especially the one about the little priestess, of which I was reminded when I later read  Ursula le Guin’s The Tombs of Atuan.

 

Henry Garnett  (not Henry Treece, as I misremembered, though I enjoyed Henry Treece too)  Thirteen Banners.   Set in the days of Simon De Montfort. The usual brave children escaping with a message. Can’t remember much about it now but I know it was good fun.

 

Meriol Trevor   Sun Faster, Sun Slower.  Time travel. Re-reading it recently, I realised how very Catholic it is, which I was then too, though am no longer. But the story of the escaping Jesuit priest is still very exciting.  Meriol Trevor wrote fine poetry too, which I’ll try to post on this blog some day.

 

Some historical stuff, like Flambards and Barbara Willard’s lovely Mantelmass series didn’t come out until I was too old to read them as a child. But I reckon that we children of the fifties lived through a golden age of children’s historical fiction. Do let me have more of your own lists of favourites – I’ve loved reading your comments.

Past or Future?

redcap

 As I hinted before, one of the reasons I’ve started this blog is that I’m intending to self-publish a trilogy of books set in ancient Greece with a mythological twist. I’ve had the usual reasons which, alas, many writers are familiar with these days from  publishers who don’t want to take them – but one pops up more frequently than most; books set in the past don’t sell, they say.

The current acceptable mode still seems to be fantasy. I’ve nothing against fantasy; I read fantasy and science fiction with pleasure, and I’ve written fantasy novels myself.  But it’s sad that at the moment it seems to be the only thing going. There’s much good fantasy out there, but also plenty of dire stuff – too many ‘feisty’ sword-slashing heroines ( why do feisty heroines  have to behave like violent men?) too many Chosen Ones finding their way among dragons and orcs and elves to the Throne that awaits them.

When I was a young reader, there wasn’t that much fantasy around. What I loved, and what expanded and excited my imagination, was historical fiction. Impossible to imagine my reading days without Rosemary Sutcliff, without Geoffrey Trease.  Historical fiction, well-told, breathed life into the dull dates and statistics of history lessons , and told us valuable things about how our present world had got to be the way it was. It reminded us that people managed to live, and live full lives, in circumstances which we couldn’t imagine in our comfortable middle-class households, that human nature was really unchanged  over the centuries.   And looking at how the Romans performed their task of conquering the world taught lessons, many not quite comfortable, about how the British had attempted to do the same, and left red smears all over the school maps we then used.  I think misguided political correctness was one reason why both conventional history teaching and historical fiction fell out of fashion in the 70s and 80s – history obviously needs to be taught in a different , less imperialistic way now, but it’s still just as important as it ever was.

Above all, it was fun.  I loved charging about in the Middle Ages,  or the seventeenth century,  or Elizabethan London – or just about   any-when as long as it was vividly and imaginatively described.  Also, much of it was gender-neutral; boys could identify with heroines and girls with heroes without really noticing that they were crossing the sex-divide. I’ve  still got some of those precious books on my shelves now; I’m looking at Ransom For A Knight  by Barbara Leonie Picard,  Redcap Runs Away  by Rhoda Power, The Gloriet Tower  by Eileen Meyler, Sun Faster, Sun Slower by Meriol Trevor  (great time-travel, this,) lots of Rosemary Sutcliff, of course. Others, equally precious, have got lost, stolen or strayed over the years.  Somewhere, there should be, but I can’t find, Henry Treece’s Thirteen Banners and  Rosemary Sutcliff’s  The Armourer’s House in a lovely OUP edition with illustrations by C.Walter Hodges –  the illustrators were as important to me as the writers; so few books seem to be illustrated any more – a great shame.

I think my proudest moment ever as a writer was when Geoffrey Trease gave one of my books a kind review – I was quite overwhelmed; that someone who was a near-deity of my youth had actually read one of my books and had enjoyed it was almost too much to take in. I remember I sat down and wrote a gushing over-ebullient letter of joy which I then tore up and reworked through several drafts, cooling it down in a very Lucy-Snowe-ish way until what I finally sent to Geoffrey Trease probably didn’t contain  much sense of the excitement which I felt but found so hard to communicate. I’m a bit sorry about that now – I think I could have gushed a bit more. And he was a nice man – I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded.

I know I’m not the only one to be saying these things – the excellent History Girls blog has been doing great stuff in publicising new historical fiction, and I hope they’re winning the battle for the rest of us.

 

What other historical novels do my fellow readers remember from their youthful days? Or didn’t you read it at all? Do tell me. I’d love to hear. I hope to print my top ten list in my next blog – I wonder if you’ll share any of them.

Just beautiful…

What with one thing and another, the Unwelcome Guest  has been claiming just too much of my time and attention recently – too much time spent driving to hospitals, some far away, too much time being prodded and poked and zapped and pinned and needled. A whole army of experts and specialists is dedicated just to Me – I’ve never had so much attention in my life. (Ah, if only editors would be so interested…)  Last week, we went to a fairly distant hospital, which, as well as a five hour round trip, involved several hours sitting waiting for treatment.  The hospital, unlike my local one, was a pretty grim place. Whoever decided it was a good idea to sit cancer patients in a waiting room that resembles the economy lounge of an  airport in a third world country? Luckily a kindly nurse directed us to a Maggie’s drop-in centre just around the corner. Maggie’s centres were the inspiration  of Maggie Jencks, who died of cancer in 1995. She believed in the therapeutic qualities of the right environment, and also that cancer patients sometimes needed somewhere to ‘just go’.  Here, in a  beautifully designed building, lovingly furnished, I was able to  spend my several hours sitting calmly and comfortably sipping coffee; certainly an indication of how environment can affect mood.  Even the books on the shelves at Maggie’s were books I wanted to read and not the usual junk (yes, I am a literary snob.)  I found a copy of Yeats’s poems, which I was glad to do, because this poem had been running through my head for days, having seen many swans on many lakes after all this wet weather. While Yeats’s later poems can be tortuous and obscure, with meanings to be grappled with and teased out, some of the early ones are straightforwardly beautiful. We’ve grown rather suspicious of beauty in art in the last hundred years or so – we’ve been taught to feel that art’s main role is to startle and shock and unnerve us. As indeed it must, some of the time, or our minds would get flabby and complacent. But… there is still a place for simple beauty, a Mozart aria, a Piero della Francesco Madonna, a Shakespeare sonnet, a Chinese porcelain dish.  And this early poem by Yeats, which is…just beautiful.

 

 

The Wild Swans at Coole                       William Butler Yeats

 

The trees are in their autumn beauty,

The woodland paths are dry,

Under the October twilight the water

Mirrors a still sky:

Upon the brimming water among the stones

Are nine-and-fifty swans

 

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me

Since first I made my count;

I saw, before I had well finished,

All suddenly mount

And scatter wheeling in great broken rings

Upon their clamorous wings.

 

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,

And now my heart is sore.

All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,

The first time on this shore,

The bell-beat of their wings above my head,

Trod with a lighter tread.

 

Unwearied still, lover by lover,

They paddle in the cold

Companionable streams or climb the air:

Their hearts have not grown old;

Passion or conquest, wander where they will,

Attend upon them still.

 

But now they drift on the still water,

Mysterious, beautiful;

Among what rushes will they build,

By what lake’s edge or pool

Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day

To find they have flown away?