Once in a while, I chance upon a photograph that resonates with me. The photo below, on first glance, isn't anything special. But to me, it is.
It is a photo of John Gale of The Guardian and the poet Stevie Smith. Last year, I read Gale's sweet, funny, sad and tragic autobiography from 1965, 'Clean Young Englishman', having been led there by Edward Behr's memoirs. Here is an extract (that I have nicked from the blog post of another admirer):
night this year, on the walk home from the Underground in the falling
snow, I had to lean against the wall of the crematorium where my father
went up in smoke. I had had a few drinks. The wind pierced the short,
old-fashioned black coat that had belonged to my grandfather. When I
walked on a little unsteadily in the dark on the creaking snow, a girl
passed on the other side of the road, her high black boots gleaming
faintly. She looked across at me, and then went on in the bitter cold.
three children had measles; Jill was tired. The wind moaned beneath the
doors ; we were keeping fires going day and night, and the insects
cried in the blazing logs. Our house is small, virtually a cottage,
among terraced houses built, originally, for artisans; the road is the
appendix of the suburb, with wealthier houses not far off. I like our
house: scarcely a piece of furniture, not a picture, carpet or curtain
did we choose ourselves; all was given or passed on by relatives; all,
or almost all, is incongruous, tasteless, but well used.
times I feel the small house is the centre of the world. It seems a
turning-point for aircraft coming in to land at London Airport. Their
engines change pitch as they come in from east and west, booming and
whining through the dusk, their navigation lights winking hope. When I
lie in bed I distrust all aircraft: where are they going? People should
stay at home. I prefer the sound of trains far off at night, the clink
of a shunting in a cold siding."
Although I knew of Stevie Smith, I never read her poetry until I fell seriously ill in 2003. It was then that I read 'In My Dreams'; ironic for a man who couldn't sleep:
In my dreams I am always saying goodbye and riding away,
Whither and why I know not nor do I care.
And the parting is sweet and the parting over is sweeter,
And sweetest of all is the night and the rushing air.
In my dreams they are always waving their hands and saying goodbye,
And they give me the stirrup cup and I smile as I drink,
I am glad the journey is set, I am glad I am going,
I am glad, I am glad, that my friends don't know what I think.