Paul Verlaine : Colloque Sentimental

To continue – obliquely – the current Wicksteed Park season, here is the poem by Paul Verlaine  that I alluded to the other day.

I think the reason I had it in my head all those years ago was that it played a part in a late night film I’d seen on the TV.  I’ve never been able to find out what that film was, though I’ve an idea that it was pre-war and American rather than French.

Colloque sentimental

Dans le vieux parc solitaire et glacé
Deux formes ont tout à l’heure passé.

Leurs yeux sont morts et leurs lèvres sont molles,
Et l’on entend à peine leurs paroles.

Dans le vieux parc solitaire et glacé
Deux spectres ont évoqué le passé.

–Te souvient-il de notre extase ancienne ?
–Pourquoi voulez-vous donc qu’il m’en souvienne ?

–Ton coeur bat-il toujours à mon seul nom ?
Toujours vois tu mon âme en rêve? –Non.

–Ah! les beaux jours de bonheur indicible
Où nous joignions nos bouches! –C’est possible.

Qu’il était bleu, le ciel, et grand l’espoir !
–L’espoir a fui, vaincu, vers le ciel noir.

Tels ils marchaient dans les avoines folles,
Et la nuit seule entendit leurs paroles.


A rough literal translation might be –

In the old and frozen, lonely park / Two forms had just passed by.

Their eyes were dead, their lips were soft/ Their words could hardly be heard.

In the old and frozen, lonely park / Two spectres had recalled the past.

Do you remember our old ecstasy? / Why would you want me to remember it?

 Your heart stills beats at my name only? / Still see my soul in dreams? No.

Ah! Those fine days of unspeakable joy/ When we two joined our lips! Perhaps.

How blue the sky, how high our hopes! / Defeated, hope fled to the black sky.

So they walked on through the wild oats / The night alone could hear their words. 

The worlds of Paul Verlaine and Wicksteed Park aren’t quite as distant as you might think.  The later paintings of Thomas Cooper Gotch, the brother of the Gotch whose firm was responsible for the Park’s buildings, have been described as Symbolist (as was Verlaine’s poetry) and Verlaine lived for some time in Lincolnshire, in Boston and Stickney.

We have no evidence that he ever visited Kettering, but I like to think that he might have passed through on his way to Boston, and might have dropped into the George for a quick pint or two of absinthe.

Two Pints Of Absinthe And A Packet Of Crisps Please

This frozen park is not, in fact, Wicksteed’s itself, but the Waterworks Field, home to Desborough Town Football Club, where I happened to be yesterday afternoon to catch their unexpected 5-1 trouncing of Deeping Rangers.  I’m sure Verlaine would have found the scene inspiring.

The Old Year’s Gone Away To Nothingness And Night

Let us end the holiday season (mine, anyway) as we began it, with some verses from John Clare, together with a wish for a trouble-free New Year (faint hope!) to all our readers.


The Old Year

The Old Year’s gone away
To nothingness and night:
We cannot find him all the day
Nor hear him in the night:
He left no footstep, mark or place
In either shade or sun:
The last year he’d a neighbour’s face,
In this he’s known by none.

All nothing everywhere:
Mists we on mornings see
Have more of substance when they’re here
And more of form than he.
He was a friend by every fire,
In every cot and hall –
A guest to every heart’s desire,
And now he’s nought at all.

Old papers thrown away,
Old garments cast aside,
The talk of yesterday,
All things identified;
But times once torn away
No voices can recall:
The eve of New Year’s Day
Left the Old Year lost to all.


And to see the New Year in, a view of Leicestershire from one of its highest (and breeziest) points, the Iron Age hill fort at Borough Hill.  I popped up there this morning to sacrifice a goat.



What Ere Wi Time Has Sanction Found Is Welcome : A Christmas Message From John Clare


Cheer up, M'Duck - it's Christmas!

Once again, it’s that time of year on this blog where we wish a Happy Birthday to Carol Vordeman and a Merry Christmas and a New Year of your choice to all our readers.
I hope Christmas brings you at least some of the joys described in this extract from The Shepherd’s Calendar (1827) – though you’ll be lucky (or unlucky) to get Morris Dancers.
Clare is remembering the pre-industrial Christmas that Dickens was hoping to revive in A Christmas Carol (1843).  Clare was admitted to the Northampton Asylum between Christmas and New Year in 1841.
This extract is quite long, but should give something to read if you’ve exhausted the Radio Times.
 Christmas is come and every hearth
Makes room to give him welcome now
E’en want will dry its tears in mirth
And crown him wi’ a holly bough
Tho tramping ‘neath a winters sky
O’er snow track paths and rhymey stiles
The huswife sets her spining bye
And bids him welcome wi’ her smiles
Each house is swept the day before
And windows stuck wi’ evergreens
The snow is beesom’d from the door
And comfort crowns the cottage scenes
Gilt holly wi’ its thorny pricks
And yew and box wi’ berrys small
These deck the unus’d candlesticks
And pictures hanging by the wall

Neighbours resume their anual cheer
Wishing wi smiles and spirits high
Clad christmass and a happy year
To every morning passer bye
Milk maids their christmass journeys go
Accompanyd wi favourd swain
And childern pace the crumping snow
To taste their grannys cake again

Hung wi the ivys veining bough
The ash trees round the cottage farm
Are often stript of branches now
The cotters christmass hearth to warm
He swings and twists his hazel band
And lops them off wi sharpend hook
And oft brings ivy in his hand
To decorate the chimney nook

Old winter whipes his ides bye
And warms his fingers till he smiles
Where cottage hearths are blazing high
And labour resteth from his toils
Wi merry mirth beguiling care
Old customs keeping wi the day
Friends meet their christmass cheer to share
And pass it in a harmless way

Old customs O I love the sound
However simple they may be
What ere wi time has sanction found
Is welcome and is dear to me
Pride grows above simplicity
And spurns it from her haughty mind
And soon the poets song will be
The only refuge they can find

The shepherd now no more afraid
Since custom doth the chance bestow
Starts up to kiss the giggling maid
Beneath the branch of mizzletoe
That neath each cottage beam is seen
Wi pearl-like-berrys shining gay
The shadow still of what hath been
Which fashion yearly fades away

And singers too a merry throng
At early morn wi simple skill
Yet imitate the angels song
And chant their christmass ditty still
And mid the storm that dies and swells
By fits-in humings softly steals
The music of the village bells
Ringing round their merry peals

And when its past a merry crew
Bedeckt in masks and ribbons gay
The ‘Morrice danse’ their sports renew
And act their winter evening play
The clown-turnd-kings for penny praise
Storm wi the actors strut and swell
And harlequin a laugh to raise
Wears his hump back and tinkling bell

And oft for pence and spicy ale
Wi winter nosgays pind before
The wassail singer tells her tale
And drawls her christmass carrols oer
The prentice boy wi ruddy face
And ryhme bepowderd dancing locks
From door to door wi happy pace
Runs round to claim his ‘christmass box’

The block behind the fire is put
To sanction customs old desires
And many a faggots bands are cut
For the old farmers christmass fires
Where loud tongd gladness joins the throng
And winter meets the warmth of may
Feeling by times the heat too strong
And rubs his shins and draws away

While snows the window panes bedim
The fire curls up a sunny charm
Where creaming oer the pitchers rim
The flowering ale is set to warm
Mirth full of joy as summer bees
Sits there its pleasures to impart
While childern tween their parents knees
Sing scraps of carrols oer by heart

And some to view the winter weathers
Climb up the window seat wi glee
Likening the snow to falling feathers
In fancys infant extacy
Laughing wi superstitious love
Oer visions wild that youth supplyes
Of people pulling geese above
And keeping christmass in the skyes

As tho the homstead trees were drest
In lieu of snow wi dancing leaves
As. tho the sundryd martins nest
Instead of ides hung the eaves
The childern hail the happy day
As if the snow was april grass
And pleasd as neath the warmth of may
Sport oer the water froze to glass

Thou day of happy sound and mirth
That long wi childish memory stays
How blest around the cottage hearth
I met thee in my boyish days
Harping wi raptures dreaming joys
On presents that thy coming found
The welcome sight of little toys
The christmass gifts of comers round

‘The wooden horse wi arching head
Drawn upon wheels around the room
The gilded coach of ginger bread
And many colord sugar plumb
Gilt coverd books for pictures sought
Or storys childhood loves to tell
Wi many a urgent promise bought
To get tomorrows lesson well

And many a thing a minutes sport
Left broken on the sanded floor
When we woud leave our play and court
Our parents promises for more
Tho manhood bids such raptures dye
And throws such toys away as vain
Yet memory loves to turn her eye
And talk such pleasures oer again

Around the glowing hearth at night
The harmless laugh and winter tale
Goes round-while parting friends delight
To toast each other oer their ale
The cotter oft wi quiet zeal
Will musing oer his bible lean
While in the dark the lovers steal
To kiss and toy behind the screen

The yule cake dotted thick wi plumbs
Is on each supper table found
And cats look up for falling crumbs
Which greedy childern litter round
And huswifes sage stuffd seasond chine
Long hung in chimney nook to drye
And boiling eldern berry wine
To drink the christmas eves ‘good bye’.

Old England by G.A. Studdert Kennedy


Also known by his nom de guerre “Woodbine Willie”, Studdert Kennedy was, as the dust wrapper suggests, “perhaps the most famous Padre serving in the first world war”.  The nickname derived from his habit of handing out handfuls of cigarettes while offering spiritual sustenance to the troops.  He appears to have been genuinely well thought of by the men and was awarded the Military Cross in 1917 for exceptional bravery under fire at Messines Ridge.

After the war he became a prominent Pacifist and wrote numerous popular essays with titles such as “Capitalism is nothing but Greed, Grab and Profit-Mongering” (he could never be accused of mincing his words). 

 In his poems “Rough Rhymes of a Padre” and “More Rough Rhymes” he often – as here –  made use of some conventions established by Kipling.  Like Kipling, he might be accused of putting his own words into the soldiers’ mouths.  On the other hand, he might have taken the words right out of their mouths.

His day of commemoration in the Church of England is on 8th March.



YES, I’m fightin’ for old England
      And for eighteenpence a day,
And I’m fightin’ like an ‘ero,
      So the daily papers say.
Well, I ain’t no downy chicken,
      I’m a bloke past forty-three,
And I’m goin’ to tell ye honest
      What old England means to me.
When I joined the British Army
      I’d bin workin’ thirty years,
But I left my bloomin’ rent-book
      Showin’ three months in arrears.
No, I weren’t no chronic boozer,
      Nor I weren’t a lad to bet;
I worked ‘ard when I could get it,
      And I weren’t afeared to sweat.
But I weren’t a tradesman proper,
      And the work were oft to seek,
So the most as I could addle
      Were abaht a quid a week.
And when me and Jane got married,
      And we ‘ad our oldest kid,
We soon learned ‘ow many shillings
      Go to make a golden quid.
For we ‘ad to keep our clubs up,
      And there’s three and six for rent,
And with food and boots and clothing
      It no sooner came than went.
Then when kiddies kep’ on comin’–
      We reared four and buried three;

My ole woman couldn’t do it,
      So we got in debt–ye see.
And we ‘ad a’eap o’ sickness
      And we got struck off the club,
With our little lot o’ troubles
      We just couldn’t pay the sub.
No, I won’t tell you no false’oods;
      There were times I felt that queer,
That I went and did the dirty,
      And I ‘ad a drop o’ beer.
Then the wife and me ‘ud quarrel,
      And our ‘ome were little ‘ell,
Wiv the ‘ungry kiddies cryin’,
      Till I eased up for a spell.
There were times when it were better,
      And some times when it were worse,
But to take it altogether,
      My old England were a curse.
It were sleepin’, sweatin’, starvin’,
      Wearing boot soles for a job,
It were sucking up to foremen
      What ‘ud sell ye for a bob.
It were cringin’, crawlin’, whinin’,
      For the right to earn your bread,
It were schemin’, pinchin’, plannin’,
      It were wishin’ ye was dead.
I’m not fightin’ for old England,
      Not for this child–am I? ‘Ell!
For the sake o’ that old England
      I’d not face a single shell,
Not a single bloomin’ whizzbang.
      Never mind this blarsted show,
With your comrades fallin’ round ye,
      Lyin’ bleedin’ in a row.
This ain’t war, it’s ruddy murder,
      It’s a stinkin’ slaughter ‘ouse.

‘Ark to that one, if ‘e got ye
      ‘E’d just squash ye like this louse.
Would I do this for old England,
      Would I? ‘Ell, I says, not me
What I says is, sink old England
      To the bottom of the sea
It’s new England as I fights for,
      It’s an England swep’ aht clean,
It’s an England where we’ll get at
      Things our eyes ‘ave never seen;
Decent wages, justice, mercy,
      And a chance for ev’ry man
For to make ‘is ‘ome an ‘eaven
      If ‘e does the best ‘e can.
It’s that better, cleaner England,
      Made o’ better, cleaner men,
It’s that England as I fights for,
      And I’m game to fight again.
It’s the better land o’ Blighty
      That still shines afore our eyes,
That’s the land a soldier fights for,
      And for that a soldier dies.

“Something To Wear Against The Heart”

November’s poem is brought to you by R.S. Thomas, the austere Welsh priest.


A Day in Autumn


It will not always be like this,

The air windless, a few last

Leaves adding their decoration

To the trees’ shoulders, braiding the cuffs

Of the boughs with gold; a bird preening


In the lawn’s mirror.  Having looked up 

From the day’s chores, pause a minute.

Let the mind take its photograph

Of the bright scene, something to wear

Against the heart in the long cold.


In case your mind has failed to take its photograph of the bright scene, here are a few I took last Sunday along the Brampton Valley Way.  Looks a little like a catalogue for the William Morris Wallpaper Company. 

“The Shivering Children Wait Their Doom” : Betjeman In Matlock Bath

This is John Betjeman’s poem about Matlock Bath (illustrated with a few snaps).  I had forgotten about the poem when I visited, otherwise I would have tried to get one of the Methodist Church that features in it. 

Betjeman knew of Matlock Bath because of his liaison with Lady Elizabeth “Feeble” Cavendish, whose brother owned nearby Chatsworth House.  One might have expected Betjeman to have written something slightly jollier about such a jolly place, but this is very bleak.  Perhaps he should have visited while the illuminations were still on.


Matlock Bath

 From Matlock Bath’s half-timbered station

I see the black dissenting spire—,
Thin witness of a congregation,
Stone emblem of a Handel choir;
In blest Bethesda’s limpid pool,
Comes treacling out of Sunday School.

By cool Siloam’s shady rill–
The sounds are sweet as strawberry jam:
I raise mine eyes unto the hill,
The branchy trees are white with rime
In Matlock Bath this winter-time.

And from the whiteness, grey uprearing,
Huge cliffs hang sunless ere they fall,
A tossed and stoney ocean nearing
The moment to o’erwhelm us all:
Eternal Father, strong to save,
How long wilt thou suspend the wave?

How long before the pleasant acres,
Of intersecting LOVERS’ WALKS

A Lovers' Walk

Are rolled across by limestone breakers,
Whole woodlands snapp’d like cabbage stalks?
O God, our help in ages past,
How long will SPEEDWELL CAVERN last?

In this dark dale I hear the thunder
Of houses folding with the shocks,

The Grand Pavilion - largely obscured by the Riverside Fish 'n' Chip Restaurant

buckling under
The weight of the ROMANTIC ROCKS,
The hardest Blue John ash-trays seem
To melt away in thermal steam.

Deep in their Nonconformist setting
The shivering children wait their doom–
The father’s whip, the mother’s petting
In many a coffee-coloured room;
And attic bedrooms shriek with fright,
For dread of Pilgrims of the Night.

Perhaps it’s this that makes me shiver
As I ascend the slippery path

The View from half way up the Heights

High, high above the sliding river
And terraces of Matlock Bath;

A sense of doom, a dread to see
The Rock of Ages cleft for me.


Though the town has so far not suffered the apocalyptic collapse foreseen by Betjeman, the Methodist Church closed in 1974 and was turned into a furniture store and the Grand Pavilion has recently been deemed “surplus to requirements” by the local council.

The Scarlet Soldiers


“O what is that sound which so thrills the ear

Down in the valley drumming, drumming?

Only the scarlet soldiers, dear,

The soldiers coming.”


Members of the 3rd Battalion of  the Royal Anglian Regiment, marching through Harborough last Saturday to receive the Freedom of the District.


“O what is that light I see flashing so clear

Over the distance brightly, brightly?

Only the sun on their weapons, dear,

As they step lightly.


Oh what are they doing with all that gear,

What are they doing this morning, this morning?

Only their usual maneouvres, dear,

Or perhaps a warning.” 

The Tree Is My Seat That Once Lent Me A Shade

More news of the tree stumps of Little Bowden. 

This newly created stump is in the churchyard of the abandoned St Mary-in-Arden.

The anonymous tree-surgeon-cum-artist has thoughtfully fashioned a rather comfortable seat from the remains of the tree –

providing an excellent vantage point to sit and contemplate the abandoned church –

and muse on the changes wrought by time and the vanity of human wishes.

Perhaps our woodman has been reading William Cowper?


The Poplar-Field 

The poplars are felled, farewell to the shade
And the whispering sound of the cool colonnade:
The winds play no longer and sing in the leaves,
Nor Ouse on his bosom their image receives.

Twelve years have elapsed since I first took a view
Of my favourite field, and the bank  where they grew,
And now in the grass behold they are laid,
And the tree is my seat that once lent me a shade.

The blackbird has fled to another retreat
Where the hazels afford him a screen from the heat;
And the scene where his melody charmed me before
Resounds with his sweet-flowing ditty no more.

My fugitive years are all hasting away,
And I must ere long lie as lowly as they,
With a turf on my breast and a stone at my head,
Ere another such grove shall arise in its stead.

‘Tis a sight to engage me, if anything can,
To muse on the perishing pleasures of man;
Short-lived as we are, our enjoyments, I see,
Have a still shorter date, and die sooner than we.

Freak Autumn : a Poem for October by Anna Akhmatova


A poem for October, which seems appropriate in the light of the unseasonable weather.  It’s by Anna Akhamotova, from her collection Anno Domini MCMXXI (originally published in 1922), in a translation by Richard McKane.


The freak Autumn built a high vault in the sky,

the clouds were ordered not to darken the vault.

The people marvelled: September is passing

and where are the chill, damp days?

The murky canal waters turned emerald,

the nettles smelled like roses, only stronger.

The air was sultry with sunsets, unbearable, devilish, crimson,

we will all remember them till the end of our days.

The sun was like a rebel forcing the capital,

and the spring-like autumn caressed it so thirstily

that it seemed the transparent snowdrop would blossom white …

That was when you, cool and calm, came to my door.


The precise meaning of this is unclear.  She might have been remembering the October Revolution of 1917 that brought the Bolsheviks to power, or, if it set in 1921, the Kronstadt rebellion of that year – a leftist revolt against the Bolsheviks.  

If it is the latter, the shadowy figure in the last line might be an official coming to inform her that her ex-husband Nikolai Gumilyov had been executed by the Cheka, having been implicated in the aftermath of the rebellion.  Or he might have been one of her numerous lovers.

It was probably a time when a certain ambiguity was a wise precaution. 




Out Of A Misty Dream Our Path Emerges For A While …


So, I suppose we have to admit that the cricket season is over and the football season has begun.

A little known fact – at least I’ve never heard Alan Hansen allude to it on Match of the Day – is that the earliest use of the word “soccer” recorded in the O.E.D. is in a letter from the ‘nineties poet Ernest Dowson, dated 1889:

“I absolutely decline to see socca’ matches” 

The O.E.D. is tantalisingly bare of context – was he, perhaps, more of a rugga’ man? – but it does not appear that (unlike his fellow decadent Francis Thompson) he was very fond of cricket.  The only reference I can find to the game in his letters is the following, written from Bognor –

“I have I fear to be another ten days in this inexpressibly horrid plage – full of English Mlls and Varsity men who play cricket with them on the sands.”   

So not, apparently, an enthusiast. 

Ernest Dowson : Not a Socca' Man

But – once we have sent our little books out into the world – we have no say in how they are used.  So, to me, this – his most famous poem – is about the cricket season.

Fairfield Road in Spring


Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam


They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,

Love and desire and hate:

I think they have no portion in us after

We pass the gate.


They are not long, the days of wine and roses:

Out of a misty dream

Our path emerges for a while, then closes

Within a dream.


Fairfield Road in Autumn