There are times when a poet must make a stand and say, “This has happened without my cognisance and I will not accept it!” Today has not been the best of days. Today I got a note from a patron. Common enough, especially from her, as she was always quick to praise, swift to encourage. But today the note had a bitter flavour. She was sitting awaiting death. A week? Longer?
And what can a poet do? A poet can protest, a poet can stand tall and say firmly that this will not do. A poet can bang the table with his wine glass obvious of the fact it has shattered and the pieces lie glistening but incoherent, shards of dreams never now to be dreamt.
Others have known Sue for longer than I, others will doubtless feel the grief more keenly, will mourn longer, but my job as a poet is not to throw myself into grief but to set a scaling ladder against the walls of uncaring time and fix it in place with my contempt for the mere trammels of mortality. I cast my words into the face of eternity.
To me she was all a patron should be. Yes a patron who pours you white wine with a generous hand and laughs at your jokes is to be prized. But the patron who shares your work with their friends, who tells them, “Come here and see what I found,” that is a patron to treasure.
And now what? I think of that house in Port Naain (on Vincent Crescent where Dilbrook opens out and the ground rises a little). I see her still in her garden, cosseting her great hound and casting occasional glances north where, in the far distance, on a clear day you can still see the mountains of her youthful home.
But there is a door we must all walk through, one way or another, and that door hangs open and beckoning. But poets cheat. Yes we walk through that door like others. We too wait to see what the other side is like, its views and vistas, its salons, its gardens. But still we cheat.
A thousand years from now, some young fool seeking words to woo a lover, will pull a book from a shelf and flick desperately through the yellowing pages. In their quest they will have disturbed the runs of small rodents, the hunting grounds of arachnids and will doubtless have made a myriad of lesser creatures homeless. But as they scribble down my words, a faint flicker of the poet will live on. I have talked and argued, drank wine and wept, with poets three thousand years dead.
Wherever words are treasured, wherever people still delve into the forgotten corners and grasp with joy the volume they find, a writer cannot die.
Indeed when one writes this sort of thing, one normally finishes with the name of the person, along with the year of birth and death. For me that is impossible. As a gentleman, what knowledge would I have of a lady’s year of birth? As a poet how am I expected to know when her words will cease to be read?
So I have heard the news, I renounce it, I nail my angry words to the gates of years and I laugh in the face of mere mortal certainties.
If you have tears, prepare to shed them now. I have spoken and can say no more.