These days so much in education seems about making things relevant… why? honestly, why? Why can’t children learn things which just open their minds and later on they may be relevant or not, bu what’s been learnt will be of value and a joy.
I was so lucky going to school when I did; keen, clever and well-educated teachers, and what seemed like a flexible and responsive curriculum which was broad and which was balanced. ‘Children’s Hour’ on the radio was also a wonder, exciting, stimulating, educational in its widest sense. The two things, my schooling, and the radio or wireless as it was, are now fused together in my memory because I would read poems in class and hear them on the radio.
A favourite poet was John Masefield; he also wrote children’s stories, I well remember ‘The Midnight Folk’ and ‘The Box of Delights’ and the hero Kim Harker.
Perhaps his favourite poem was ‘Sea Fever’, parodied by Spike Milligan:
I must go down to the sea again,
To the lonely sea and the sky
I left my socks and pants there,
I wonder if they’re dry?
But how about this next poem for lighting a fire in a child’s imagination?
Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.
Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.
Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.
That mixture of the exotic and strange names, distant wonderful sounding names, and then the contrast with the dirty British coaster… No wonder I love words! or how about this:
The West Wind
It’s a warm wind, the west wind, full of birds’ cries;
I never hear the west wind but tears are in my eyes.
For it comes from the west lands, the old brown hills.
And April’s in the west wind, and daffodils.
It’s a fine land, the west land, for hearts as tired as mine,
Apple orchards blossom there, and the air’s like wine.
There is cool green grass there, where men may lie at rest,
And the thrushes are in song there, fluting from the nest.
“Will ye not come home brother? ye have been long away,
It’s April, and blossom time, and white is the may;
And bright is the sun brother, and warm is the rain,
–Will ye not come home, brother, home to us again?
“The young corn is green, brother, where the rabbits run.
It’s blue sky, and white clouds, and warm rain and sun.
It’s song to a man’s soul, brother, fire to a man’s brain,
To hear the wild bees and see the merry spring again.
“Larks are singing in the west, brother, above the green wheat,
So will ye not come home, brother, and rest your tired feet?
I’ve a balm for bruised hearts, brother, sleep for aching eyes,
“Says the warm wind, the west wind, full of birds’ cries.
It’s the white road westwards is the road I must tread
To the green grass, the cool grass, and rest for heart and head,
To the violets, and the warm hearts, and the thrushes’ song,
In the fine land, the west land, the land where I belong.
John Edward Masefield was born in Ledbury, a pretty little town in Herefordshire in 1878; he was still alive when i was reading and loving his poems until he died in 1967. He was Poet laureate for the last thirty-seven years of his life, and must have been much loved and admired. he had an extraordinary life of tragedy and adventure and acclaim. He was orphaned early and went to sea as a boy, hence his vivid poetic accounts of life on aboard a variety of ships.
He was old enough to be exempt from military service in the First World war but he served his country at a military hospital in France. He married and had two children and altogether had a varied life of travel and experience.
I have not read his work since I was a child… I think I must return to it, and I think I will be well rewarded!