Poem By George Herbert
I’d been reading some poems with
– for the first time in my life that I remember –
‘a lump in my throat’; and a pricking in my eyes,
and a sense of the awesome power of that poet
and of poetry itself; and self-criticism
mixed up with envy, wishing I had
that sort of poetic power myself;
and it seemed to call for some sort of
formal acknowledgement of this,
some ritual of gratitude – not necessarily
the darkened room, the candle swaying gently,
the kneeling – but something inner that
was beyond selfishness, some worthy
Perhaps, I thought, the thought
of that would have to suffice.
Then quite out of the blue – or so it seemed, but maybe not –
came this painful thought:
that never for a single moment – a single moment! –
in my life, had I ever given thought
to what my mother was like, living her life
before I was born
and I was overcome, stunned, appalled,
at the hugeness of my selfishness,
the smallness of my self-centred world
that I, who pride myself on my imagination,
lacked the imagination even to think of those I love and loved
as existing without me in the picture…
of course, there are photographs –
studio portraits, snaps,
solemn-faced groups with hockey sticks;
the pride of motherhood;
and yet I’d looked at all those without
really thinking of her being her;
but, where to start? The young girl
as her life slowly formed around her?
the teenage dreams; the hopes of marriage;
of giving a loving husband
the greatest living present she could give, and then
the two miscarriages before I arrived
to strut about my centre-stage?
It didn’t work.
and so I’m left with the stark, bare fact
to ponder at my leisure:
I never for a moment thought
of my mother existing as herself
without my being there.
And I thought I loved her, totally. So much
for love’s imagination.