My mother was schooled in recitation;
Cherished the melody of words.
Relished the drama
Of story creation,
The lilt of the poems she heard.
She loved the lustre of legend
The power of myths oft retold.
The songs of the bard,
The power of the poet.
Her love for them never grew cold.
* * *
This came from her childhood,
Her school-days, her past.
So many verses
Committed to heart.
That remained with her to the last.
She hardly knew their birthright,
But she felt their richness sing.
Then in her prime
They became her rock,
A surety to which she could cling.
They served to bolster her resolve
When dad had gone to war.
They lifted spirits,
Held her firm,
Reminded her what life was for.
They held her strength through air raids,
When time was cruel and hurting.
She sang them
As she cooked and cried,
Her face from me averting.
Then she pressed me to her pinny
and released her flowing tears.
The words still came,
Still pure and sweet
To counteract my fears.
* * *
Her favourite poem was ‘Barbara Frietchie’,
She lived it as she spoke.
Both with her eyes,
And with her voice,
The drama she evoked.
She visibly was racked with angst
As Barbara raised her banner.
“‘Shoot if you must this old grey head
But spare your country ‘s flag’ she said.”
And then, ashamed, the answer came,
And Stonewall’s words were voiced with dread.
“Who touches a hair of yon gray head,
Dies like a dog! March on” he said.
* * *
So moved and cowed by this powerful scene,
Re-played with stress by voice and nuance,
I, to this day,
The fictive force of my response.
That poem now means much to me
As now I seek to write;
To render the phrase
To fit the mood,
To get the word just right.
My mother’s cares are dead and gone
And all was meant to be.
I cannot bring
The past to life
But the past brings life to me.
I’m grateful for her ardour
In leaving me this blessing.
With poems and verse,
Story and rhyme,
Her love for me expressing.
I laud her for her joy in words,
Lifeblood of my advancing years.
And, just as the poet
Ends his tale …
‘Honour to her and let a tear
Fall, for her sake, on my own bier!’
NOTES AND REFERENCES
The poem referred to is: ‘Barbara Frietchie’ by JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER, first published in 1863.
The last rhyming couplet has been slightly adapted (by me) from the original version of Whittier’s poem!
The full correct text can be found on the Poetry Foundation website at: ‘Barbara Frietchie’
John Greenleaf Whittier (1807 – 1892) was an American Quaker poet and advocate of the abolition of slavery in the United States. Frequently listed as one of the Fireside Poets, he was influenced by the Scottish poet Robert Burns. (See his Wikipedia entry)..
Barbara Fritchie (née Hauer) (December 3, 1766 – December 18, 1862), also known as Barbara Frietchie, and sometimes spelled Frietschie, was a Unionist during the Civil War. She was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and married John Casper Fritchie, a glove maker, on May 6, 1806. She became famous as the heroine of the 1863 poem Barbara Frietchie by John Greenleaf Whittier, in which she pleads with an occupying Confederate general to “Shoot if you must this old gray head, but spare your country’s flag.” (Wikipedia).
Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson (January 21, 1824 – May 10, 1863) was a Confederate General during the American Civil War, and the best-known Confederate commander after General Robert E.Lee. (Wikipedia).