Poetic Licence

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To be honest, I have no idea what to write about this week. I’m sitting at my brother’s computer in icy South Shields in the northeast corner of England toward the end of a thoroughly hectic, but hugely enjoyable, visit to the UK.

Almost two weeks ago I landed at Heathrow Airport, weary after the long journey from SA, since when I have been surrounded by the generosity and love of my family and friends.

First I stayed with Chrissie’s son Charlie, daughter-in-law Anne and our little granddaughter Lyra in Windsor for a few days where I was welcomed with such warmth and happiness that I hardly knew myself. Walks into town past the castle or along the Thames footpath in misty autumn drizzle were highlights but every moment was brilliant.

Then I headed north by train to Birmingham where I shared a special meal at a wonderful Indian restaurant with my son Liam and his wife Katie on Saturday evening before moving on the next morning to Newcastle where brother Dave and his musician son Conor waited to greet me. Conor’s youngest sister, the lovely Bethan, was to be a bridesmaid at the wedding of her elder sister, Helen this weekend – and what a truly memorable occasion this turned out to be.

Before that, however, I just had time to take myself across country, following the route of Hadrian’s Wall, to Carlisle to meet an old friend (and very fine poet) from Dumfries, Scotland. Stuart Paterson and I spent a tremendous (and admittedly well-oiled!) day there, catching up on the years and talking poetry. I loved it.

And then the wedding of Helen and Lloyd at a most beautiful and elegant rural venue called Doxford Barns in far Northumberland. Simply superb. It must have taken many months and careful planning to prepare and coordinate, especially since there were many friends and family members from far and wide, including Holland, the US, Australia and South Africa – to be accommodated and catered for.

It was an immensely well-choreographed occasion, as it had to be, but my abiding memory of it, as with my whole trip, will be of the love, the warmth and sense of belonging that permeated it all. If ever I needed reminding of the enduring importance of these things in all of our lives, then these two weeks have provided it. I would wish such blessings for everyone: I do know how very lucky I am.

Now, as Guy Fawkes fireworks begin to galvanise the freezing air outside my window, and I prepare to return from my South Shields family and friends to my Windsor family and friends, then on to Grahamstown where my closest family and friends await me, I would like to share this poem, as a kind of credo, to express my heartfelt gratitude.

 

Codicil

 When I depart to meet the ancestors,

don’t make anything bellow for me.

Such screams of wretchedness never pleased,

though I’ve both suffered and inflicted grief.

 

Tether no beast in the kraal for me.

Prepare no sacrifice, slit no throat,

but look that animal in the eyes:

see yourself there. See me.

 

Like yours, its suffering is also mine.

Free us from the torments of those who bleed:

show mercy, respect each feeling thing.

Haven’t our ancestors endured long enough?

 

So, as I pass on, I cast you this instruction:

don’t make anything bellow for me.

Long deaths and agonies never delighted.

But love did, love did. Remember this.

 

Harry Owen

 

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