Last week, I was in Grange-Over-Sands, a small town on the Cumbrian coast that was a small fishing village in Morecambe bay until the arrival of the railway in 1857 began the process of turning it into a prosperous seaside town that lived mainly off tourism.
As I was walking back from the mile-long esplanade that sits between the railway line and Morecambe Bay, I saw at the street side of the garden of a Victorian house with a tall post with the words ‘The Poetry Post’ engraved on it. The owner uses it to offer up poems during the year. As I was visiting in January, the poem posted was a reflection on the turn of the year. Here it is:
I was delighted both at the idea of someone providing a physical Poetry Post in these digital-first times and by the choice of poem.
When I looked Ella Wheeler Wilcox up, I found that she was an American author and poet who was, by poetry standards, a best-selling writer in her day. Her first poetry collection Poems of Passion (1883) sold 60,000 copies in two years. By the end of the Twentieth Century, she had fallen out of fashion, largely, it seems to me for the crime of writing accessible poetry that rhymed and was easy to remember.
I like ‘The Year’. I can see how, to modern tastes, the rhyming scheme is a little at odds with the seriousness of the content but the lines themselves have the impact of a well-written song.
I love the way she turns life into a series of cyclical acts that we take part in knowingly while, at the same time, trying to hide that knowledge from ourselves.
The lines that stand out for me are:
The New Years come, the old years go
We know we dream, we dream we know.
We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreath our prides, we sheet the dead.