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The Warp

Things I read

My reading was more strongly influenced than he realised by the books my father published.

There was a curious tract of Lesbian love with illustrations by my mother called ‘The Golden Bed of Kydno’, and a Gothick romance by the poet Shelley entitled ‘Zastrozzi’.

One of his first books to be published with wood engravings in colour was an Elizabethan epic called ‘Salmacis and Hermaphroditus’ which was a particular love of mine. It was about a young man’s love for a lovely twin-sex person of which I remember the following lines;

‘The wanton pleasures of the lovely lass

Forced him for shame to hide him in the grass.’

The Mabinogion, the first new translation to be published for many years, and Sir Gawayne and the Grene Knighte, I also read in my father’s sumptuous editions.

From the latter I remember still the lines; ‘There was the snarling and cracking of trumps’, and ‘There were guests to leave on the grey morn’, with its image etched on my imagination of a grey castle and half asleep travellers getting up on their horses just before dawn, starting their journey early as one had to in those days.

Among the songs my father often would sing, accompanied by my Grandmother, I remember especially;

‘The minstrel boy to the war is gone

With his wild harp strung behind him

His father’s sword he hath girded on

In the ranks of death you’ll find him,’


‘The harp that once through Tara’s halls

Its soul of music shed

Now hangs as mute on Tara’s walls

As if its soul were dead.’

In the Leominster manuscript, that mediaeval collection copied out in a Leominster monastery, I delighted in;

‘Lenten is come, with love, to towne

With blossom and with birdes roun’

In Baudelaire’s ‘Les Fleurs du Mal’ I loved especially ‘Le Balcon’ with its haunting lines;

‘Nous avons dits souvent les imperissables choses,

Le soir au balcon, a l’odeur du charbon.’

I loved the lines

‘I met a traveller from an antique land who said’;

a great beginning to a sonnet I felt, attractive for its forthrightness.

I loved all the Keates Odes,

... to a nightingale;

‘Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird.’

... to a Grecian Urn;

and little town, thy streets for ever more will silent be, and not a soul to tell

why thou are desolate will ‘ere return.’

... and to Autumn;

‘Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourne

Born aloft or sinking as the light wind lives or dies.’

I adored the poems of Lord Byron;

‘And I have wantonned with thee, ocean

And my delight was to be

Born on thy waters ever onward ...’

I loved Dr Faustus by Marlowe and put on a performance of his final scene where the devil comes to get him, at Eye.

I thought my death very convincing and the two friends who came to visit him, find him dead and deliver his funeral oration were played by my sisters.

Unfortunately they forgot their lines and so Doctor Faustus had momentarily to come back to life to deliver his own epitaph before sinking back, now without a soul, into the realms of death.


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