One of my favourite poems is Rhapsody on a Windy Night, by T.S. Eliot. I learned it by heart when I was eighteen years old and preparing for my Speech & Drama Licenciate exam with my old friend and teacher, Herbert Davies. It’s a bleak and haunting poem about time and its passage, in which the speaker walks along a moonlit street at midnight, each streetlamp revealing striking images in the present that recall memory fragments from his past.
I’m not sure whether I loved the poem back then because I was already fascinated by themes of past and present, or whether the poem played a role in sparking my interest, but whatever the case, as I walked along the street last night, and the streetlamp hummed with silvery light, I found myself remembering the lines of Rhapsody, and my old friend, Herbert, and his drama studio on Tamborine, and his dog named Jess, and his long thin fingers, and his cigarettes that always fell to ash before he finished smoking them, and the way he laughed, and the stories he told, and what it was like to be eighteen years old and discovering poetry and language; and I fell to thinking about the ever-growing space between now and then and all the things that have happened in between.
And even as I experienced a swell of melancholy, I also felt a spark of awe at the power and comfort of poetry: that twenty-five years after I first encountered Eliot’s words (and more than one hundred years after he wrote them) they could still come to me like an old friend on a cold and windy night in London in October 2019.
(I’ve written more about Herbert and the part he played in my reading life here.)