Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Neglected Poets: Norman Nicholson

Norman Nicholson (1914-1987) spent nearly his entire life in Millom, Cumbria.  He used these lines from W. H. Auden's Epistle to a Godson as the epigraph to his collection Sea to the West (1981):
     A poet's hope: to be,
     like some valley cheese,
     local, but prized elsewhere.
This is Millom:

            Five Minutes

'I'm having five minutes,' he said,
Fitting the shelter of the cobble wall
Over his shoulders like a cape.  His head
Was wrapped in a cap as green
As the lichened stone he sat on.  The winter wind
Whined in the ashes like a saw,
And thorn and briar shook their red
Badges of hip and haw;
The fields were white with smoke of blowing lime;
Rusty iron brackets of sorel stood
In grass grey as the whiskers round an old dog's nose.
'Just five minutes,' he said;
And the next day I heard that he was dead,
Having five minutes to the end of time.

"Five Minutes" appeared in The Pot Geranium (1954).  His 1972 collection, A Local Habitation, takes its name from these lines in A Midsummer Night's Dream: ". . . and gives to airy nothing/A local habitation and a name."  Here is "Old Man at a Cricket Match":

             'It's mending worse,' he said,
             Bending west his head,
Strands of anxiety ravelled like old rope,
     Skitter of rain on the scorer's shed
                 His only hope.

             Seven down for forty-five,
             Catches like stings from a hive,
And every man on the boundary appealing --
     An evening when it's bad to be alive,
                 And the swifts squealing.

             Yet without boo or curse
             He waits leg-break or hearse,
Obedient in each to law and letter --
     Life and the weather mending worse,
                 Or worsening better.


james charles said...

did Norman write:
"To a child before birth", the first line "This summer is your perfect summer, never will the skies
So stretched and strident be with blue as these you do not see
Never the birds surprise with such light flukes the ferns and fences
As these you do not hear etc ?

Stephen Pentz said...

james charles: thank you for visiting. Yes, he did write that poem. It appears in his collection 'Rock Face', which was published in 1948.

david b said...




may be of interest

(Nicholson got reinvigorated, poetically, as a result of reading Lowell's 'Life Studies' - the poetry book title was Shakespearean, but the inspiration / themes courtesy of the Boston Brahmin)

Stephen Pentz said...

david b: thank you very much for visiting, and for the links! I presume that you are the author of the pieces. If so, I hope that you are progressing with your biography.

I confess that the only prose that I have read by Nicholson is his biography of Cowper, which I liked a great deal. I will have to track down Wednesday Early Closing as a start -- it sounds very good.

Again, thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

Hello Stephen,

Hilary Mantel, recently chose 'old man at a Cricket Match' as the poem she would send to soldiers at war, in a feature run by the Guardian newspaper for Remembrance Day.

Hope you are well, I continue to love your choice of poems and pictures.
Thank you

Stephen Pentz said...

Bernadette: It's very nice to hear from you again. I hope that all is well with you.

Thank you for providing the information about Hilary Mantel's choice of Nicholson's poem. I hadn't thought of it in that sort of context, but I can see how it might be apt. (Although I say that having never been to war!)

Thank you very much for your kind words about the blog. I'm delighted to discover that you are still visiting. I greatly appreciate your long-time presence here. I hope you'll return soon.