Kingsley Amis concluded his Memoirs with a poem. I beg your indulgence for posting the poem in its entirety, but I do so for three reasons: (1) it is, I think, a beautiful poem; (2) given its placement at the end of the Memoirs, it has, I fear, been overlooked; and (3) it reveals a side of Amis that has, unfortunately, been lost in the stereotypical view of him as a curmudgeon. Amis dedicated the poem "To H." "H" is Hilary Bardwell, his first wife. They were divorced in 1965. Late in his life, Amis lived with her and her husband. She died this past June 24.
Instead of an Epilogue
In 1932 when I was ten
In my grandmother's garden in Camberwell
I saw a Camberwell Beauty butterfly
Sitting on a clump of Michaelmas daisies.
I recognised it because I'd seen a picture
Showing its brownish wings with creamy edges
In a boy's paper or on a cigarette-card
Earlier that week. And I remember thinking,
What else would you expect? Everyone knows
Camberwell Beauties come from Camberwell;
That's why they're called that. Yes, I was ten.
In 1940 when I was eighteen
In Marlborough, going out one winter's morning
To walk to school, I saw that every twig,
Every leaf in the vicar's privet hedge
And every stalk and stem was covered in
A thin layer of ice as clear as glass
Because the rain had frozen as it landed.
The sun shone and the trees and shrubs shone back
Like pale flames with orange and green sparkles.
Freak weather conditions, people said,
And one was always hearing about them.
In '46 when I was twenty-four
I met someone harmless, someone defenceless,
But till then whole, unadapted within;
Awkward, gentle, healthy, straight-backed,
Who spoke to say something, laughed when amused;
If things went wrong, feared she might be at fault,
Whose eye I could have met for ever then,
Oh yes, and who was also beautiful.
Well, that was much as women were meant to be,
I thought, and set about looking further.
How can we tell, with nothing to compare?
Kingsley Amis, Memoirs (Hutchinson/Summit Books 1991).