Monday, 30 November 2009

Crisis? What crisis?

Julia read my post Perilous poems in draft before I published it and ruefully remarked "You've never written me a poem!"

She forgets. On one of a pair of Georgian wine glasses in the cabinet in our front room I had this couplet inscribed about thirty years ago:

A richt guid wine, man's gleefu' for a day
But wi' a richt guid wife, for e'er and aye

"But that's frivolous! What about something serious?" As I left the table to go to my office she said to our granddaughter Izzy, newly-arrived from South Africa, "He's gone upstairs to write something!" Within moments though I came back with a poem typeset by me in Bembo, dated 25.12.98, signed AGR pro JMR scripsit and unromantically entitled The Battle of Maldon: a retrospective.

She could not recall my showing or giving it to her; I cannot recall why I wrote it; judging from the last four lines something was going badly wrong and I needed something to stiffen both our backbones. Most of the poem is a rewriting in verse of an English prose translation of the incomplete Anglo Saxon poem about the battle fought in 991 between the Englishmen of Essex and a marauding Viking host. My verse ends thus:

. . . . . . . . . . . . . Then Byrhtwold, the earl's old friend,
To raise our flagging hopes before what might be the end
With axe aloft moved towards the battle's closest press
And to us few remaining cried, Yet, as our might grows less,
Our will shall be the harder; our heart the keener,
Our valour greater: such shall be our troop's demeanour!

Ten centuries later you and I find ourselves at such a place,
But armed with knowing what our forebears did. Your grace,
Your grit, your strength – my friend, my lode-star and my bride –
Ensures our final vantage, sanctioned at this Christmastide.

But what was this place in which we find ourselves? What is the crisis? There had been some fairly serious health problems, but surely these had been overcome by then; on the business front I was continuing to try to make money from web-based language-learning software, but the losses I was incurring were not crippling; our daughters were all alright. We are both baffled.

I tell the story to demonstrate a problem of biography-writing about which I have seen nothing written in my background reading on this course: what if the interviewee can't remember? Imagine that I'm faced with an earnest young American PhD student and he shows me this document and asks me to explain its significance. Am I going to say I've forgotten, indicating I'm going gaga? Or am I going to make up something plausible? I suspect I'd do the latter.

Post script
Of course, it just could be that the dreaded Alzheimer's really is taking hold, but as long as I can remember the first name of the good doctor I'm OK. It was … It was … Alois! And I didn't even have to google it!

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