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Granny


Granny with dementia, reciting The Revenge


At Flores, in the Azores – how she remembered it!
At Flores, in the Azores Sir Richard Grenville lay…
It was all in her memory, long ago learnt,
locked up securely yet biding its time
buried like treasure before we were born
ready to gleam when the lid might be raised –
At Flores, in the Azores Sir Richard Grenville lay, 
And a pinnace, like a flutter’d bird, came flying from far away:
So we were captured, spell-bound prisoners.

Each word was polished as if it were gold.
I hear them now, those old rolling phrases
like waves from the deep, the far Spanish Main,
beginning their life so far, far away
to roll over the oceans, washing up on our foreshore
salty fragments now altered, tied up in new ways
with some of their old rhymes – Lord Howard declaring
he was no coward, he could not – no, I cannot
can’t meet them … for my ships are out of gear.

But like the Revenge, she still sailed on, against all odds
with no hesitation – Master Gunner, sink me the ship,
sink her – split her in twain! Fall into the hands of God,
not the hands of Spain! Sir Richard was buried at sea,
deep, like the little Revenge herself, and her memory
sunk, to be lost evermore in the Main.
While here in the shallows the present and recent
happily play unaware.  But Granny was ready –
she forgot she began. At Flores, in the



Yes, Granny couldn’t remember much at all at this stage, and for my part I can’t now remember how much of The Revenge: A Ballad of the Fleet she was still able to recite.

Come to think of it, I can’t quite remember whether I’ve used this poem in my blog before.

Memories… memory… I do know I’ve written about dementia before – Blog No. 24 (I had to look it up).  One of the things I’ve missed a lot with the Covid restrictions is reading poetry out loud at the Memory Café.  I have some lovely memories of the pleasure my listeners clearly got, as much as my own.  Perhaps I could have tried this wonderful story, though I fear it might go on a bit.

Well, I certainly remember Tennyson’s magnificent poem: the rhymes and the rhythms, the alliterations and the assonances – what a tremendous first five words! – all building up that sense of excitement.  And some of those memorable phrases, which I just had to include in my tribute.

Dementia can destroy so much, yet the disabled brain somehow continues to work, just as the Revenge somehow managed to sail and fight on.  Torn sails and draping rigging notwithstanding, Granny’s long-term memory was relatively intact, as was her ability to speak the words.

Despite ill-fitting false teeth and faltering breath, the poetry sprang into life.  Poetry bridging the gap between grandparent and grandchild, leaping the oceans, joining the living generation via a bearded ancient Victorian to a swashbuckling Tudor Seadog – all courtesy of one decrepit bed-bound lady who couldn’t even remember our names…

So I continue to find myself moved by this rattling, old, unfashionable, politically incorrect  poem, which also succeeds in connecting the young boy I then was to the old man I now am, to remind me of a long lost Granny who had herself lost her memory – or at least the shallow part – and to demonstrate with the impact of a flagship’s broadside, the power of poetry.

Comments

  1. Thank you Richard - very touching. I do hope the Memory Cafes can reopen before too long. I'm sure they sure deeply appreciated. Love those last two lines...

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