Nostalgia and the Poet – Kevin Morris

Nostalgia (a yearning for a golden, bygone age) is present, to a greater or lesser degree in all of us. This hankering for the past runs through much poetry and is beautifully expressed by A. E Housman in his “A Shropshire Lad”:

 

“INTO my heart an air that kills

From yon far country blows:

What are those blue remembered hills,

What spires, what farms are those?

 

That is the land of lost content,

I see it shining plain,

The happy highways where I went

And cannot come again”.

 

In the above lines, Housman evokes a happy childhood. The recollection of which is, however tinged with regret, hence “into my heart an air that kills”. We cannot, try as we might, recreate the past and melancholy oft creeps into our soul when gazing back.

 

Nostalgia frequently expresses itself in a wistful evocation of a vanishing way of life. Take, for example the speech delivered by Stanley Baldwin to the Royal Society of St George in 1927:

“To me, England is the country, and the country is England. And when I ask myself what I mean by England when I am abroad, England comes to me through

my various senses — through the ear, through the eye and through certain imperishable scents … The sounds of England, the tinkle of the hammer on the anvil

in the country smithy, the corncrake on a dewy morning, the sound of the scythe against the whetstone, and the sight of a plough team coming over the brow

of a hill, the sight that has been seen in England since England was a land … the one eternal sight of England”.

 

Baldwin was a one-nation Conservative and one can detect in his speech the longing of the man of a conservative disposition to preserve what he considers to be the intrinsic characteristics of the society which nurtures him.  Baldwin was both a political and (small c) Conservative. As such the beauty of the above passage touches the souls of those who are small (c) conservatives, as well as individuals who are Conservative with a big (c). At the time of Baldwin’s speech, agriculture was already well on the way to mechanisation (the horse was being replaced by the tractor, and the tinkle of the blacksmith’s hammer on the anvil was becoming a rarity), yet Baldwin felt their importance as, for him they helped to make England, England.

 

My own work is not immune from nostalgia. Take, for example my poem, “Squire and Peasant” which runs thus:

 

“I see a vanished land

Where the squire held command

Over the countryside,

Before the tide

Turned

And paternalism was spurned,

Or merely ebbed away

Ushering in a new day.

 

To hounds he rode

Or through his estate strode

In search of grouse or pheasant.

With countenance pleasant

Or severe

He ruled his peasants

Far and near.

 

Sometimes a thinker

And often a drinker

He felt a connection with the whole

Estate, his soul

Was as one

with generations, long since gone.

Frequently inarticulate

He did hate

The untried

And cried

Out for the preservation of the old ways.

 

Nothing stays

Unaltered.

The rock-like squire faltered

As the wind of progress

That does redress

All ills, brought salvation

To the nation.

Now those who the price of everything know, hold command

While squire and peasant stand

Bemused, upon this altered land”.

 

The relationship between squire and peasant could be abusive. There where (and remain) bad landowners. However, at its best the connection between the squire and his tenantry was one of mutual dependence. The lord of the manor felt an obligation to his tenants who, in turn where glad to have a benign squire. This semi-feudal state of affairs has now vanished (in the west at least) and cannot be recreated. Yet, at its best is there, perhaps not something to be said in defence of this “vanished land”? or is the loosening of social bonds and the glorification of the individual an unmitigated good? Some may object that it is easier for the squire to be nostalgic than the peasant for it was the former who “held command”. Perhaps …

 

In conclusion, nostalgia is a characteristic present to a greater or lesser extent in most of humanity. Looking back to a “golden age” is, ultimately a harmless activity and can help people to cope with what can seem a cold and rather plastic present. While we cannot live in the past, we can learn from it, for by no means everything predating the present age was wholly bad. We must, however be wary of allowing nostalgia to degenerate into a blind reactionary hatred of the present. The position of racial minorities, women and other previously marginalised groups has, for example, improved over time and few would wish to put the clock back as regards such progress.

 

(Kevin Morris’s collection of poetry, “My Old Clock I Wind and other Poems” is available at http://moyhill.com/clock/).

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21 responses to “Nostalgia and the Poet – Kevin Morris

  1. Lovely poem. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Many thanks Annette for publishing my guest post. It is very much appreciated. Best wishes, Kevin

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on newauthoronline and commented:
    Many thanks to Annette for hosting me on her excellent site.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A lovely post and poem, Kevin and Annette.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    Kevin Morris celebrates the publication of his latest poetry collection, My Old Clock I Wind with a guest post on Annette Rochelle Aben’s outstanding blog. Kevin discusses nostalgia and its presence in some of our finest poetry of our time. A very important emotion to explore.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Excellent. Thought provoking in so many ways – nostalgia for our homeland is something that we cling to while it blinds us to reality.

    Like

  7. “That is the land of lost content” 😊

    Liked by 2 people

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