What We Remember

I remember when my friends and I were having sixtieth birthdays. Now many of us are having, or have had, a seventieth. One of the things we talk about is the decay of bodies and minds, in almost universal agreement that the diminishing of our mind is what we fear most.

I see this happening, this diminishing, in my friend E., who I visit regularly. When I re-engage with her in a conversation we had ten minutes ago, or show her photographs she has seen before and has no memory of, or realise she has no memory of seeing her family a few days ago, I feel a great sadness. It must be so much worse for her family. I often come away from visiting and go to a film; something about taking my mind to a different place.

But E. and I also have fun together. We can be in the middle of a conversation – and she retains a sharp sense of humour – when she will quote a line of poetry that the conversation has reminded her of. When this happens, I whip out my iPhone, google the line of poetry and almost always find the poet and the poem. We both enjoy this immensely, and read the poem together, and she tells me about her older sister who wrote poetry and read it to her a lot when she was a child.

Frances Darwin Cornford

Frances Darwin Cornford

During a recent visit, the line that came up was, “O why do you walk through the fields in gloves.” I found it on my phone, it’s by Frances Darwin Cornford, grand-daughter of the famous Charles and married to a Francis Cornford. (We enjoy these snippets.)

We read the poem together and later, at home, I typed it  and posted it to her, along with the photo of Frances I found on the internet, reminding her of finding it. It’s a poem previously unknown to me, but when I mentioned it to my partner, Prue, she straight away came out with a couple more lines. Prue had no idea she knew that poem, but assumed she had met it at school in London. This is a story that E. will enjoy.

E. also likes family photographs, which is prompting me to scan some more of my parents and other family members so I can put them on my phone to show her. People tell me I am kind to visit E. regularly. That’s as maybe; to me it’s an exchange, of what I am not sure, but I get from my visits something I don’t get in any other way. When E. says she is tired of life and would like to go to sleep and not wake up in the morning, I tell her I would miss her. And I will.

Here’s the rather strange Frances Darwin Cornford poem:

To a Lady Seen From the Train

O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?
O fat white woman whom nobody loves.
Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
When the grass is soft as the breast of doves
And shivering sweet to the touch?
O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?