THE VILLAGE BLACKSMITH
Under a spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.
….strange how stuff from school days sticks, resurfaces, acquires new meaning as you grow old(er)……
I find myself humming Schubert’s ‘The Trout’ taught us by Mr. Ronald Center, our inspiring music teacher. As well as ‘ Who is Sylvia?, and Schumann’s ‘ To France and to freedom two grenadiers/from bondage in Russia were tramping/And bowed with shame and foreboding they came/Where lay Russian soldiers camping...’
And I can still recite Longfellow’s Blacksmith poem which I still don’t like much but which our very uninspiring English teacher made us learn by heart (as well as Shylock’s
” Signor Antonio, many a time and oft
In the Rialto you have rated me
About my moneys and my usances.
Still have I borne it with a patient shrug,
For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.
You call me misbeliever, cutthroat dog,
And spet upon my Jewish gaberdine—
And all for use of that which is mine own. “
which I like more and more – but never got round to finding out what exactly was Shylock’s ‘gaberdine’.
And she also made us learn Gray’s ‘ The ploughman homeward plods his weary way‘ which I admire now but found impossibly dull then
and ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’
and so on.
I can clearly remember the context in which I learned all these scraps – the teacher (Miss B, was that a wig she was wearing? Mr C with his long black hair which was okay because he was a musician), the classroom (cupboard on the right side, windows on the left) , the pupils ( Jimmy H who laughed at everything, Grace L who was so tall and so beautiful, Ralph M who couldn’t pronounce the letter ‘r’ and whose father owned the local fish and chip shop), the feelings (anxiety, embarrassment, amusement, interest, boredom):
Jimmy now farms his father’s farm; Grace went to Southampton; Ralph was killed in a car crash; the teachers…….I didn’t go to any reunions; I lost touch.
But over the years I have kept in touch with the poems and songs - the village blacksmith with his strong and sinewy hands, badly-done-by Signor Antonio, the two patriotic Grenadiers, the beautiful Sylvia, the constant ploughman - they have all stayed with me, and in addition I have become aware of and appreciate the hidden ideas and the skills which created and infused these poems and songs we learnt so reluctantly so long ago…….
And oft, when on my couch I lie/ In vacant or in pensive mood/ They flash upon that inward eye/ Which is the bliss of solitude.
They comfort me.