Monday, April 13, 2015

Other men's flowers

I wonder, does the title 'Other Men's Flowers' mean anything to you?
It's a remarkable book . . . remarkable as much for its history as its content.
What's more, it's been in print ever since its publication in 1944.

If that date makes you wonder whether it may have something to do with the Second World War, you are only partially correct.
True, it's the work of a Field-Marshall, but it's not a record of his experiences as Commander in the Middle East.

Compiled as an antidote to the stress of war, it consists of the poems that he jotted down from memory on the battlefield . . . an incredible number of poems.  Not only that, they are published exactly as he recalled them . . . complete with the occasional inaccuracy.

One man's remembered anthology . . . a moving record of the power that poetry can hold in the life of a professional soldier, and, to quote his publisher, 'proving beyond doubt that, whatever the fashion of the day, poetry can fulfil its ancient function, finding its way to the hearts of the many, not only to the minds of the few'.

Do you find this true in your own life?
Have certain poems accompanied you along the way?

Each week, when my cat and I visit our local nursing home, we meet a ninety-five-year-old patient, Elizabeth.
In addition to making a fuss of Chloe, Elizabeth always wants to share her favourite poems . . .  the ones long stored in her memory.

Sometimes, when she falters, I delve into her books of poetry and prompt her.  But there's usually little need . . . her memory is prodigious.

Old age, it seems, is another form of battle-field.  A field on which there's no denying the sustenance to be obtained from long-remembered, much-loved verse.

All of which has made me ask myself the question:  just which poems have accompanied and enriched me throughout my life?

So many, well-known and little-known, jostle for priority in my memory.  But the one that I've known the longest is by the American poet, Berton Braley, and stems  from my early childhood.  Perhaps I found it in a cracker.

Over the years the words have become so firmly lodged in my brain that I don't think I could forget them, even if I wished to.
Let me share them with you . . .

"If he earns your praise - bestow it,
If you like him, let him know it,
Let the words of true encouragement be said;
Do not wait 'til life is over
And he's underneath the clover,
For he cannot read his tombstone when he's dead."

Great poetry?  Probably not.
A powerful conduit of a profound truth.  Most definitely!
Not only that, it has the undoubted power to stick in the mind . . .  just see if you remember it next week!

It's true, isn't it.
Criticism is so easy, we all fall into the trap of needing to complain at every justifiable opportunity.

But praise, appreciation and gratitude are equally easy . . and what a difference they can make.

So, let's forget inscriptions on tombstones and concentrate on the here and now.

Thank you . . . thank you for being you . . . thank you for being there . . . and thank you for sharing these thoughts.

And let's not forget to give thanks for the beauty, the eternal, unfading beauty of other men's flowers.

Come on, now, let's admit it . . . we've so much to be grateful for!