Father Figures

Father Figures

I had no theme for this week until the end of last week, when Nicola’s father Lloyd passed away.

He gave Nic such strong support and her untimely death was a terrible blow to him. I loved him for the generosity of spirit and decency which informed his life and his fierce love for all his family. We met every Sunday for a pint at his local, the Clifford Arms, and latterly via Zoom. He ran the Trent Valley Quiz League for many years, putting an immense amount of work into it, as he did with all of his interests: golf, the Twinning Association and bowling. He was an indefatigable fund-raiser for the RNLI and a gentle and good man.

If you don’t mind indulging me, I have therefore chosen three poems in his honour: Kipling’s “The Married Man”, Shakespeare’s “Full Fathom Five” and Wordsworth’s “My Heart Leaps Up”.

Poem 109. The Married Man (Reservist of the Line)

’E wants to finish ’is little bit,
An’ ’e wants to go ’ome to ’is tea!

Rudyard Kipling (1865—1936)
THE BACHELOR ’e fights for one
As joyful as can be;
But the married man don’t call it fun,
 Because ’e fights for three—
For ’Im an’ ’Er an’ It
(An’ Two an’ One make Three)
’E wants to finish ’is little bit,
An’ ’e wants to go ’ome to ’is tea!
The bachelor pokes up ’is ’ead
To see if you are gone;
But the married man lies down instead,
An’ waits till the sights come on,
For ’Im an’ ’Er an’ a hit
 (Direct or ricochee)
’E wants to finish ’is little bit,
An’ ’e wants to go ’ome to ’is tea.
The bachelor will miss you clear
To fight another day;
But the married man, ’e says “No fear!”
’E wants you out of the way
Of ’Im an’ ’Er an’ It
 (An’ ’is road to ’is farm or the sea),
’E wants to finish ’is little bit,
An’ ’e wants to go ’ome to ’is tea.
The bachelor ’e fights ’is fight
An’ stretches out an’ snores;
But the married man sits up all night—
For ’e don’t like out-o’-doors.
’E’ll strain an’ listen an’ peer
An’ give the first alarm—
For the sake o’ the breathin’ ’e’s used to ’ear
An’ the ’ead on the thick of ’is arm.
The bachelor may risk ’is ’ide
To ’elp you when you’re downed;
But the married man will wait beside
Till the ambulance comes round.
’E’ll take your ’ome address
An’ all you’ve time to say,
Or if ’e sees there’s ’ope, ’e’ll press
Your art’ry ’alf the day—
For ’Im an’ ’Er an’ It
(An’ One from Three leaves Two),
For ’e knows you wanted to finish your bit,
An’ ’e knows ’oo’s wantin’ you.
Yes, ’Im an’ ’Er an’ It
(Our ’oly One in Three),
We’re all of us anxious, to finish our bit,
An’ we want to get ’ome to our tea!
Yes, It an’ ’Er an’ ’Im,
Which often makes me think
The married man must sink or swim
An’—’e can’t afford to sink!
Oh ’Im an’ It an’ ’Er
Since Adam an’ Eve began!
So I’d rather fight with the bachelor
 An’ be nursed by the married man!

This poem, like “Tommy”, is written in the dialect of the common soldier, with most of the leading aitches missing from words (it’s an object lesson in the use of apostrophes to indicate missing letters). Each stanza contrasts a different aspect of the behaviour of a married soldier with a child compared to a single man, and in a way, it doesn’t just apply to the military sphere: I’m reminded of the lyric from Del Amitri’s “Nothing Ever Happens”:

And bachelors phone up their friends for a drink
While the married ones turn on a chat show

The married man is presented as a capable and efficient man who won’t “play the game” but will do any task in the most effective and prompt way so that “ ‘Im an’ ‘Er an’ It’ can be back together again—“ ‘e wants to go ‘ome to ‘is tea” as soon as humanly possible.

This reminds me of Lloyd because he would do anything for his daughters.

Poem 110. Full Fathom Five Thy Father Lies

Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

William Shakespeare (1564—1616)
Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them,—ding-dong, bell.

This is the first Shakespeare poem I have chosen, and it is like the father it describes: rich and strange. It speaks of a drowned man whose body has been changed by the creatures and action of the sea water: every part of him has become something rare and precious.


Poem 111. My Heart Leaps Up

The Child is father of the Man

William Wordsworth (1770—1850)
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

I’ve cheated a little here, being unable to find many poems about fathers that are out of copyright, but I like this poem because it is simple and because it describes the joy one feels when seeing a rainbow as a child, and as an adult, and the hope that it will always be so even in old age. Wordsworth paradoxically tells us that “The Child is father of the Man” but he means that the child grows to adulthood and all that one knows when grown has been learned while growing up. He wishes that every day of his life could be linked together by the same natural joy.

Apparently there is also a mathematical pun in the last line: Wordsworth loved geometry and refers to the (semi)circular nature of the rainbow as “natural piety” (pi-ety or π-ety).