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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Number 250: Fleur Adcock "For A Five-Year-Old"

For A Five-Year-Old

A snail is climbing up the window-sill
Into your room, after a night of rain.
You call me in to see, and I explain
That it would be unkind to leave it there:
It might crawl to the floor; we must take care
That no one squashes it. You understand,
And carry it outside, with careful hand,
To eat a daffodil.

I see, then, that a kind of faith prevails:
Your gentleness is moulded still by words
From me, who have trapped mice and shot wild birds,
From me, who drowned your kittens, who betrayed
Your closest relatives, and who purveyed
The harshest kind of truth to many another.
But that is how things are: I am your mother,
And we are kind to snails.

-- Fleur Adcock

Hap Notes: Kareen Fleur Adcock's (born 1934) poetry has a Granny Smith apple quality in that it can be tart, sweet, crisp and sometimes a little bitter or acrid. Her work is written with a conversational vocabulary and the mysteries it unveils can be surprising.

Born in Aukland, New Zealand, Adcock is the veteran of two youthful marriages to NZ literary types, both of which ended in divorce before she left for England in 1963. She went to England and was the assistant librarian at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, a post she held for 16 years.

Adcock has consistently written poetry throughout her life and has won loads of awards ( okay, specifically? The New Zealand State Literary Fund Award, the Buckland Award (twice), the Jessie Mackay Prize (twice), the Cholmondeley Award, the New Zealand National Book Award, Arts Council Writers' Award, an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for contribution to NZ literature, a Ruckland Award, a Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry and Companion of New Zealand Order of Merit. Phew!)

Today's poem is wryly amusing. When we ask how someone can be a Christian and bomb an abortion clinic or even carry a gun, we can directly go back to the little cheats (or big cheats) we have in our lives that make us feel guilty or defensive. We raise our children to respect life while we ravage the earth. We talk peace and make war. We hate our dependence on fossil fuels and drive everywhere. I know all these things sound BIG and our little cheats are so small but as the old adage goes, "You can't get a little bit pregnant." You are what you do, not what you believe, unless the two are synonymous. And that is hard to accomplish in our culture. We are painfully aware of this on a daily basis, just like the poet is in today's poem.

Note how our "words" have an effect on a small child. If only this were so as they got to their teen-aged years, eh? Also implicit in the poem is the natural trust and kindness of a child. That quality we guard so carefully until... what?

Of course, there is also a quality of loving protection in the poem, too, isn't there?

Here's a good Adcock quote: "You have to listen to your own voice. Not your heart, not your instincts, not any of that self-permissive psycho-babble stuff. No, none of that. If it was just about instincts and bright ideas it wouldn't need to be a voice. It's about words. You hear them, read them, then you write. But mostly read. Read the bloody poems."

and also

""There's nothing airy-fairy about being a poet."

You can find more Adcock here:

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