Hand in hand we strode, the three of us, urged on by a sharp cold breeze that swept across the bright winter sunlight. Over hummocks of grass and molehills, which gave a certain syncopation to the tempo we had established, the conversation flowed, paused and welled up again. Quite unexpectedly the verses came, drawn from distant memory by the rhythm of our walking. My young companions listened with delight to the only poems I know all the way though by heart. The trudging of our feet led to the quaint fancy of the Owl and Pussycat as we undulated over the fields. How we relished the absurd evocation of the Jabberwocky -- the languor and drama of those ridiculous words.Skip to next paragraph
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Walking and reciting poetry are made for each other, I decided. The expanse of countryside sweeps away inhibitions as the movement of words and body combines to bring a concentration that is difficult to find in a room full of people all consciously listening. Another poem was demanded. Faltering, I wandered lonely as a cloud, and then petered out fluttering beside the lake. I searched for some Shakespeare, but to be or not to be did not appeal. At that moment I wished with all my heart that we had been made to learn pages and pages of poetry to declaim on country walks for the benefit of the next generation. I vividly recall my father reciting enormous hunks of verse about the boy on a burning deck and Horatio at the bridge, in addition to his repertoire of Edward Lear. We usually had these renditions at mealtimes.
Nursery rhymes wouldn't do, so we plunged off in another direction and made up our own verses. This worked quite well for keeping tired legs on the move. But the words, trying to keep up with plodding feet, slipped out too easily. And thus all hope of finding a glimmer of feeling or sparkle of an idea was swept away in the wind. Still, we enjoyed the jumble of sounds and it was an exercise in rhyming.
I have written fairly presentable poetry from time to time, but usually while sitting down. The most vivid recollection of writing out of doors was when a group of us went one winter day to a field on the slopes of the North Downs. We were there for one purpose -- to write haiku verse together. One of our number wrote the first lines. The paper was left on the ground sheet spread on the grass while we wan- dered round gathering up the visual and mental impression of where we were and what we saw. As far as I can recollect, we had agreed that if possible the verses should be linked by this winter countryside. At the end of the afternoon we had achieved about six respectable verses, quite individual within the frame we had imposed. In addition the field, which had thrust up a quantity of flint during the seasons, was now decorated with designs on stone. The painter and potter in our group had seized the challenge offered by these jagged stones, and worked with determined abandon.
Eventually the children and I arrived back home. Since that par- ticular walk I've noticed these two young friends have embarked on the heady, delightful and sometimes excruciating pastime of verse making. Occasionally, amid the nonsensical cacophony a little gem nudges its way through.