Tuesday, 29 July 2008
I have to confess that I am one of many people who find it impossible to walk past a second-hand bookshop without 'popping in' for a quick browse. Wherever I have lived, worked, or just visited, the discovery of such shops has been immensely satisfying. Once inside, all sense of time ceases, 5 minutes becomes 30 minutes, and 30 minutes anything from 1 to 2 hours. This of course, does depend on the tacit approval of the bookseller, most of whom are quite happy to allow browsing for as long as required, providing that their lunch hour or closing time is not effected! Sadly, I suspect that there are a few booksellers who let the side down, denying the customer the pleasure of a private and leisurely browse, by the simple expedient of watching their every move. From personal experience I know that customers do not like this, and as a matter of principle waste no time in leaving, perhaps never to return. In the past, virtually every visit to my friendly bookseller has resulted in the purchase of at least one book, admittedly prompted sometimes more as a mark of appreciation for a warm, if unspoken welcome, rather than a burning desire for the item purchased! I rarely enter a bookshop with a specific purchase in mind, rather am I enticed by the mysteries of this 'Aladdin's Cave', and what treasures I might find therein! Part of the attraction is the sheer variety of subject matter, most of which one knows little or nothing about. Hence books on such diverse subjects as ‘Canals’, ‘Windmills’, ‘Boats of the Thames Estuary’, ‘Lighthouses’, ‘African history’, ‘Poetry’, now sit comfortably on my bookshelves, cheek by jowl with well-thumbed books on ‘Art’, ‘Military History’, ‘Catholic Church’, etc. As a bonus, some bookshops also deal in maps, engravings, etchings, and watercolour paintings, many over 100 years old, and as such both interesting and collectable, if you can afford them! We live on Stronsay, one of the Northern Isles of Orkney, and a visit to Mainland, Orkney, by ferry can take up to 2 hours each way, which makes ‘popping-in’ to either of the two second-hand bookshops on Mainland, somewhat difficult and rather expensive! Modern technology, in the form of the internet, has compensated for this, by enabling access to ‘on-line’ book auctions and bookshops worldwide, offering a vast range of new and second-hand books at modest cost. I admit that this hasn’t quite the same allure as the 'hands-on' approach, but it’s as near as we can get most of the time, and it can be very satisfying. Over the years, a particular interest of mine has been collecting poetry by relatively unknown poets, usually in paper-back format with anything between 14 and 40 pages, often published privately in limited editions of 50 or 100 copies, and sometimes printed on hand-made paper. I have acquired a few such examples, dating mostly from the 1920/30’s era, much of which I particularly enjoy. As an illustration I reproduce below a poem entitled ‘Children’, written by Betty L Robertson in 1930, and published by Whitby, Light & Lane, Bridgwater. So far I have been unable to trace any record of the poet, but I will persevere in my search. Many of her poems were written in the late 1920’s and seem to share the not uncommon themes of love and hope, in a rather sad world. Remember that this was a period of universal hardship and depression, with the world still struggling to recover from the effects of the Great War, and the fragile peace already under threat. To me, a romantic at heart, this short poem is simple yet evocative, poignant yet imbued with a gentle innocence. On reading it, I am reminded of Our Lord's words, "Unless you become as little children, you will not enter into the kingdom of my Father".(Mark 10:15. Matt. 18:3). I hope that you too, enjoy this little poem.
What should they know of life, these little ones?
Who weep, and then forget why they were sad,
Who crown their lives with golden dreams, ambitions,
And never doubt that they will come to pass.
What should they know of life? Its sordidness
To children is a thing of nothingness.
The earth to them was made for work and play,
With new found joys in every endless day,
What should they fear from life, these little ones?
What should they know of love, these little ones?
Who worship from the depth of heart and soul
More faithfully than older ones can tell,
A simple toy, battered or torn, or broken.
And from the angels comes the love for mother,
Kept sacredly aloof from any other,
A love, deep rooted in the little heart,
That nought, not even death, could wrench apart.
What should they fear from love, these little ones?
What should they know of death, these little ones?
Death, fearful in its great uncertainty,
A promised peaceful sleep, yet how we tremble
To leave this world of ours, and walk with God.
But children do not doubt, Heaven must lie
Beyond the twinkling stars, the tranquil sky,
For mother said that dark was safe as light,
And Jesus watches thro’ the longest night.
What should they fear from death, these little ones?