It Was Long Ago by Eleanor Farjeon
4 February 2002

 

This poem is in 12 stanzas of three lines each, and perhaps the most striking feature of it is the strong use of repetition.

The words "you know" are repeated constantly, appearing three times at the ends of stanzas, plus a concluding "you see". "Long ago" is used four times (apart from the title) and words rhyming with "me" and "know" are scattered throughout, lending a pleasing sense of rhythm to the lines.

The subject matter itself is simplistic, but enchanting in its simplicity. A small girl - very small, "not more than three" - is given a dish of bilberries and cream by an old woman. It is summer, the girl's family are probably on holiday as she seems to be unfamiliar with her surroundings, the road is dusty. All senses are invoked by small things, which experience has taught me is an excellent literary technique. Reading quietly, you feel yourself there, and "how it felt to be three".

There are just a few lines I dislike. "I dragged on the dusty road" is a little too ambiguous for the rest of the poem. While unusual metaphors should be used, they should not be so unusual as to confuse the reader. And "the smell of everything" is definitely a cop-out. The smell of the berries could not be invoked, as they had already been used, rather obviously, for taste; but did the dust not have a scent, or the grass? Or, to be somewhat immature, how about the old woman herself? Tiny, tiny invocations should be used for each sense, obvious and elusive in their obviousness. When you recognise a set of words which you have never seen before, greet and embrace it and move on, you know that the writer has chosen a perfect metaphor or other language technique; if, however, you hesitate for even a second, they have tried too hard.

 

 

7 February 2002

This poem has a very exciting rhyme scheme. Breaking it down into "a"s and "b"s cannot remove the magic.

I can see everything described, or almost everything. I can't quite see the fence. "A dusty road in summer… an old house…" inevitably conjures up visions of farm homesteads, abandoned, ramshackle, and unarguably fenceless.

I am drunk on this poem. It's one of a type that I will never write. As I accept my own poetic inadequacy, I enjoy reading poetry more and more.

 

back to litblog