Home, Memory and Remembrance

Poppies planted in the lawn at St Mary's Church

In the autumn issue of The Poetry Review, the Journal of the Poetry Society, the editorial lays out the theme, which is the concept of ‘home’. This is not just a complex thought to which poets often return, but a matter of great importance to many people in our day, and in every age. Where do you feel at home?

Emily Berry, who wrote the editorial, steers us to think of the American Poet Elizabeth Bishop, who spent much of her young childhood at her maternal grandparents’ house in Nova Scotia, but was then moved to Massachusetts at the tender age of six. She is recorded much later in life as having said, “I have never felt particularly homeless, but, then, I’ve never felt particularly at home”. Is this in fact what many people experience, especially having moved a significant distance in childhood?

Having moved much myself throughout my life, “Where is home?” is a question to which I don’t think I am capable of providing a simple answer. What, in fact, do we mean by ‘home’? Partly I fancy that I would want to fudge it with feelings rather than facts. Where do I ‘feel’ at home may not be where I would naturally ‘regard’ as home, and it may change.

The poet Andrew Motion, in his personal collection of mostly prose writings for journals and newspapers over nearly half a century (Ways of Life - On Places, Painters and Poets), he begins, interestingly, with a piece subtitled “A Homecoming”, referring to a place of long memory to him, and much further back to his great-grandparents, so introducing the element of ‘memory’ into the mix.

These thoughts are coming together in my mind as we approach the period of Remembrance here in Swanage. We are remembering especially the ending of the First World War in this centenary year, but focusing on the ninety-nine men who were from Swanage who died. There is the feeling that we want, as a community, to remember those who left their homes and families and this town in which we live, and didn’t return.

Mike Bonfield, the town mayor, and I have visited schools in Swanage to talk about the days of Remembrance and how they will affect us. The children were asked by the mayor how many of them had relations from Swanage who had fought in the world wars. Many of them put up their hands; some knew that they were related to someone of the ninety-nine who died in the Great War.

So, home and memory and relationship are coming together, helping us connect with others who may share things from long ago, that we today hold dear. None of this is easily put in words or even deeply understood, but to live in harmony through our experiences of change, both ours and others, may help us resolve our sense of home being where we feel content.

John Mann