Greetings. I hope you like this photo of me striding across Dartmoor. It’s a selfie I took the other day while I was wandering about up there. In my fierce distracted way I was thinking that the poems and stories we love in early childhood seem sometimes to contain some essence of who we will become. Years ago when I used to teach astrology, I used to get students to remember their favourite fairy stories, then we looked at their birth charts and the correlations were wonderfully close. You could say the chart told the story, or the story found expression in the chart. Certainly each reflected the other.
Lately I’ve been thinking about my relationship with the early John Keats poem, Meg Merrilies. It was the first poem I ever knew, and I would have been hearing it since I was a baby, as my mother had learned it by heart at school and loved to recite it. Here’s how it starts.
Old Meg she was a Gipsy,
And liv’d upon the Moors:
Her bed it was the brown heath turf,
And her house was out of doors.
Her apples were swart blackberries
Her currants pods o’ broom;
Her wine was the dew of the wild white rose,
Her book a churchyard tomb.
Her brothers were the craggy hills
Her sisters larchen trees –
Alone with her great family
She liv’d as she did please.
No breakfast had she many a morn,
No dinner many a noon,
And ‘stead of supper she would stare
Full hard against the Moon….. etc
Much as I love John Keats, this isn’t one of his best poems, but I used to love it. I loved the freedom and wildness of Meg’s life, her intimacy with trees and flowers and Moon, and her independence – all carried to me in my mother’s lovely young voice. And despite all the other people I’ve been in my life, I have to say I’ve turned out quite Meggy in the end. I still come indoors most nights, but in another ten years who knows?
What about you? What was the first poem or story you loved as a child? Does it contain something of the story of your subsequent life? Does it give a hint of who you’ve become? If we simply look, we see how the world constantly reveals us to ourselves.