The gift

I see you, sitting up there on the stage,
In concert dress; so poised, so meant to be
A part of this; one bright eye on the page
And one on the conductor, perfectly
In time and tune, your fingers swift and sure.
The piece ends. As the last long notes subside
The audience erupts, and something more
Engulfs me, too, than mere parental pride.
Life’s to be lived in full, not fear – and yet
What’s in your hands and heart gives you the choice
To step outside it for a while, forget
All things but you, and them, and your own voice.
Whatever part life holds for you to play
This gift is yours forever, come what may.


This is for my daughter, who is about to go off on tour with the East Sussex Youth Orchestra to Normandy. They have the honour of playing in the magnificent cathedral in Bayeux on their final night – and by a happy intervention of fickle Fortune, we will enjoy the privilege of being there to hear them.

She commissioned (her word) a poem from me after watching Dead Poets Society for the first time last night. I hadn’t seen it in years, and it reminded me that what we do as writers actually is important. As the much-missed Robin Williams’s character, John Keating, says: “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love: these are what we stay alive for.” The fact that she stayed up half the night reading Shakespeare’s sonnets afterwards merely proves his point. N.



What remains
For us here
When all seems quite undone?
Who to blame
When we fear
The worst is still to come?
Where to place
Hope or trust
Amid the endless, depthless lies?
How to face
All that must
Befall us as our long dream dies?