What precisely the poet’s role is when he comments upon society, is open to interpretation. I know I tend to be more sympathetic when he raises an issue that sounds some echo deep within my own psyche.
The following few poems by John Hewitt (others will follow this one, entitled ‘Betrayal’) all reflect on his own very early life; on the dawning realization of the existence of adult problems; and each one comments on how the child must learn to practice the small deceptions that come so easily, with their experience, to his elders!
I had a nurse when I was very small –
God only knows how we afforded her,
teachers’ salaries being what they were.
Yet we lacked nothing much that I recall.
I loved her well. She always wore a hat,
and prammed me out along the afternoon,
from vast adventures coming home too soon.
My careless chatter put an end to that.
I learned to talk apace. One fated day
my father asked me if the park was fun.
The simple truth was that our steady run
was to a crony’s house a mile away,
where I was loosed from harness and let out
to tumble with my cronies on the floor,
while one of our tall seniors went next door
and brought back six black bottles they called stout
and sweeties for the children. So I told
that we had been where stout and ladies were.
My father called the nurse in, being fair,
and, though he talked a long time, did not scold.
She combed my curls next day and went away,
and I was broken-hearted for a week.
That you should always think before you speak
was something which I learned a later day.