-By Janey Thornton
Books at Bookbarn catch my eye all the time - that's the nature of working in a gigantic bookshop. But the book I've chosen to write about today was slightly different. It had no obvious author - just the vague title 'Literary Notes and Extracts 1930-34' written on the inside page, and no other information. It wasn't giving up anything. It was just a once plain notebook, full to the brim with elegant scribbles in pencil and pen, and it seemed to be begging to be read. I put it on my desk for safekeeping and thought no more of it. That was a year ago - and last week, at long last, I picked it up.
The book is full of little snippets of someone's thoughts and life. Newspaper cuttings, transcribed poems, and the writer's own poems too, along the way, sitting alongside the likes of Rupert Brooke and William Morris. It's an absolute gem, and not something you find all too often on our shelves.
One poem in particular really stood out. I researched it a little and found that it was originally written by a First World War Chaplain who was nicknamed 'Woodbine Willy' for his habit of handing out Woodbine cigarettes to soldiers in the trenches. It struck me as the kind of hidden treasure I would never have found had this anonymous journal-keeper brought it to my attention. Here is the poem:
Wild Rose Way
My dear, I love you as I love
Wild roses when they first come out
In June, with that miraculous
Soft blush of pink, as though some elf
Had painted them for fun, while God
Looked on and laughed. You know the way
They nod and ask you not to pluck
Them, please, because they fade so soon.
I never want to touch, but just
To stand, and stare, and stare, and thank
The God who made them, and gave me
eyes to see. That's how I love you,
Dear wild rose way. It is pure joy
To look on you, June mornings joy,
But oh! how I hate death, dull death,
When I see roses or see you.
For you ought not to die, or change,
Or curl, or bloom, or fade, wild rose.
You should be always you, the same
Eternal summer, with the dew
For ever fresh upon your hair.
And I should never die, or age,
I hate this frowning old that blinds
Our eyes, and steals sweet laughter from
Our hearts. It should be always June.
And we should just stand still and stare,
Until we see pure Beauty's face,
And kiss the garment hem of God.
Poetry isn't so fashionable nowadays; it's been replaced by the more popular forms of the short story or novel. But I've always had a passion for it, and this journal sums up for me its spirit. It can exist anywhere, disjointed from its actual creator, passed along like a Chinese whisper. Wild Rose Way, by an obscure and now almost forgotten poet, was written during the First World War and transcribed by this anonymous writer between 1930-34, just before the outbreak of another war. And now it's been found by me, and transcribed, and passed on to you for reading. You can complete the process of sinking into and emerging from a poem within about a minute; it's a quick submersion, like falling in a puddle, and one I'll never get bored of. I hope you also enjoyed it!