Nesbit Likes: For a Five-Year-Old by Fleur Adcock

Throughout life, as children, as adults, we make decisions that change who we are. Some of these will be good, some might be bad, a few may be worse. We carry our histories with us, in scars, in behaviour, in personality. Adcock, in my favourite poem of hers, explores this with a dark sense of humour and simple observation.

It is a straightforward first stanza. ‘A snail’ has ‘climbed’ into the child’s room. The narrator, the mother, provides guidance on what to do. ‘I explain,’ she says, ‘it would be unkind to leave it there.’ It is to be ‘carr[ied] outside, with careful hand’ so that ‘no one squashes it.’ It is even fed a daffodil. The language is simplistic, innocent, directional, as one would talk to a young child.

In the second stanza, the mother reflects that this child has had their ‘gentleness… moulded by [her] words’. What she says builds the child and their morals. The thing is, her actions have been very, very different in the past. She has ‘trapped mice’, ‘shot wild birds’, ‘drowned… kittens’ and ‘purveyed the harshest kind of truth to many another’. She has acted the complete opposite to which she instructs her child.

Perhaps this starts to ring bells for us. When our parents said ‘because I said so’, Adcock writes ‘But that is how things are’. Our parents set the rules.

We all have our ‘grey area.’ None of us are all good, none of us are all bad, and it’s that fluctuation between kind and nasty behaviour which is a morally fascinating occurrence. The poem explores this. Yes, the mother has done awful things to other animals, to other people in her history, but right now, the rule is this: ‘we are kind to snails.’

I absolutely love the juxtaposition presented. The mother gives sweet guidance, careful instruction, to look after another living thing. But this is also the same mother who has done terrible things, performed actions beyond a child’s understanding, for better or for worse. This is reflected, too, in the rhyme scheme. It is the same in both stanzas (with the end of the first and last lines rhyming, couplets in between) and it represents the consistency of her person. She is the same, both when looking after the snail and when capturing and harming others, but it is her words that change. It seems as if even she can’t comprehend it, repeating ‘from me’ in disbelief.

Why does Nesbit like this poem so much? Because it explores our dark histories, our intentions to protect loved ones. Parenting isn’t an easy thing, and both mothers and fathers will understand. But parenting is also a strange thing, often of inconsistency and contradiction. Children have faith in us, trust, to teach them the ways of the world, even when we didn’t get it right the first time.

I do not own the rights to publish this poem but if you’re looking for somewhere to read it, here’s a quick Google search for you!

Looking for more poetry analysis?

Nesbit Likes: Digging by Seamus Heaney
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Nesbit Likes: Visiting Hour by Steward Conn
You broke the ice with a hammer.
I watched the goldfish appear,
blunt-nosed and delicately clear.

Nesbit Likes: The Sightseers by Paul Muldoon
They held a pistol so hard against his forehead
there was still the mark of an O when he got home.

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Nesbit Likes: The Epitaph of Gregory Corso

Gregory Corso has an outstanding catalogue of poetry. Even though he was youngest in the solid circle of the beat generation, he had fire and ardor that in many ways was unmatched. His poems Marriage, Destiny and Second Night in NYC After 3 Years are all pieces to add to the staple diet for the beat-loving poets. If you’ve not yet read them, they go nicely with a full voice and a sense of humour.

My first encounter with Corso was reading his epitaph. Corso wrote the inscription himself and it’s beautiful. His writing brilliantly reflects raw human thoughts and behaviour, fears and doubts and his tombstone words echo the purity of his ideas and the strength of his passion. He rests in Rome, Italy, surrounded by Percy and Keats.

— — —
is Life
It flows thru
the death of me
like a river
of becoming
the sea

Nesbit Likes: And The Days Are Not Full Enough by Ezra Pound

If you were ever looking for the shortest poem that spoke the loudest, it might just be this one. The piece is one that is known by many – however, if this is your first time reading this poem, you surely won’t forget it.

Pound encompasses our fears in one, short stanza. Life is fleeting. Keats similarly touched upon the subject and it’s heavy and haunting; there’s just not enough time to complete our goals – whatever they are. Time escapes us. As poets, as writers, it’s a feeling too familiar that although there are thousands of ideas we have in our heads, it means nothing if it isn’t written down.

For me, this poem is the epitome of the wake-up call. Whatever it is you want to do in life, whatever it is you want to achieve, whatever it is you want to become, it requires work, it requires time, and you have to start right now. Turn off the television, put down the book, finish your pint. It motivates me in wanting to not only shake the grass but tear them up from the roots, salt the earth behind and let everyone know that Nesbit was here.

— — —
And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass

Nesbit Likes: On a Wedding Anniversary by Dylan Thomas

It’s an awful day over here; we’ve had rain pounding against the windows and winds rattling the trees – it brought me back to this poem.

Thomas describes the fall of a marriage in three stanzas. It’s powerful, it’s chilling and it’s impressive. The tone delivered from the opening stanza immediately puts a dark cloud above your head and it reads ‘This won’t be pretty.’

Thomas says a lot about marriage and a lot about love; while you may have all the pieces to make it work, to live together, to grow old, things happen in life that puts it to a solid halt. There are wounds that never heal, especially when death isn’t caused by nature.

This has been my go-to poem for when a sombre mood strikes. The lingering rhyme scheme is unforgettable and the last stanza in particular is haunting and has stuck with me for a very long time.

— — —
The sky is torn across
This ragged anniversary of two
Who moved for three years in tune
Down the long walks of their vows.

Now their love lies a loss
And Love and his patients roar on a chain;
From every tune or crater
Carrying cloud, Death strikes their house.

Too late in the wrong rain
They come together whom their love parted:
The windows pour into their heart
And the doors burn in their brain.

Nesbit Likes: I Am Very Bothered by Simon Armitage

Right now, I’m sure you can pinpoint a moment in your childhood or teenage years you sincerely regret. That moment often follows us and while we forgive ourselves and label it as learning (the hard way), if we could turn back time, we probably wouldn’t have decided to read our love poem out to the entire class at the age of thirteen… perhaps that’s just me.

Armitage has condensed all of this into three small stanzas of memory. There’s a very natural rhythm to this, dotted with internal rhymes that give the poem a bounce like a brainwave jolt in remembering events. While the content isn’t exactly pretty, the vivid imagery allows us to fully experience this memory as if it were our own.

It’s a quirky love poem that epitomises the awkwardness of growing up as a teenage boy and how feelings are expressed and acted upon – anyone of that category will find some relation in this ode to clumsiness, we’ve all been there. Arguably, there’s an unsettling level of ambiguity we’re left with, but nonetheless a brilliant piece that will stick with you.

— — —
I am very bothered when I think
of the bad things I have done in my life.
Not least that time in the chemistry lab
when I held a pair of scissors by the blades
and played the handles
in the naked lilac flame of the Bunsen burner;
then called your name, and handed them over.O the unrivalled stench of branded skin
as you slipped your thumb and middle finger in,
then couldn’t shake off the two burning rings. Marked,
the doctor said, for eternity.

Don’t believe me, please, if I say
that was just my butterfingered way, at thirteen,
of asking you if you would marry me.

Nesbit Likes: Lyrics by Johnny Flynn

If there was music to accompany a country writing session, where you write on an oak table in a cosy cottage planted on a lush green field, it’d be from Johnny Flynn. He’s soft, melodic and a lot of his music – like the feature below – have buoyancy and flow to them.

The Water is a favourite and while the subject matter is perhaps slightly sombre, there’s an enormous amount of peace and tranquility to the song. It’s packed with great imagery, too, and quite often the aid to my scribbles.

Although the writing is fantastic, it doesn’t do the song justice to simply read them – find his version of the song below, featuring the lovely Laura Marling.

The water sustains me without even trying
The water can’t drown me, I’m done
With my dying

Now the land that I knew is a dream
And the line on the distance grows faint
So wide is my river
The horizon a sliver
The artist has run out of paint

There’s a lot of amazing music from Flynn and while I’d love to share it all, here’s another favourite. It’s the title music to BBC’s The Detectorists, which is a warming series about metal detecting. Here’s a link to it – I don’t think there’s a person on Earth who won’t like it!

Nesbit Likes: The Clod and Pebble by William Blake

The Clod and Pebble, defined as “Contrary States of the Human Soul,” portrays two perspectives of love. One from the young, mouldable clod of clay who is selfless in love, kind and innocent. The other is from the hardened, old pebble, who believes love only exists in a selfish way.

It’s compact yet eloquent, with some of the best symbolism of the Romantics. It’s Friday night and it’s optimism in one corner, pessimism in the other.

— — —
“Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,

And builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.”

So sung a little Clod of Clay
Trodden with the cattle’s feet,
But a Pebble of the brook
Warbled out these metres meet:

“Love seeketh only self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another’s loss of ease,
And builds a Hell in Heaven’s despite.”

Nesbit Likes: Lyrics

From The Mountain Goats’ This Year, this song really speaks from the heart. Their music is a continuing source of inspiration; they’ve got consistent brilliant imagery with a rustic, woody feel to it. These two verses are a favourite – make sure to give the song and their other pieces a listen, they’re great!

I played video games in a drunken haze
I was 17 years young
Hurt my knuckles punching the machines
The taste of scotch rich on my tongue

And then Cathy showed up and we hung out
Trading swigs from a bottle, all bitter and clean
Locking eyes, holding hands
Twin high maintenance machines

Nesbit Likes: Grass by Carl Sandburg

Perhaps a sombre poem for a Friday feature but it certainly got the creative juices flowing. For those staying in to write tonight, it may bring some inspiration to the evening of verse moulding. It was a first find and a first read for me and I think it’s brilliant.
Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work—
                                          I am the grass; I cover all.


And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
                                          What place is this?
                                          Where are we now?


                                          I am the grass.
                                          Let me work.