Thursday, 29 March 2012

Shall We Stay Up Late?

Here's a great poem published in the current edition of the TLS (March 30 2012).

On Turning Fifty

for my daughter

We could stay up late with Stanley Kunitz,
   Harry Patch, Bob Hope and Run Run Shaw
To watch an autumn evening fall to bits

   Then paint or crayon, gathered on the floor
As cosy as the streets are cold and coaly 
   With every toy dismantled in its drawer,

And when we reach the time that's wholly
   Unfamiliar -- 3 or 4 a.m. -- yawning,
We could bet on who will roly-poly

   Down the hill and on till morning:
Harry? Stanley? Run Run? You, or me?
   Fizzy, we could giggle without warning,

Pray for biscuits, pop and cups of tea.
   You could mess with glue and glitter
And I could listen to the BBC

   While pipistrelles and whatnots flitter,
Fossicking for tasty, little things;
   Or I could make an origami critter

That flaps its head and folds its wings
   -- A creature nothing ever wants to catch --
Then caterwaul when Bob Hope sings,

   Or lean in close as close to Harry Patch
To hear him call me, softly, chum or mate,
   And with our front door off the latch

We'll trust the sunrise to procrastinate
   And every song-struck bird to wait...
So, Sylvie, shall we stay up late?

Stephen Knight

(Apologies to Stephen Knight and the TLS if this flagrant breach of copyright is unwelcome.  Instant takedown guaranteed.)

Incredibly, my own daughter's 18th birthday is coming up this year, and this poem captures my feelings beautifully.  It also puts me in mind of the song Father and Daughter by Paul Simon, which -- if it ever catches me unawares -- can reduce me to helpless sentimentality.
If you leap awake in the mirror of a bad dream
And for a fraction of a second you can't remember where you are
Just open your window and follow your memory upstream
To the meadow in the mountain where we counted every falling star.
Harry Patch, by the way, was the last surviving British combatant of WW1, who lived to be 111.  His whispered condemnations of the folly of war became a familar presence on the media in his last years.  Sir Run Run Shaw is a billionaire media mogul and philanthropist; the purpose of his presence in the poem is something I'm still thinking about.  If you don't know who Stanley Kunitz (not be confused with Lee Konitz) or Bob Hope are, then please don't admit as much to me.

Addendum 30/3/2012:  my colleague Debra has pointed out the fact that Kunitz, Patch, Hope and Shaw were -- of course! -- all centenarians (remember the poem's title).

Addendum 12/4/2012:  Charles has commented: "Just to say, this fine poem will be in Stephen Knight's new collection, to be published in September by CB editions ("  Charles is a distinguished small publisher, who also blogs as Sonofabook.


Martin said...

I can see why this struck a chord, Mike. Thanks for reproducing it here. How could Mr Knight object?

A while back, I compiled a slideshow of photographs of the grandchildren, and set it to Pauls Simon's Father and Daughter. Sentimentality or an undisguised combination of love and pride?

Mike C. said...


"Sentimentality or an undisguised combination of love and pride?"

Well, both obviously. Mind, for me, there really is a "meadow in the mountain where we counted every falling star". I froze myself solid, holding her up to watch the Leonids, around 2 a.m. in France one summer.


Martyn Cornell said...

Ah yes - is there a father with a daughter who doesn't feel a little throat-catch hearing that song? Written originally, I believe for the Wild Thornberrys movie.

Now, here's an odd link: another song featured in that movie is "Get Out of London" by the Pretenders, which contains the lines "Run don't walk, keep as straight as a crow, I'm waiting for my treasure at the Admiral Benbow." The father in The Wild Thornberrys is voiced by Tim Curry, who played Long John Silver in Muppet Treasure Island which features the Admiral Benbow. Now is that Jungian or what? OK, no, not very much, but it slightly tickled me.

charles said...

Just to say, this fine poem will be Stephen Knight's new collection, to be published in September by CB editions (

Mike C. said...


Small publishers are more than welcome on this blog -- thanks for the alert, and hopefully some of us will do our bit!