Joe Writes . . .
It has been suggested that more poetry might be helpful during The Great Isolation, and what could it possibly hurt? With a nod to the poets of older days and an explanation that follows . . .
Natalie cried as I drove away,
tho’ I would be gone just a day
and she had much to do,
tasks to fill a whole day through.
Still, Natalie cried.
At the end of my days,
my life tallied and weighed,
don’t rank the things I’ve done,
riches gained nor battles won.
Instead recall that I drove away,
and Natalie cried.
– Joseph Neely, 2019
When we were young our mother was fond of reciting a poem called ‘Jenny Kiss’d Me’ by the English poet Leigh Hunt (1785 – 1859). The gist of the poem is that although the speaker – in this case, the poet himself – may be weary and sad, although he may have missed out on riches and fame and be nearing the end of his life, nonetheless his life is not without merit because – and don’t you ever forget it! – Jenny kissed him, and Jenny’s kiss was more rewarding than any temporal triumph could be.
Fast-forward some 200 years and I was reminded of my mother and the poem when one of my granddaughters, Natalie, cried as her father drove away on a short business trip. I couldn’t help but recast the poem to fit the occasion, doing the best I could with the old-fashioned poetic structure (mine is a modified Rondeau of sorts, if you’re keeping score).
The story behind the poem is especially poignant during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Recovering from the flu following a not-uncommon 19th century epidemic, Hunt visited his friends Thomas Carlysle and Jane Welsh Carlysle, Jane being the ‘Jenny’ of the poem (pictured at left). Delighted to see her friend, Jane rose from her chair and kissed the poet, much to his everlasting – and now immortal – delight.
A further connection – just now discovered, while preparing this entry – is that Jane Welsh Carlysle was, according to Virginia Woolf, one of the “great letter writers,” and so was my mother. Jane’s writing was further described as a private writing career, which also describes my mother’s extensive body of work. If the world were fair, my mother’s writing would have been widely celebrated. She might have become a famous old lady, beloved by most and vaguely annoying to some (Mom had strong opinions). Instead, my mother wrote copiously for herself, her family and a handful of people about whom she cared enough to share her writing.
Our mother, Catherine Verschoor Neely McNabb
Without further ado, the original poem by Leigh Hunt follows.
JENNY KISS’D ME
Jenny kiss’d me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into you list, put that in!
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
Say that health and wealth have miss’d me,
Say I’m growing old, but add
Jenny kiss’d me.
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