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Old 12-02-2003, 11:21 AM
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Several affectionate tributes have been paid to Cornish poet Charles Causley on the occasion of his recent death. There's a detailed biographical and critical essay by Dana Gioia on the Net, and on other sites samples of his poetry.
A primary schoolteacher for thirty years, he wrote for children as well as adults - mostly in traditional forms, especially the ballad. Much of his best work e.g. 'Timothy Winter' combines humour, shrewd observation and compassion. Of his free verse pieces, Ten Types of Hospital Visitor is among the most hilarious.

He was a close friend of Ted Hughes and the novelist/dramatist Susan Hill, whose poignant memoir can be read at

She quotes this short elegy for a sailor and personal acquaintance of Causley's who died in WW2.


Draw the blanket of ocean
Over his frozen face.
He lies, his eyes quarried by glittering fish,
Staring through the green freezing sea-glass
At the Northern Lights,

He is now a child in the land of Christmas:
Watching, amazed, the white tumbling bears
And the diving seal.
The iron wind clangs round the ice-caps,
The five-point Dog-star
Burns over the silent sea,

And the three ships
Come sailing in.

Margaret Moore
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Old 12-02-2003, 01:21 PM
Janet Kenny Janet Kenny is offline
Join Date: Feb 2001
Location: Queensland, (was Sydney) Australia
Posts: 15,596

I don't know this poet but see why you are affected by his work. This is beautiful.

(I have a dear Cornish poet-friend with whom I have lost touch--Trevor Hewett--he could have written this.)

Thanks for letting me know about him.


Here's the link to Gioa's article.

[This message has been edited by Janet Kenny (edited December 02, 2003).]
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Old 12-02-2003, 03:28 PM
H Roland Angus R H Roland Angus R is offline
Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: London, UK
Posts: 135

Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience
by Charles Causley

I had a silver penny
And an apricot tree
And I said to the sailor
On the white quay

'Sailor O sailor
Will you bring me
If I give you my penny
And my apricot tree

A fez from Algeria
An Arab drum to beat
A little gilt sword
And a parakeet?'

And he smiled and he kissed me
As strong as death
And I saw his red tongue
And I felt his sweet breath

'You may keep your penny
And your apricot tree
And I'll bring your presents
Back from the sea.'

O, the ship dipped down
On the rim of the sky
And I waited while three
Long summers went by

Then one steel morning
On the white quay
I saw a grey ship
Come in from the sea

Slowly she came
Across the bay
For her flashing rigging
Was shot away

All round her wake
The seabirds cried
And flew in and out
Of the hole in her side

Slowly she came
In the path of the sun
And I heard the sound
Of a distant gun

And a stranger came running
Up to me
From the deck of the ship
And he said, said he

'O are you the boy
Who would wait on the quay
With the silver penny
And the apricot tree?

I've a plum-coloured fez
And a drum for thee
And a sword and a parakeet
From over the sea.'

'O where is the sailor
With the bold red hair?
And what is that volley
On the bright air?

O where are the other
Girls and boys?
And why have you brought me
Children's toys?'

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Old 12-03-2003, 02:02 AM
Clive Watkins Clive Watkins is offline
Join Date: May 2001
Location: Yorkshire, UK
Posts: 2,291

Given Charles Causley’s recent death, perhaps this moving, skilful and subtly allusive poem about his parents is an appropriate one to post. He is a very fine poet indeed.

Eden Rock

They are waiting for me somewhere beyond Eden Rock:
My father, twenty-five, in the same suit
Of Genuine Irish Tweed, his terrier Jack
Still two years old and trembling at his feet.

My mother, twenty-three, in a sprigged dress
Drawn at the waist, ribbon in her straw hat,
Has spread the stiff white cloth over the grass.
Her hair, the colour of wheat, takes on the light.

She pours tea from a Thermos, the milk straight
From an old H.P. sauce-bottle, a screw
Of paper for a cork; slowly sets out
The same three plates, the tin cups painted blue.

The sky whitens as if lit by three suns.
My mother shades her eyes and looks my way
Over the drifted stream. My father spins
A stone along the water. Leisurely,

They beckon to me from the other bank.
I hear them call, "See where the stream-path is!
Crossing is not as hard as you might think."
I had not thought that it would be like this.

Charles Causley 1917 - 2003

Note: H. P. Sauce is a brand of brown sauce well-known in Britain.


Clive Watkins
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Old 12-03-2003, 05:24 AM
Janet Kenny Janet Kenny is offline
Join Date: Feb 2001
Location: Queensland, (was Sydney) Australia
Posts: 15,596

Lovely poem. Such subtle near rhymes. I remember Harold Wilson and HP Sauce Why didn't I know this man before?

HRAR Love the poem for children.

[This message has been edited by Janet Kenny (edited December 03, 2003).]
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Old 12-03-2003, 07:53 AM
R. S. Gwynn's Avatar
R. S. Gwynn R. S. Gwynn is offline
Join Date: Feb 2001
Location: Beaumont, TX
Posts: 3,778

A review I did of Causley some years ago:

Secret Destinations: Selected Poems 1977-1988
By Charles Causley
David R. Godine
115 pp.
$9.95 paper
ISBN: 0-87923-739-2

When Charles Causley's Collected Poems was published in 1975, reviewers in American magazines generally praised his work but somehow managed to relegate him to the limbo of minor poets. By focusing on his mastery of the ballad, they may have given the impression of a Johnny One-Note who, in his idiosyncratic disregard for the main currents of modernism, was engaged in an attempt to write as if Pound and Eliot had not existed. Here, in the opening stanzas of a poem in a characteristic mode, Causley chronicles the fortunes of errant youth:

My friend Maloney, eighteen,
Swears like a sentry,
Got into trouble two years back
With the local gentry.

Parson and squire's sons
Informed a copper.
The magistrate took one look at Maloney.
Fixed him proper.

This is squarely in the honorable line of descent that begins with the anonymous folk ballads of the late Middle Ages and counts among its later scions Davidson and Hardy. But what is one to make of verse like this, with its comic rhymes and erratic meters, when it issues from a poet of the present day? The tradition of English modernism, while catholic enough to include both the intellectualism and discursiveness of Eliot and Auden and the musical and rhetorical flourishes of Thomas and Barker, establishes few precedents for this sort of faux-naif plainsong. The equivalent American approach would be to frame the observations in the abrupt cadences and unadorned idiom of William Carlos Williams, as if to say that authenticity in dealing with the Common Man is arrived at only by avoiding the poetic forms he has chosen for himself. Our own American balladeers, caught between the rock of the literary magazines, which are not likely to give any space to anything as reactionary-sounding as a ballad, and the hard place of no alternatives for publication in the popular press, have forsaken the slopes of Parnassus for the lounges of Nashville. Perhaps Causley is fortunate to receive a hearing at all.
Secret Destinations: Selected Poems 1977-1988 provides a generous sample of recent work from a poet, now in his seventies and writing beautifully, who clearly deserves our respect. At this late stage in his career, Causley is not likely to become American poetry's current pet Brit (the job has been vacant since the death of Larkin), but readers here should respond well to his best poems and forgive his infrequent lapses. He is a craftsman who employs a variety of formal strategies, from rhymed pentameters to free verse, in an attempt to match form with content; few American poets demonstrate such versatility. Generally, his poems contain strong narrative elements and avoid the subjective personalism that is the bane of too much contemporary poetry. It is possible that his idiom will slow the American reader ("Today / I see the naked-footed children trawl / The dam for yabbies...."), but for the most part the surfaces of his poems are simple and unobstructed.
Causley has been called "England's Robert Frost," though the comparison is ultimately without basis; trying to imagine an English Frost is about as impossible as summoning up, say, an American Larkin. What he lacks, the element that ultimately raises Larkin to greatness, is a unifying vision: the terrors of existential aloneness that make Larkin's poems on bachelorhood (a subject largely unexplored in American poetry) so memorable. A poet who takes his religion seriously, Causley often explores Christian subjects and themes but, to cite another well-known countryman, his work in this vein lacks the tension of poet-clergyman R.S. Thomas's poetry. Outside of his ballads, which are not much in evidence in the current collection, he lacks a single distinctive quality -- of tone, of idiom, or of sound -- that might set his poems apart from those of any number of skilled poets. The quality of the work is high, to be sure, but there is no "Mr. Bleaney" or "Church-Going" here crying out to be read again and again.
Causley was born in 1917, and his many poems about his youth and extended family rank among his finest. The England of his childhood was filled with the human wreckage of the Great War. "Dick Lander," a veteran who, according to one of the poet's playmates, is "shell-shopped," daily stands on a corner "playing a game of trains with match-boxes." The poem concludes with a childish prank:

At firework time we throw a few at Dick.

Shout, 'Here comes Kaiser Bill!' Dick stares us through
As if we're glass. We yell, 'What did you do
In the Great War?' And skid into the dark.
'Choo, choo,' says Dick. 'Choo, choo, choo, choo,
choo, choo.'

One relative recalled is "Uncle Stan," who died in a military training camp in British Columbia. "He might have been a farmer; swallowed mud / At Vimy, Cambrai," muses the poet, "But a Canadian winter got him first." Most painful are memories of the poet's father, an invalid who died when he was seven: "Once again my dead / Father stood there: army boots bright as glass, / Offering me a hand as colourless / As phosgene." In poems like these one hears second-generation echoes of Sassoon and Graves.
Since his retirement from teaching, Causley has traveled extensively. Several poems draw on Australian locales, "A detritus / Of boomerangs and bells and whips and saddles." The focus of his descriptions, however, is more often than not on people instead of landscape. "Grandmother" describes a Czech-German survivor of wartime dislocations who "guillotines salami with a hand / Veined like Silesia." "Bamboo Dance" describes a frenetic Filipino combination of music, movement, physical danger, and love:

The dance is love, love is the dance
Though bamboo shocks their dancing day.
Ceases. Smiling, the dancers go,
Hand locked in gentle hand, their way.

At "Gelibolu" (the Turkish name for Gallipoli) he goes beneath the surface, sensing the presence of history: "But this is savaged air. Is poisoned ground. / Unstilled, the dead, the living voices sound, / And now the night breaks open like a wound."
Aside from Hardy and Landor, it is hard to think of other poets in their seventies who have written this well. In the book's final poem, "Eden Rock," Causley imagines a reunion with his parents, "mother, twenty-three, in a sprigged dress," and "father, twenty-five, in the same suit / Of Genuine Irish Tweed." The call for the poet to be gathered to the bosom of his elders is phrased in restrained measures:

The sky whitens as if lit by three suns.
My mother shades her eyes and looks my way
Over the drifted stream. My father spins
A stone along the water. Leisurely,

They beckon to me from the other bank.
I hear them call, 'See where the stream-path is!
Crossing is not as hard as you might think.'

I had not thought that it would be like this.

There is a valedictory tone that runs through these haunting lines. In Charles Causley's case one can only hope that it is premature.

-- R.S. Gwynn
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Old 12-03-2003, 10:18 AM
oliver murray oliver murray is offline
Join Date: Feb 2002
Location: belfast, northern ireland.
Posts: 2,348

Great article, Sam. Thanks for posting this. I know Charles Causley's work quite well, but have not read a great deal ABOUT it - all I can remember is an interview about twenty years ago. He was certainly a good hand with a ballad and much of his work seems to deal with people lost of damaged by the two world wars. This is a favourite of mine.

A Ballad for Katharine of Aragon

As I walked down by the river
Down by the frozen fen
I saw the grey cathedral
With the eyes of a child of ten.
O the railway arch is smoky
As the Flying Scot goes by
And but for the Education Act
Go Jumper Cross and I.

But war is a bitter bugle
That all must learn to blow
And it didn't take long to stop the song
In the dirty Italian snow..
O war is a casual mistress
And the world is her double bed
She has a few charms in her mechanised arms
But you wake up and find yourself dead.

The olive tree in winter
Casts her banner down
And the priest in white and scarlet
Comes up from the muddy town.
O never more will Jumper
Watch the Flying Scot go by
His funeral knell was a six-inch shell
Singing across the sky.

The Queen of Castile has a daughter
Who won't come home again
She lies in the grey cathedral
under the arms of Spain.
O the Queen of Castile has a daughter
Torn out by the roots.
Her lovely breast in a stone cold chest
Under the farmers' boots.

Now I like a Spanish party
And many O many the day
I have watched them swim as the night came dim
On Algeciras Bay.
O the high sierra was thunder
And the seven-branched river of Spain
Came down to the sea to plunder
The heart of the sailor again.

O shall I leap in the river
And knock upon paradise door
For a gunner of twenty-seven and a half
And a queen of twenty-four?
From the almond-tree by the river
I watch the sky with a groan
For Jumper and Kate are always out late
And I lie here alone.
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Old 12-03-2003, 09:00 PM
Janet Kenny Janet Kenny is offline
Join Date: Feb 2001
Location: Queensland, (was Sydney) Australia
Posts: 15,596

Thanks for that one Oliver.

(Edited in.

R. S. Gwynn
I don't know why I didn't say how much I appreciated your article. Very fine. Thanks for posting it.


[This message has been edited by Janet Kenny (edited December 07, 2003).]
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Old 12-04-2003, 06:50 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Location: Fargo ND, USA
Posts: 13,814

I am very sorry to hear of his death. With Richard Murphy, he is one of the two contemporaries whose books I most need to acquire. Many thanks, Sam, for posting your review, which I hadn't seen. What I HAVE seen is always arresting in a fresh sort of way.
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Old 12-04-2003, 08:51 AM
Posts: n/a

Fascinating responses , which I look forward to reading at leisure in a couple of weeks' time. I gather that when CC saw the K of Aragon tomb (when training as a teacher in Peterborough) he misinterpreted the latter date on the inscription as her death date - not the year in which she ceased to be Henry VIII's Queen.

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