Rosemary Sutcliff’s lifelong constancy in love | W B Yeats ‘s The Song of Wandering Aengus

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In the entry for today’s date in her 1992 personal diary, historical novelist  and children’s writer Rosemary  Sutcliff speaks of ‘her Australian Nun’. She might have known or had contact with the love of Rosemary’s life, Rupert. He emigrated to Australia in 1969.

I found on Rosemary Sutcliff’s writing desk in the days after her death in July 1992 her red-notebook diary. Encouraged by some who comment on this blog and  the views of Facebook  ‘likers’ of Rosemary Sutcliff, I am reproducing entries from 1992, the year of her death. I post them on the same date that she made them. To the extent that I can accurately transcribe her spidery but tidy hand, they are as accurate as I can make them. I shall not, however, post her notes about her loved one. She said what she chose to tell publicly of him in her autobiography Blue Remembered Hills.

Hidden in the notes were a pressed flower, a plastic cocktail stick, and a torn browned snippet from a newspaper. There was also a poem she  wrote, I do not know when.  Scar Tissue has, I suspect, never been published. The cutting was probably torn from from the Daily or Sunday Telegraph, the newspapers she read. There is no date on the bottom-corner page-fragment which derives from an article stimulated by the book cited at the end:  ‘A World of Love, compiled by Godfrey Smith, published by Elm Tree Books at £4.95′.  Google Books records the publishing date of the book as 28 January, 1982. So the article had probably caught Rosemary’s eye ten years before her death, and some thirteen years after she saw Rupert for the last time.

The writer speaks of  ‘the lifelong constancy  of love’, citing a verse of the poetry of W B Yeats –  from  Song of Wandering Aengus. Aengus is the Celtic god of love. I suspect Rosemary will have known the poem well: she surely  knew her Yeats and she loved Celtic mythology .

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver  apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

Song of Wandering Aengus (full poem)

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

William Butler Yeats

One comment

  1. A poignant discovery, Anthony.

    I can see why this haunting poem would have struck a chord with Rosemary Sutcliff. She made similar evocative use of imagery of Celtic mythic significance in her own work.

    Like

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