Wednesday, 13 July 2016

History Live OR Ghosts Revisited

I was born on the winter solstice, 1945, in Gillingham (Kent) one of several towns on the river Medway collectively known as the Medway Towns of which another is historic Rochester where Charles Dickens once lived. While many childhood memories are not especially happy ones, there were good times, too; at 70, I often find myself revisiting these, especially those that that take in picturesque Rochester.

When I was 14 years-old, my family moved across the river to a sprawling carbuncle of a housing estate that dominated the village of Hoo or Hoo St Werburg, to give the place its full historic title. My life there was a waking nightmare, not least because there was only one bridge across the Medway in those days; it was not unusual for the journey home from school to take two hours to cover less than five miles. None of my memories of Hoo are happy ones. An opportunity to live and work in London just a few years after I left school was a godsend. .

As much as I hated Hoo, I loved Rochester. I’d sometimes see ghosts in historic costume, including battle dress, looking out over the walls of its castle keep or treading its ancient streets, especially on days when a light, seasonal mist would fall or a stormy haze. Figments of a young imagination, you say? Maybe so, even probably, although I swear I caught a glimpse of them, too, as recently as on my last visit in 2013.

[Photo: Rochester castle - cathedral in the background - from an engraving by H. Adlard after a drawing by G. F. Sargent, 1836; taken from Wikipedia.]

This poem is a villanelle.


A castle keep overlooks the Medway
in fair Rochester city,
ghosts, its guardians, night and day

Like a war horse grown old and grey
in the service of liberty,
a castle keep overlooks the Medway

Companion cathedral, holding sway,
for century after century,
ghosts, its guardians, night and day

Time, honoured guest invited to stay
(no one’s friend or enemy);
a castle keep overlooks the Medway

A Dickensian charm brushing away
the cobwebs of history;
ghosts, its guardians, night and day

River flowing sure, at work and play,
ever restless and moody…
A castle keep overlooks the Medway,
ghosts, its guardians, night and day

Copyright R. N. Taber 2016

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