Now it is morning again, the 25th of October,
In a white fog the cars have yellow lights;
The chill creeps up the wrists, the sun is sallow,
The silent hours grow down like stalactites.
It’s 45 years since I learnt those lines, and the 32 which precede them, as punishment at school (Benenden) for a minor misdemeanour. They come from Louis MacNeice’s Autumn Journal, XII (1938) and were appropriate for the time of year.
The poem starts:
These days are misty, insulated, mute
Like a faded tapestry and the soft pedal
Is down and the yellow leaves are falling down
And we hardly have the heart to meddle
Any more with personal ethics or public calls;
People have not recovered from the crisis,
Their faces are far away, the tone of the words
Belies their thesis.
The task, known as a ‘moni-book’ was given to me by a monitor (now a Member of the Scottish Parliament) on 24 October. A few days later I had to recite the 36 lines before my house mistress, kind Miss Langton (known as Pob), and the monitors. The lines weren’t easy to learn, not having many natural rhymes, but they were intriguing; I kept at it and managed to imprint them on my brain—so much so that I can recite most of them today, 25 October 2014.
And in case you were wondering, the misdemeanour was poking a hole, with a compass, in a cubicle wall in my dormitory. My accomplice, on the other side of the wall, who was required to learn a chunk of Keats’s (rhyming) The Eve of St Agnes, is now a prominent solicitor.