The power of poetry – Farewell

When a person develops dementia it is a huge challenge for everyone around them. But particularly for the person with the condition.
It is scary; disorientating; exhausting; sometimes a dark road where the signs are invisible. Anxiety can become an every day companion.

My mother has good days and bad days. Some days, – what am I saying? – most days, are a mixture.
Music; pictures; smells; voices can all help to anchor her in her perpetually shifting present.

When I saw her last week I took an anthology of poetry that she had given me. I knew she liked de la Mare, so The Listeners seemed a good place to start.

I was doing the washing up. Mum on drying.
“Is The Listeners one of your favourites Mum?’ I asked. She looked confused. I recited the first two lines. She joined in with the third. Then looked more confused. The words had evidently come to her unbidden; cemented deeper in her memory than her grandchildren’s names.
I knew we were onto a winner.

For a magical half hour I read poems to her while she sat transfixed. Both of us rediscovered poems we had forgotten. Both of us became emotional at certain lines.

I read de la Mare’s Farewell which I had studied at O Level and largely forgotten.
At the end, unthinking, I exclaimed at its power and said I’d like it read at my funeral. Mother agreed, nodding and smiling.
Or at yours, I silently added.


When I lie where shades of darkness
Shall no more assail mine eyes,
Nor the rain make lamentation
When the wind sighs;
How will fare the world whose wonder
Was the very proof of me?
Memory fades, must the remembered
Perishing be?

Oh, when this my dust surrenders
Hand, foot, lip, to dust again,
May these loved and loving faces
Please other men!
May the rusting harvest hedgerow
Still the Traveller’s Joy entwine,
And as happy children gather
Posies once mine.

Look thy last on all things lovely,
Every hour. Let no night
Seal thy sense in deathly slumber
Till to delight
Thou have paid thy utmost blessing;
Since that all things thou wouldst praise
Beauty took from those who loved them
In other days.