Guide

Robert Crawford

Year in, year out
The guide still follows
A well-paced route
Through those small rooms
Until the tour group
Have all been told
And told again
About the diarist,
About the poet,
Brother and sister,
Husband and wife;
So their plain life
Stays still
Green in the rain,
The stress
Less on fame
Than on wee mundane
Details:
How He once failed
To neatly ink His name
Inside the lid
Of His sole suitcase,
Though He did
Just
Find space
For that last aitch
North of the rest
Of wordswort
And hunched in the small
Window seats
You can hear
Repeated
Still
Year in, year out
How they strode off-road
Down gills, by crags
Over the hills,
Then nightly cleaned their teeth
With salted twigs
Dipped
In polishing soot
From the grate, the hearth,
And how The Great
Poet of the Heart
Walked and talked
And talked and talked
About his cuckoo clock;
How Mrs De Quincey tripped
With a bucket of coals;
How Coleridge called
Then later screamed,
Locked
In an upstairs room’s
Opium dream;
How when winter came
They skated on the lake,
William nicely
Getting his skates on
To slice
His zigzag initials
Precisely
As he whizzed
By on the ice;
How, through long nights,
They quizzed
Friends,
Lighting a candle’s rushlight
At both ends;
How, fond of good food
At his Edinburgh club,
Walter Scott thought
They downed too much porridge,
So sneaked out a window
To dine well at the pub;
How every five weeks
They washed their underclothes;
What the rent cost;
How frost
Made the children ill
And how those children slept
Cold, and no doubt wept
In their room upstairs
Above the downstairs chill
Of an underground stream
That streamed
More and more
Up through the floor
Of that slate-floored larder;
How Mary
Loved Point d’Angleterre lace;
And the whole place,
Dark now, was dark then,
Walls all smoke-blackened, reeking.
Think how
Year on year
At Grasmere
Each trained guide’s voice
Goes on speaking
These shining trivia
In one
Unbroken
Spoken
Song;
Until,
Before long,
Another
Voice starts
To master the art,
Comes to take over
The guiding,
Learning in order
Through just walking round:
The washstand’s lesson,
The step’s confession,
Each teacup’s balance,
Each lintel’s silence,
Each hinge of sound.