The Pastoral Memories
of a Child of Kent
Growing up in the English Countryside during the 1940’s and 50’s
Poetry and Prose
This project originated from a few journal entries written from America out of my acute nostalgia for England and a carefree childhood of rambling through fields and woods. Over the years, I expressed this nostalgia by painting English landscapes, writing poetry, children’s novels and stories, and finally compiling these lyrical memoirs, garnished with some fantasy.
I was not planning to publish actual childhood accounts, but during my attendance at San Miguel Poetry Week last January (2020), a workshop organized by Jennifer Clement and Barbara Sibley, I presented three childhood poems. My fellow-poets received them with great enthusiasm and insisted that such ‘pastoral visitations’ were irresistible, and greatly needed today in our world of turmoil. Most of them agreed that they felt captivated by the heart and mind of this child of Kent, and didn’t want to leave her world. Why, therefore, they asked, would I not put together a small book of these memories?
Many who have found themselves at the gates of death, but then recovered, have described how they were swept back for a while into their worlds of childhood. Other elderly people, whose “adult” memories have become dim, retain vivid snippets of childhood memories, almost as if time has collapsed into their early years. This makes sense, because like everything living and breathing in nature, we grow up from our roots, out of the soil, so to speak, whether this “foundation” of our development comes from the green fields of Kent, or from the concrete slabs of a street in New York. In my case, the abrupt move from England to Alabama in my twenties when I got married, was one of the most painful and difficult periods of my life, revealing to me how deeply rooted I had been in the “soil” of Kent.
But I have not wanted just to ‘record’ my childhood experiences. I have actually wished to discover, through writing, where my thoughts and feelings were as a child. I was dreamy, vague, and fidgety, to the point of being an irritation to my three older sisters, and to the nuns at school, who were continually having to retrieve something I had left behind or push me into an instructed direction when I was absent-mindedly going the wrong way. I was literally “somewhere else” most of the time because my imagination entertained me far more than current happenings and conversations. I was in love with the sounds of leaves, with birdsong, which later grew into my love of music and the piano. I was immersed in nature’s colour and movement – the way a tree moved outside the window, a flower grew up out of the grass, or why a robin, in a flash of red, chose to fly from that branch to the top of that ladder – for no particular reason since there were no grubs or crumbs there. I suppose I lived more in the heads of all that moved and grew outside, than in my own head. And when, much later, I began reading Wordsworth, I realized I had been living the “visionary gleam,” but where did it go? I wanted to recapture that gleam.
Most of the writings that follow are in some form of verse or ‘poetic prose,’ but there are also a few passages in straight-forward prose because I found it impossible to put those accounts into poetry. You will also find that most of the early poems recapturing my existence as a very young child, are in simple, naive language because I am re-entering that child’s head, rather than remaining outside it, in an adult recollection.
Christina M. Pagés