Garland for the Winter Solstice

Ruthven Todd
ISBN 9781566491648 (paperback)
Published in July 2000
MSRP $14.00
"These poems have, among other virtues, erudition, heart, and a casual eloquence. We've long needed a comprehensive collection like this, to acquaint the reader with the full scope and quality of Ruthven Todd's work."
- Richard Wilbur
"(Todd) is that contemporary oddity, a poet who actually seems to be happy. He enjoys writing and he writes about things he enjoys, quietly, honestly, without fuss. As a 'nature poet', he is almost the only one today who is a real naturalist and can tell one bird or flower from another - his erudition in these matters makes me very jealous. It is pleasant, too, in reading a selection from twenty-five years' work, to find a poet who has grown steadily better, more himself, with each succeeding year."
- W.H. Auden
"A poet both in words and with the brush, uniquely skilled as an observer, indeed a true Renaissance figure of many proficiencies."
- Marianne Moore
Ruthven Todd is widely acknowledged as one of the great nature poets of the 20th century. Born in Edinburgh in 1914 - the same year as his best friend Dylan Thomas, with whom he has always mentioned in the same breath during his lifetime - Todd befriended and collaborated with many of the prominent figures in modern European and American literature and art of his day, in addition to people as diverse as Fats Waller and Salvador Dali, Adlai Stevenson and Dashiell Hammett. Todd's engravings, botanical illustrations and calligraphy are admired to this day as are his ground-breaking commentaries on the art of William Blake, on who work Todd was a world-renowned expert. He published over fifty works during his career, including the classic children's book Space Cat.

Garland for the Winter Solace by Ruthven Todd

In Memoriam: My Father
29 April, 1944

Shut in his frosty valley at the Northern fringe of time,
Beyond the tundra and the ever-howling wolves,
The hours went slowly by, the minutes knocking lame,
As sixty summers lay counted on his shelves.

A life ebbed slowly down the Solway of its years,
Forgetting the floods of youth, the tides that swept
More cruel in their intensity than all the heartfelt tears
Which stained the linen pillow on which the dreamer slept.

The lock-gates of the life he always loved
Could still withstand the batterings of disease,
Despite Death's mathematics which had often proved
Himself the one physician to bring perfect ease.

Now I, lying all these hundred miles to south,
Can think of him dispassionately, with pity;
Recalling tonight the weak but usually kindly mouth,
The mind that shuddered from the world's immensity;

Recalling the man whose universe was sometimes shut
Within the unmeasured boundaries of a postage stamp;
The man for whom the mellow whisky could garotte
The marchers of history with their metronomic tramp;

The man who built as strong as man could build
Yet saw, before his end, how bricks and concrete fell away
As the destiny he always feared was finally fulfilled
And all the horror of his youth again held sway.

This man, as complex as an antique clock,
Was my own father whom I cannot see quite round;
I work all night and yet my portraits lack
Those final touches which would show I understand.

The man as man, divorced from being only me,
Copying my own image in an eternal mirror:
The facts which others now report can only be
The distortions caused by my inevitable error.

When last I saw him, lying uneasy on his bed,
I knew that at length had grown to be a man,
For all my rancours and my fears were dead;
I saw him once again as when my memory began.

And it is thus I hope I will remember him;
Before his share of the world's apple proved too sour,
Before his dreams of greatness loomed too dim
In the haze which helped to pass the intolerable hour.

I would remember him as the man who drew
With coloured chalks upon my childhood's page,
The witch from whom no small boy ever flew,
The friendly troll, the ogre who had hardly any rage.

So to his memory, I dedicate these lines,
Dumb with a feeling I cannot now express;
Glad that, at least, the heartache which remains
Instead of hating has learned how to bless.