Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Camberwell Beauty

TO H.   by Kingsley Amis
In 1932 when I was ten
In my grandmother’s garden in Camberwell
I saw a Camberwell Beauty butterfly
Sitting on a clump of Michaelmas daisies.
I recognised it because I’d seen a picture
Showing its brownish wings with creamy edges
In a boy’s paper or on a cigarette-card
Earlier that week. And I remember thinking,
What else would you expect? Everyone knows
Camberwell Beauties come from Camberwell;
That’s why they’re called that. Yes, I was ten.
In 1940 when I was eighteen
In Marlborough, going out one winter’s morning
To walk to school, I saw that every twig,
Every leaf in the vicar’s privet hedge
And every stalk and stem was covered in
A thin layer of ice as clear as glass
Because the rain had frozen as it landed.
The sun shone and the trees and shrubs shone back
Like pale flames with orange and green sparkles.
Freak weather conditions, people said,
And one was always hearing about them.
In ’46 when I was twenty-four
I met someone harmless, someone defenceless,
But till then whole, unadapted within;
Awkward, gentle, healthy, straight-backed,
Who spoke to say something, laughed when amused;
If things went wrong, feared she might be at fault,
Whose eye I could have met for ever then,
Oh yes, and who was also beautiful.
Well, that was much as women were meant to be,
I thought, and set about looking further.
How can we tell, with nothing to compare?
I saw a Camberwell beauty today.  Not a live one, but one in Tammy's father's butterfly and moth collection.  How lovely it is.   We had gone over so Captain Butterfly could have a look and assess the collection.  It is amazing, with exactly the information - date and location - that the Butterfly World requires.   There will be some very valuable information there.
And the Camberwell Beauty reminded me of this poem by Kingsley Amis - he dedicated it to his first wife - and it tells how we take things - and people - for granted.

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