This week’s Featured Poem comes from one of our groups within our Big Lottery funded Merseyside Volunteer Reader Scheme project, where our Volunteer Assistants and our dedicated volunteers read in care homes to people living with dementia. So far, we have trained and support over 300 volunteers to deliver one-on-one shared reading sessions in care homes across the North West and many more around the UK, and the impacts of the poetry that is shared are often deeply profound – as highlighted at our 2015 AGM, which took place at Calderstones Mansion last night. One of the most moving testimonies came from one of our Merseyside Big Lottery project volunteers, who spoke of how reading poetry ‘goes straight to the heart’ and calls to the emotion of people living with dementia – something that is not lost regardless of the severity of the condition.
The group leader of this particular session takes us through the reading of Blue Remembered Hills by A.E. Housman:
The group were drawn to the rich phrases ‘the land of lost content’ and ‘happy highways’ and I was able to ‘stay in’ by repeating those lines in a puzzling tone in any ‘gaps’. Some prompts I used were ‘I wonder about “The land of lost content”…’can anyone shine any light on that line? And ‘I wonder what the “happy highways” could be?’ Also ‘can we imagine who might be speaking in this poem?’ I trusted the poem was doing its work in silences, and worked through each line and phrase in turn.
One member related the poem powerfully to her experience of being a child in the war, being taken away to ‘the farms’, the ‘happy highways’ were the times before the war and the ‘land of lost content’ after the war. This got the group reflecting in a deep way on the role and importance of remembering things. K’s response was nuanced about childhood – ‘it wasn’t always happy!’ – which lead us to explore ideas about our own childhood, was it always happy?
And what are we left with at the end of the poem ‘And cannot come again’ I wonder why?…
Blue Remembered Hills
Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.