Yesterday at our Poetry meeting I read several of T S Eliot's poems about cats. They always fascinate me because most of his poetry is really serious stuff. As one of the poetry friends suggested, she thinks he wrote the 'cats' poems purely for himself. Maybe he was a lover of cats. Does anyone know?
Before I read those though I read a poem which we learnt at school, as did several others in the group - the learning of poetry used to be such an important part of the curriculum in those days (and not a bad thing, because it trains the memory as well as helping with rhyming combinations and spelling). That poem was John Keats's 'Meg Merrilies'. It is about an old gypsy woman if you don't know it.
Thinking about it this morning, I thought of my mother when I was a child. Gypsies were a common sight in our village in those days. The women would come round from door to door selling ribbon, home-made clothes pegs and dyed 'chrysanthemums' made out of shaved wood. My mother would always buy something although we were never all that well off for money (I suppose that is why they always called because they knew she was a 'soft touch'.) My father used to tease her that she was of gypsy stock because her
grandfather lived in a caravan in the Lincolnshire village where they lived - and Dad always said that he kept his meat under the caravan in a bucket, under a sod of grass until he cooked it. This was long before my time, but she used to get very cross when he said it (which he did frequently).
But the tramps (or men of the road as they used to be called) were a different matter entirely. You never see one now - or at least I have never seen one in all my adult life. Maybe this is something to do with Social Services or something, but when I was a child there were tramps who used to wander from village to village. My mother had the greatest sympathy for these men - often drop outs from society for one reason or another.
And, again, I suppose the reputation that she was sympathetic meant they always called on us. She would always have a space on the table just inside the wash house (a building attached to the end of the kitchen) and she would always give them a meal. Although we were not well off by any means, she was a very good manager and also a good cook, so that there was usually a stock pot on the hearth so that soup could be rustled up quickly. Also, as she made all her own bread and cake, that would add to the meal. I have come home from school many a time to see a man of the road eating a meal in the wash house. She would also save any old clothes of my fathers for them, but after once finding an overcoat she had given to a tramp draped over the hedge further down the road, she always made them try the garments on before they went, to make sure they fitted.
I presume these men would sleep in barns and sheds - and Winters must have been long and hard for them. But as a child (and still to some extent) I had such a romantic notion about them. I think that is why I love 'Meg Merrilies' so much. If you don't know it, do Google it and have a read.