Shadow Stands Up #14

“Oh youth ... pass the bottle,” runs a refrain in Joseph Conrad’s great story Youth, in which an old, world-weary Marlow tells a table of friends the story of a defining experience in his youth, breaking his narrative from time to time to say, “Pass the bottle.” I’ve been fascinated by this story ever since I first read it, probably when I was about ten or eleven. My father loved Conrad’s stories, especially those like Youth and Typhoon that had tough old sea-dogs such as Captain MacWhirr in them. I think he also encouraged me to read them because they might be character-forming – they probably were, one way or another. Youth is filled with a mixture of droll nostalgia for the optimism of youth, and the world-weariness of age. Among the shadows that ‘stand up’ with us or even within us are our young selves. Mine was there with me one day when I walked past Victoria Park, remembering myself arriving in a dusty bus outside the old walls of the Moroccan city of Fez, in 1969. But being simultaneously young and older hasn’t driven me to drink yet, except in celebration – which includes raising a glass to my ‘old man’, Frederick Albert Wedde, an inveterate adventurer all his life.


I’m back in a light jacket
walking past Victoria
Park without the heavy drape
of my winter coat and the
grey drape of the chilly sky
and he’s walking inside me,
two thirds my weight, the skinny
kid who called it a day in
1969 and went
to see the swallows at dusk
darting through the red-dusted
air above the battlements
of Fez – what is it that weighs
us down, not the adipose
illusion of wisdom, not
the gravity of habit,
not – his shadow stands up in-
side me, the light kid I was,
we walk along as one past
the personal trainers at
the park and their wards who want
to be forever young and
without heavy memories
of how different that was.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like the feeling of reminiscing and yet being in the present.