Questions for Ruthven by Morven Main
Questions for Ruthven*
When did you first perceive the power of words?
Was it in Edinburgh from your father, drink
loosening his tongue? Perhaps it was the voice
of mother, teaching you to know a shell,
a flower, a mushroom. Did your infant mind
reach out to grasp the plaything that is verse?
And was it when you tried your hand at verse,
like seeds you scattered while on Mull, words
spilling, growing, spreading in your mind –
was it then you found release in drink,
and knew it made a carapace, a shell
in which to hide the fledgling poet’s voice?
Did you think you’d found your final voice
when London friends began to read your verse?
Or was it when your novels burst the shell
to show a new and different gift for words
that told of space cats, poison masked by drink –
bizarre creations of your fervent mind?
Did shadows of the future cross your mind
when in New York you heard friend Dylan’s voice
begin to fade and knew he’d die of drink?
You failed to write his life – was writing verse
the get-out clause? You left the promised words
undone, abandoned like an empty shell.
So many times hopeless love, that fragile shell,
was crushed. Yet rancour never filled your mind.
So many times illness weakened you, yet words
poured out, a dogged toughness in your voice.
What fortified your spirit – writing verse-?
Or did you need once more the prop of drink?
We know Majorca gave you hope to drink
new wine at heaven’s gate. A pearly shell,
some prints of Blake, a half-remembered verse,
a long-lost friend – those pleasures fed your mind
as body failed – until the siren voice
of paradise pronounced the final words.
No need for answers Ruthven – drink and talk, your mind
is free and, as a shell will sound the sea, your voice
will sound in verse and we will hear your lasting words.
* Ruthven Todd (1914-1978). Scottish-American poet, author and Blake expert.
© 2018 Morven Main
Morven Main is of Cornish and Scottish descent but now lives in London. She has been writing poetry for about two years and has had publications in The Curlew, The Dawntreader and Lighten up OnLine on a variety of topics.