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Cider with Rosie (1959)
- The rabble closed in; I was encircled; grit flew in my face like shrapnel. Tall girls with frizzled hair, and huge boys with sharp elbows, began to prod me with hideous interest. They plucked at my scarves, spun me round like a top, screwed my nose and stole my potato.
- p. 50.
- This tiny, white-washed Infants’ room was a brief but cosy anarchy. In that short time allowed us we played and wept, broke things, fell asleep, cheeked the teacher, discovered the things we could do to each other, and exhaled our last guiltless days.
- p. 52.
- She [Lee’s mother] was muddled and mischievous as a chimney-jackdaw, she made her nest of rags and jewels, was happy in the sunlight, squawked loudly at danger, pried and was insatiably curious, forgot when to eat or ate all day, and sang when sunsets were red. She lived the easy laws of the hedgerow, loved the world and made no plans, had a quick holy eye for natural wonders and couldn’t have kept a neat house for her life.
- p. 144.
- They [Lee’s uncles] were the horsemen and brawlers of another age, and their lives spoke its long farewell. Spoke too, of campaigns on desert marches, of Kruger’s cannon and Flanders mud; of a world that still moved at the same pace as Caesar’s and of that Empire greater than his – through which they had fought, sharp-eyed and anonymous, and seen the first outposts crumble….
- pp. 221-222.
- Our village was clearly no pagan paradise, neither were we conscious of showing tolerance. It was just the way of it. We certainly committed our share of statutory crime. Manslaughter, arson, robbery, rape cropped up regularly throughout the years. Quiet incest flourished where the roads were bad; some found their comfort in beasts; and there were the usual friendships between men and boys who walked the fields like lovers.
- pp. 249-250.
- ….and Rosie, having baptized me with her cidrous kisses, married a soldier and I lost her for ever.
- p. 261.
- The last days of my childhood were also the last days of the village. I belonged to that generation which saw, by chance, the end of a thousand years' life.
- p. 262.
- It was then I began to on my bed and stare out at the nibbling squirrels, and to make up poems from intense abstraction, hour after unmarked hour, imagination scarcely faltering once, rhythm hardly skipping a beat, while my sisters called me, suns rose and fell, and the poems I made, which I never remembered, were the first and last of that time….
- p. 280. (The last sentence of the book)
I Can't Stay Long (1975)
- This London, of course, with its hollow, drum-like name, is neither England nor abroad but something on its own, a walled fantasy of remembered tales.
- Eight-Year-Old World, p. 26.
- For years I have lived in the flats, rooms and garrets of this city, the drawers in the human filing-cabinets that stand in blank rows down the streets of Kensington and Notting Hill. Yet when I talk of home I think of that damp green valley near Stroud where I was brought up. The boys I went to school with have long since grown and fattened, got married and gone bald, and they would probably have to give me a very long look before they recognized me if I turned up there again. But that is my home, and the image of it the day I left it is still more real to me than long years in this crowded capital city.
- An Obstinate Exile, p. 43.
- ...because city honours are not village honours. Like certain wines, they do not travel; carry them back to the village and you find they are dust in your hands.
- An Obstinate Exile, p. 44.
- Of course, there is one great virtue in size; and of course, London is the greatest show on earth, for never have so many human characters been gathered together in one place. Here, in a day, you can see the world. Stand at the entrance to a main-line railway station, during the rush-hour, and you see every possible human species scurrying past. One becomes amazed and transported by the multiplicity of the human face, by its infinite differences, by its almost prismatic graduations from ugliness to beauty, evil to good.
- An Obstinate Exile, p. 45.
- So London remains my cage, the door is open, but I cannot leave. Meanwhile, the cage is comfortable enough. And now, as I finish this somewhat ungrateful piece, if I am conscious of a faintly bitter taste in my mouth, it is, I must confess, my own fault. I have just been biting the hand that feeds me, and it tastes of soot.
- An Obstinate Exile, p. 48.
- Love is also disquiet, the brooding pleasures of doubt, midnights wasted by speculation, the frantic dance round the significance of the last thing she said, the need to see her to have life confirmed.
- Love, p. 57.
- Now we go off to the office and come home in the evenings to cheap chicken and frozen peas. Very nice, but too much of it, too easy and regular, served up without effort or wanting. We eat, we are lucky, our faces are shining with fat, but we don't know the pleasure of being hungry any more.
- Appetite, p. 65.
- It is a long time now since I knew that acute moment of bliss that comes from putting parched lips to a cup of cold water. The springs are still there to be enjoyed - all one needs is the original thirst.
- Appetite, p. 66.
- Charm is the ultimate weapon, the supreme seduction, against which there are few defences. If you've got it, you need almost nothing else, neither money, looks, nor pedigree. It's a gift, only to be given away, and the more used the more there is. It is also a climate of behaviour set for the perpetual summer and thermostatically controlled by taste and tact.
- Charm, p. 67.
- In the armoury of man, charm is the enchanted dart, light and subtle as a hummingbird. But it is deceptive in one thing - like a sense of humour, if you think you've got it, you probably haven't.
- Charm, p. 71.
- She is of course just an ordinary miracle, but is also the particular late wonder of my life.
- The Firstborn, p. 77.
- These poems were written by someone I once was and who is so distant to me now that I scarcely recognize him anymore. They speak for a time and a feeling which of course has gone from me but for which I still have a close affection and kinship.
- Preface to Selected Poems, André Deutsch Ltd, London, 1983, ISBN 0233975039