Poem introduction

'From his Childhood' is a fantasy about a severe governess or nanny remembered from somebody's early years. A woman full of moral maxims and stern instructions and her influence is destructive though the storyteller has eventually grown out of her. She is not my own nanny or governess - I had no such thing - this woman is, if you like, a Thatcherite figure.

From his Childhood

From his Childhood

Rain, said Nanny, Rain is to test our courage,
Dirt is to test our cleanliness,
Hunger our patience,
And night is to test our fear of darkness.
But rain is to test our courage.

That was because it rained all the time very hard
where we lived as children,
In the house with the nineteen rooms of forbidden books
(To test how we could conquer the thirst to read)
And a few permitted books in the sitting rooms,
But Nanny in a book-lined room we might never enter,
In a turret above the lawn where the croquet hoops
Were feet deep in water for very much of the time.

But Courage, said Nanny, wellingtons on,
Backs up, chins up, and best foot forward
In a long line, holding tightly on to each other
- Out!

So the small but courageous band of us
Paddled hand-in-hand onwards,
Nanny first, me second,
Then the third and fourth, diminishing in size
To the very smallest who came infallibly last,
Head just above water.

And as we sadly struggled, the small cold hand
Of my youngest brother
Slipped out of the grasp of the one next above him in age.
And when that next one tired, her hand
Released the fingers of the sibling senior to her,
And the line fell gradually apart,
Leaving me
Waving frantically after Nanny, who was far ahead
And had almost disappeared.

But Courage!

The call of Nanny rang distantly over
The widening waters in the dark,
And returned in echoes from the other shore.
The waterfowl answered in imitation and unison
To comfort each other

And Nanny's cry merged into theirs,
Growing fainter and fainter in the rain until
It became at last an everyday sound you hear
And think little about for very much of the time.

from Collected Poems (Enitharmon, 2006), copyright © Alan Brownjohn 2006, used by permission of the author.

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2'In this city...'


3'We are going to see the rabbit...'


4Common Sense


5Office Party


6Balls of Sweetness


7Peter Daines at a Party


8The Packet


9Ballad of Scarlet and Black






12An Orchard Path


13From his Childhood


14Before the Game


15April Light


16Secrets from and with


17The Automatic Days - an extract


18Two Prospects of Adolescence


19In Moslodina










24On My 66th Birthday


25Incident on a Holiday




27The Presentation






30Found Object


1September 1939

2Sayings of the Utopians

3The Secret Hats

4A Day in 1966


6ANAC 2004


8A Scream in 1890

9His Morning I, His Morning II

10His Chivalry I, His Chivalry II

11His Breath-Test

12His Abstemious Phase I, His Abstemious Phase

13His Visit

14My Cricket

15The Dust

16Printshop 1922: A True Moment

17In the Emergency School

18Mr Banister

19A Bottle


21Are Etceteras No Things?

22The Way Down

23In Reykjavik



26Index of First Lines

27The Lights

28As No Art Is

29Christmas Scenario

Books by Alan Brownjohn