Have you ever read a poem or a piece of non-fiction and think: ‘hey it’s almost like I can see it’ ? And then realize that thanks to the magic of internet, you actually can.
I was reading a poem by our favourite poet, teacher and rebel- Michael Roberts.
Pale grey. her guns hooded, decks clear of all impediment,
Easily, between the swart tugs, she glides in the pale October sunshine;
It is Saturday afternoon, and the men are at football,
The wharves and the cobbled streets are silent by the slow river
Smoothly, rounding the long bend, she glides to her place in history,
Past the grimed windows cracked and broken,
Past Swan Hunter’s, Hawthorn Leslie’s, Armstrong’s
Down to the North Sea, and trails and her first commission.
Here is grace; and job well done; build only for one end.
Women watch from the narrow doorways and give no sign,
Children stop playing by the wall and stare in silence
At gulls wheeling above the Tyne, or the ship passing.
And there she is, HMS Hero herself:
Can’t you just imagine her, passing a coastal town, still so new and unscarred by the battles? I can.
Okay everybody, time to ‘fess up. What do you know about Elizabethan literature? Discounting Shakespeare’s and various other drama writers’ works. Poetry- sonnets, Petrarchan vs. anti-Petrarchan, but what else? *crickets chirping* Okay, I might play smart, but I knew nothing either and it would stay that way if not for my pal Michael Roberts, that I’ve written about before. His book ‘Elizabethan Prose’, a book that he wrote, is kept in our collection. Published when monocles reigned supreme, ie. 1933, it is a collection of examples of the prose of the Elizabethan prose.
And those guys wrote wide and wrote well. In the book there is a collection of funny stories, weird stories, bawdy stories. There are beauty tips and treatises. You can get a recipe for a quince marmalade or advice on healthy living. The Elizabethans will help you make mince pies and then help you lose weight you gained eating them. In short, there is a wide selection of fiction and non-fiction that touches many aspects of life. And with books like that, the past seems a little bit less like a foreign country. Sure, they do things differently there, but they enjoy a dirty joke, sweet food and a good drink as much as you do.
And because I love me some spiced wine, here is the recipe for Ipocras taken from the Roberts’ book.
‘How to make Ipocras:
Take a gallon of wine, an ounce of Sinamon, two ounces of ginger, one pound of sugar, twentie cloues bruised and twentie corners of pepper big beaten, let all these soake together one night and then let it run through a bag, and it will be good Ipocras.’
The portrait of the principal Michael Roberts as it is in our portrait collection
I was thinking long and hard about todays’ post. I was thinking if I can really ‘do justice’ to somebody that archived much in his life, yet still is mostly unknown. I probably can’t. This is internet, ‘TL;DR’ is the way of the reader around here. But what I can is at least mention him, so you can go out looking and find out what can you learn from Michael Roberts
He hung around Auden and Elliot and published his poems in a few collections, edited and co-authored books. He was a true blue poet, yet he made his career as an educator. Some thought that this is a mistake that being a teacher would kill his poetic spirit. Not so. He was good at what he did. Roberts was bit controversial at the time. See, he had this wild idea to make people think, rather than to repeat ideas. That made him a bit suspect in the eyes of orthodox teachers.
He was a principal of Marjon, even that it was only for a short time (1945-48), he had the thankless job to make Marjon a school again. After the war, when the war hospital finally moved out, the Marjon ‘…building was in poor state, the library mouldy, the furniture gone, the grounds a wasteland.’ Imagine you get that and a task to make it a place of education. But he did it.
As for me, I see him as an ‘updated’ Shuttleworth. Like him, Roberts was all for making the education a tool to combat poverty. But he went a step beyond, he saw the education as a tool for social equality, ‘…the integration of the whole people into a living cultural tradition.’ He understood how the ability to think and reflect is connected to solitude and self-reflection-you can’t learn in an overcrowded home with no space just for yourself.
My tutor once said that history is not only facts and dates, but also a relationship with the people who went before us. I might not have ‘done justice’ to Michael Roberts, but I feel richer by knowing him.