A poem inspired by Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘North and South’
South to North
Edith buttoned up her dress,
And sat upon her silly mess,
Calling out to ‘Dear Ma Mere’;
The fanciful call of a love-not-shared.
And my dear Aunt did answer the call.
My cousin following in her lovely shawl.
Plain at sight was dear Miss Hale,
But how prettily, yet averagely, she came.
She was not like them, oh, not at all.
She was herself, and she answered the call
Not from sympathy, as did her Aunt,
But from worry, fear and slight contempt.
Some day she would leave, this dear cousin of mine,
Leave the South: the Lord’s great shine.
She’d go to the North, where Milton men
Shall go to her, this open cousin.
And I shall remain down South with Edith and Aunt,
Waiting in boredom: attending the plants,
And cleaning the dress that Edith has worn,
And mending the rug which Edith has torn.
Miss Hale shall be free, my dear hearted friend,
And I shall be here to mend and to mend.
To sort out the growing family from Lennox line,
Waiting for the day my freedom shall be mine.
And then I shall stand in the steam and the smog,
Knowing that once it was her that had turned all the cogs
Of the new life they led here, in peace and in kind.
And on that day, I know, I shall have dear Margaret on mind.
South-West to North-West
One day I shall leave and partake in some games,
Of a Northern kind, and all of their ways
Will seem strange at the start, but oh so much fun.
Strangeness in identity is identity in some.
And there I shall meet someone dear to my heart,
Who, once I had met, my eyes could not tear apart.
And on her arm would be the most strapping of men.
A man of bliss, this Master Thornton.
Next to him would stand his sister and mother,
Ready to meet Miss Hale’s long departed cousin.
They will happily greet me, and exclaim and shall praise
All of my newly sought little northern ways.
My accent shall sing into all of their astounded ears.
T’life’s not so hard here once hoo’ve learned t’phrase.
And how proud she will be to announce that I have known her long.
How proud she will be to discover that I have learned Northern songs.
These songs might be peculiar to my little Southern mouth,
But if I’m in the North, I’m not to be down South.
South-East to North-East
Aye, by gum, I shall sit ‘pon Yorkshire dales
Watching and squandering in my happiest days.
I shall watch all of the sun; I shall watch all of the rain.
And she will be sat with me, my dear cousin, Miss Hale.
We will stare at the skylarks, and all of the little swallows
Will dive in-between our little cultural hollow.
We shall sip tea, and sup on the nicest of dishes.
We shall hold one another’s hand and make all of our wishes.
We’d wish to be reunited, and then, with a laugh,
We’d remember that that wish had been for the past.
Together we’d sit, away from our little northern houses,
And watch as the sheep did heckle the cows, and
We’d sit until the moon did pass over the sun,
And then we’d sup and tea some more. It wasn’t yet done.
A few handsome men would pass by our way,
And bow their heads at us, as they did during the day.
But we wouldn’t care, not whilst our family was near,
Because family was what mattered to I and my cousin, dear.
It is then that he’d come, that dear Mr. Nicholas,
And wish us merry tidings on our family adventures.
He’d ask us to arise now, and come with him to Milton:
Our home town was awaiting us. It was we who they’d depend on.
Miss Hale would smile at him, and she’d look to me instead
To decide on our actions, and I’d nod my head.
It would only be with my opinion, the one for which she cared,
Would we follow Higgins back from Yorkshire to the great city, Manchester.
North to South
One day he would come, the greatest of Southern men;
He’d come up to Milton to see Miss Hale again.
In the background I’d be stood, whilst they talked over papers,
Before Miss Hale turned to me to ask what I made of
All of the declorations that Mr. Lennox was proposing;
And I’d smile and sagely nod, whilst holding back my blushing.
He’d see my dainty glances, my poise and Northern grace.
He’d wonder and he’d wonder why he’d recognized that face.
Two days would go by and then he’d run up to the door,
Asking Miss Hale if he was entirely sure who he’d saw.
And my dear cousin would nod profusely and say quite clearly,
That indeed it was her little cousin, the little baby Hilary.
She’d announce I had grown, and was now wise beyond my years.
No longer was I working for my Aunt and Edith’s little cares.
Instead, I was now a Northern lass, a bonny-eyed eighteen.
No, I was not looking for a groom. How silly would that seem?
He’d beg and plead that he could come cross and glance at my face,
But my cousin would not let him, if he was to know his place.
It is with a kind heart I’d beseech to him to come with us and dine,
In the tall broad house, which, of course, was partly mine.
Thornton, my dear cousin’s groom, would cheerfully announce
That Henry Lennox had arrived. I’d beg him not to shout.
But Mr. Lennox would not care for the rudeness of his call.
He’d be stuck trying to understand how I, little Hilary, had grown so tall.
I’d smile and jovially tell him, ‘Of course, why wouldn’t I have done?
It’s not like I haven’t twice been allowed to play out in the sun.’
We’d laugh and he’d come closer, to stare onto the beauty that was mine.
Miss Hale would watch with those frosty, cold and piercing eyes.
But he’d continue to be a gentleman; he’d bend down on one knee.
Inside of his pocket he would pull out the greatest diamond on a ring.
My mouth would fall down all ‘cross my jaw. I would be amiss.
Miss Hale would stay far away from her little cousin, dearest.
I’d gratefully tell the man that, though he had been most kind,
Marrying wasn’t for me yet. I had more things on mind.
He’d sigh and he’d smoulder; two proposals to Miss Hale and I,
And it seemed both to be failures. The failure that was mine.
For years I would stay annoyed at my own decision’s choice.
Master Thornton would go first and then I would lose my lovely cousin’s voice.
She’d tell me, in her old ripe age, that all was to go to me.
I’d weep into her dressing gown, and on her dressing sleeve.
And Mr. Henry Lennox? He never would arrive.
The funeral would be quite empty, my small company aside.
I should move down to the South, but they would hate my Northern ways.
They’d hate my Northern songs, Northern accents and my phrase.
I’d lose everything that once was, until a rose in bloom,
Would fall onto my cheeks. I’d live from then on in Helstone.
Author’s Note: I had to complete an essay exam on ‘North and South’ and a method of memory I used back at University was to create a story or poem based on the text or theory. This was the conclusion of my memorising and is one of the poems I am proudest of (though many ‘North and South’ references are made, so apologies for that).