Thursday, August 09, 2012

The Old Soul

I was reminded of my late mother Pen's fondness for the phrase "an Old Soul" when I  heard Scottish travel writer and novelist Kapka Kassabova interviewed on Woman's Hour. The interview was part of a series of encounters with five young women Scottish writers who were commissioned by the Scottish Book Trust to write about their favourite places.

Kassabova chose Pluscarden Abbey near Elgin in northern Soctland, where "you connect with something very ancient and in my case I think I connect to something ancient in my own life, which is my roots from my childhood in Bulgaria."

"You have described yourself as having an 'old soul': can  you tell me what you mean by that?" the interviewer said. "What it means for me is that you are drawn to places where others have been but are not there any more." Kassabova said. "And I love silence."

Her words put me in  mind of the poem "The Old Soul" that my mother wrote about my elder brother, an "Old Soul" as discerned by a psychic who happened to see him as a baby in his pram. For my mother "Old Soul" had connotations of an ancient wisdom, and perhaps of reincarnation. She probably wrote the poem for the poetry group that she and a group of friends in Somerset kept going for many years. The poem was written early in my much-travelled brother's music research in  Afghanistan. He has since then devoted much of his music and filmmaking skills to Afghanistan, first as a researcher and later as a professor of ethnomusicology. The poem alludes to his question as a young child:  "Will the moon fall in my pram?"  (or rather "Will the loon fall in my plam").

The Old Soul (Johnny)

Observing him in his pram, Miss Benning said,
“He is a Very Old Soul”.
- Whatever it was I found the description of John Sebastian
Teasing and vaguely flattering.
I knew she was psychic –
Something which impresses me,
Though not my husbands.
Maybe it was his brown eyes
With their far-far-far-away look
That signalled to the old lady, from Shangri-La.

He used to look at me
From that same pram,
Summing me up –
Not altogether impressed, but kindly –
“So you’re my mother...”
 I was twenty-three,
Quite young to be Mum to an Old Soul.
About that me he worried
In case the moon fell in his pram.
I think in a way it did.
What were we doing, I wonder,
Out in the moonlight?
A couple of children in the heart of a city,
Theatrically pretty?

Surely Miss Benning was right,
He is an Old Soul –
Continually setting off for Kathmandu, Kabul –
He doesn’t seem to settle in Notting Hill.
He still seems wise and cool, but restless
Unless he’s studying maps, re-packing,
Getting under way
For the next long journey.....
It’s not a cosy life, but I suppose
Being an Old Soul is austere
By my standards –
No electric blankets up there In the Afghan snows.

I really must look for the Atlas,
My knowledge of it is dreadfully sketchy –
And must write to him
Care of Ghani Niksear, Herat ....
“My dear Old Soul,
We miss you, but do not come back
Because of that ....
Keep on the track and we shall see you
One day, one night perhaps ....
Meanwhile God bless your journeys and destination.
And wear your sheepskin boots...”

What is he doing now, I wonder –
Whatever it is, it is not in my world.
He may glance back
And think of Mum and her magpie nest, Her trinkets, books and junk,
Her fire – she’s always writing about that.
But by and large he is perpetually travelling,
Farther and farther out –
I like that, I like him to be gone –
You cannot contain an Old Soul
In a small pram.

Pen 2/2/74

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