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These are dark and evil days

From a poet’s perspective, one of the most interesting responses to the death of Margaret Thatcher (among the many thousands of articles from all quarters of the press) has been George Szirtes’ surprisingly personal reaction. He has summed up Thatcher’s era and his own place in it more succinctly than most. But what caught my eye was the following passage:

“One of the favourite cries of the currently street-partying delighted has been Ding dong the witch is dead, a tune from The Wizard of Oz. Putting aside mysogyny – I have heard it as often from women as from men – it shows what part of the psyche her emanation has come to occupy. She is no longer a prime minister or a human being but a psychic demon several strides on from her Spitting Image depiction.”

On the surface, it is a bleak outlook: Thatcher has been dehumanised, then demonised. Her funeral will not exorcise that demon, though it may mark the point at which the eyes of the public turn away. Even as the Iron Lady reaffirms her mortality, exhaled back into the air she breathed, there are bitter memories of her that will not fade.

I am too young to remember the Thatcher years. The best I can recall is a blurred image on my grandparents’ television set and a book of Steve Bell cartoons that I didn’t understand until years later. Even so, talking about Thatcher recalls that close, narrow world of my childhood in South Wales, the large shadowy figures of my parents looming in through the too-small doorways of the house where I grew up. Thatcher speaks the dark of the bedroom and the cracks of light creeping in under the door, the shipping forecast seeping up from the kitchen. I could say that Thatcher permeated that place, in the bad news that drifted in like the weather across the hill, or the coal-dust that fell and ate at the parked cars. Saying ‘Thatcher’ is a recollection of the marvellous, electric Charles Simic prose poem, ‘we were so poor…’ Her name is almost a conjuration to someone who started life, afraid and incoherent, in the last of those days.

The demonization is something to be afraid of, then, but it points towards a better place. What is a demon except a literary figure, a creature conjured out of stories and verses? Shelley, who created the vast and trunkless legs of stone, who showed us Castlereagh’s deathlike mask, shows us how to wrestle with these demons and remain poets. We cannot take away the bitterness, we should not disguise the hurt. But, when the politicians have filed out of the cathedral, when the cameras have moved on to another, more important now, we can give our griefs the voice they need. If we have the heart for it, like Charles Simic, we can make our dark and evil days into days of wonder.

Posted 8 years ago

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