Uncle Herbert


Uncle Herbert was a sober man
He dressed in black and wore a hat
Never joked and rarely smiled
He wasn't having anything of that. 

Uncle Herbert was a worthy man
Owner of a foundry farm
Whom folk regarded with respect
Not a man to cause alarm. 

Uncle Herbert married well
She was the landed gentry's niece
They laboured hard and saved their pounds
Lived a life of social ease. 

My grand-dad was a poor man
He dressed in what he could
Never was in steady work
His home a bungalow of wood. 

Uncle Herbert and Auntie Annie came to call on us in summer
And sat with Gran and Grand-dad on the lawn among the flowers.
Reliving deeds and thoughts of old
They talked for hours and hours. 

"Do you recall that deal I made?
The money earned
The money spent.
Bought this suit
And Annie's hat
With some over we could save.
That's the time that you w 

You went off to fight in France
At Mons and River Marne
Left the best years of your life
At Paschendaele and on the Somme.
I stayed here and built my wealth
Invested mostly in the farm. 


All you had was given up
To raise five daughters and a son.
We didn't do that sort of thing -
Then in time we had just one.
Our father would be proud to see
Of what I've made
From all he handed down to me.
I have the trappings of success
Have never spoiled myself
Done nothing to excess.
Hard but in all things fair
I do not cheat, or drink or swear. 

And you, my brother Harry, what can I say of you?
About your language, about your style, and everything you do?
Mother would have forty shocks -
I'm sure she'd never dream
That you would drink, smoke, curse and
Even now blaspheme". 

The sun began its slow descent behind the dark elm trees.
Gran pulled on her cardigan against the evening  breeze.
Uncle Herbert observed his watch, tut-tutted about the hour,
Put on his hat, took up his stick, and said they had to leave. 

Then I was coming up to eight,
Walking to the garden-gate
Between these two old men
Their words impressed me even then
A piece of rural philosophy
That stays within my memory. 

"Harry, brother Harry, how much I envy you".
My grand-dad stopped and looked askance
Herbert went on without a glance:
"How much I envy you". 

"But Herbert you have everything
Wealth, health
And years ahead.
Respect and reputation.
Things I have never had". 

"Years of anguish.
Years of sorrow.
Of loneliness as well.
We had no time for fun or friend
And now we face a lonesome end". 

Grand-dad laughed:
"Herbert, you have the wherewithal -
Before you go to God -
To live in style and luxury.
You miserable old sod !
You envy me my poverty, my war-wound
And this humble house
This plot of garden-land". 

Uncle Herbert twitched his whiskers
And said in a voice that was just a whisper.
"I do have money in the bank, position and social rank
And everything I sought to do -
But still I envy you.

I've been content but never happy
That's why I envy you, my brother Harry,
Your memories that they cannot take away.
I envy you your memories
On each and every day". 

Uncle Herbert was a sober man
A sombre, sober man.

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