top of page

Rosalind Easton: a poem

Found in Translation

i.m. Nora Newton (1929–2015)

A grandam’s name is little less in love

than is the doting title of a mother;

they are as children but one step below...

Richard III

Of course I should have realised you'd come back

as a book. It was in Hatchards on Piccadilly, in the Classics

section; the shelves were out of alphabetical order –

Galsworthy, Trollope, Austen, Eliot side-by-side.

Just as I was thinking I wonder, I heard

your laugh, and there you were – a slender, sparkling volume,

looking quite at home in such illustrious company,

your handwritten name running down the spine. Evelyn Waugh

was serving at the till. There’s no charge, he said.

She’s been waiting for you. I took you home and put you

next to Dickens and Gaskell, hoping you'd find some people there

you could get on with. In the evenings I'd sit cross-legged on the carpet

with a glass of wine, listening, enthralled, to you in your element:

on the poetry shelf, Milton's pages ruffled with pride to hear

that you'd learnt Lycidas by heart at seventeen; Wordsworth acknowledged

that your annotations on "The Prelude" had deepened his understanding.

Best of all was the intellectually superior drinking game

with Shakespeare: he'd call out the number of a sonnet,

you'd recite it, word-perfect, your reward a shot of apricot brandy.

You read my childhood favourites to me again, your drama-school voice

(not a trace of Manchester left in it) still just right, somehow, for

The Famous Five and Malory Towers, but I liked your New Jersey drawl

for Judy Blume's Freckle Juice best, which brought you to the attention

of George Gershwin and Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra

sleeping off champagne hangovers in Biography; the four of you sang

"Embraceable You" and "Someone to Watch Over Me" late into the night.

How sad, I thought, that only in death can one keep this kind of company.

And then it struck me: I moved you to Plays. And oh, you were away.

Word spread quickly, and critics queued at my door, squeezed

into every square inch in my small study, climbed lampposts

and garden fences to listen through the open window

to your Lady Bracknell, your Rosalind, your Beatrice –

but also, of course, to your lead role in Coronation Street, and even

the brief stint as first woman pundit on Match of the Day

(you always had the range). I realised then I'd put you in my library

without reading your words, thought I knew your story, that I might

have written bits of it myself. But when I turned your pages

there was your life translated: how you'd skipped rep altogether,

were plucked straight from training into your debut at the Old Vic;

I saw the RSC, the National, the moody black-and-white photographs

backstage with Olivier, the sofa with Terry Wogan and Parkinson,

the BAFTA red carpet, the BBC Four retrospective,

you refusing a ghostwriter and writing the bestselling memoirs yourself,

Maggie Smith and Judi Dench taking calls from their agents –

Sorry, they’ve cast her again. I went back to Hatchards,

and Evelyn Waugh. How might we make this real?

I asked. He lit his pipe, and smiled,

and gestured at the sky. No returns, he said.

This poem is from Rosalind's award-winning pamphlet, Black Mascara (Waterproof), published by The Poetry Business in February 2021. You can find it here.

bottom of page