William Faulkner's character Quentin in The Sound and the Fury repeatedly observes that "temporary" is "the saddest word of all." Despair over human impermanence and the desire to preserve what has been known and felt, even grief, reverberate at the heart of British Poet Laureate Motion's memoir of his childhood and adolescence in rural postwar England. A pćan to his family, to the birds, brambles, and secret hollows of his beloved Hertfordshire and Essex, this memoir evokes with care, clarity, and detail, a whole world long disappeared. The book begins in the present tense in December of 1968, hours before the event that precipitated Motion's desire to capture and preserve unchanged the life he had known heretofore: his mother's foxhunting accident and subsequent coma from which she never recovers. "My childhood has ended suddenly. In a day," writes Motion at the close of the first chapter. "I want to lock into my head everything that's happened in my life up to now, and make sure it never changes."
Whether recounting his first time salmon fishing with his father in Scotland, the horrors of prep school at the tender age of seven, or discovering Thomas Hardy and Bob Dylan, Motion imbues these recollections with the quicksilver emotions of the boy he was and the perceptions of the poet he would become; readers of his verse will recognize many of these experiences as the antecedents of the poems. Yet this memoir is far more than a guide to the life behind the poems; it is a stand against the ineluctability of time's passing, an insistence that what has been "felt in the blood, and felt along the heart," is, as the epigraph from Wordsworth suggests, an integral substance of our anatomy, a part that can be neither taken from us nor lost.