Books do Furnish a Room
Penelope Lively borrowed
the above quote from Anthony Powell,
to write about her “relatively meagre”
personal library of 3,300 books.
Of course, she is an eminent,
prize-winning author. She is not
living in my tiny, one-bedroom flat,
where my personal library of 1,100 books
seems far from “relatively meagre”.
I look at my thirty-three bookshelves
– I don’t have any option;
there isn’t much else to look at,
in my tiny, one-bedroom flat.
Those ramshackle, odd-looking shelves,
that I bought “for easy self-assembly”,
that took me half a day to assemble,
and I still ended up screwing the shelves
in the wrong way round.
Those huge, handsome, blonde
shelves I got from the charity shop,
that I thought were so capacious
I would never fill them in my lifetime:
now they are overflowing.
I can’t help thinking that too much of my life
has been consumed in populating these shelves;
that too much of my life has been spent in reading,
instead of the life I should have been leading.
But it’s not the fault of the books,
or the shelves. I don’t want to be unkind;
for, as well as my tiny, one-bedroom flat,
these books have furnished my mind.
In my last post, about second-hand bookshops, I mentioned that I had recently completed two contrasting poems about bookshops. After those two poems, I liked the idea of writing a third poem, to complete a trilogy of poems about books, and I thought I could write the next poem about my own books and bookshelves. This was fine in theory, but I then had a few problems in trying to find a starting-point for the poem. I was familiar with the phrase “Books do Furnish a Room”, and thought I could use that as the title of the poem. I then looked the phrase up on the internet. It confirmed that the quotation was from one of Anthony Powell’s novels, but I then came across an article by Penelope Lively, in which she used the quotation to write about her own “personal library”. As soon as I started reading her article, and saw her description of her collection as “relatively meagre”, I immediately got the idea for the above poem.