Literature: My mission for a little-known but great poet

The poet Mathew Harman was born in 1822, and came to Scarborough as a young man, where he worked for some years in the local fishing trade, lodging first in Trafalgar Street West before moving to Albemarle Crescent. On bad weather days he would fill in his time by traversing the town and its surroundings, writing beautiful verse about the places and people he encountered.

He wrote three wonderful books of poetry, Poetic Buds, first published in 1865, Wayside Blossoms, first published in 1867, and A Wreath of Rhyme, first published in 1871, all three of which were to be revised and enlarged some years later.

One particular verse he wrote on June 29, in the year of our Lord 1867, which was later included in the revised version of Wayside Blossoms, was a verse entitled The Daw and the Steeples, a verse that as a poet and a Scarborian, absolutely knocked me out.

It is a verse featuring a jackdaw, who after an absence of some 40 years, revisits the town of Scarborough in order to perch upon the many church steeples, and observe the changes made since last he had paid a visit to the town. (Scarborough at the time was reputed to have had more churches than any other town in the country).

The daw flitted from steeple to steeple, starting at Albemarle and covering most of the borough, passing comment on the vista as it was in 1867, as opposed to the first time he flew over the town in 1827.

Mathew Harman was an unfussy poet, who wrote poetry as poetry should be written, “in rhyme”. Unlike certain of the so-called modern day genre, who consider rhyme somewhat beneath them, and prose more acceptable to modern arty farties they cater for ... excuse what I consider to be their inadequacies, by writing more and more in the stuff. It’s not the content I take issue with you understand, some of which is extremely moving, it’s the method.

I would suggest that Mathew Harman later on in his life would have probably reached the equivalent in status of what Alan Ayckbourn is today, and it seems to me a great shame that he isn’t recognised as such by the town’s caretakers. However, that doesn’t mean he has been entirely forgotten.

In order to celebrate the 148th anniversary of the daw’s second visit to Scarborough, and in honour of the bard himself, it is my intention, along with a few other souls of a likewise mind, to step out on Monday June 29, in order to celebrate the life and works of a man who lived and worked in the 19th century.

My aim, armed with Harman’s wonderful verse, is to once again, after an absence of some 148 years, follow in his steps, by tracing the lofty places and steeples the jackdaw perched upon all those years ago, and to see for myself as I go how things have altered for better or worse throughout my lifetime.

In closing, I must thank my friend Jonty Hartley for introducing me to the book Wayside Blossoms, a beautiful book, written by a wonderful local poet, whom to my eternal shame I didn’t even know existed ... immeasurable thanks mate.

TW Ward