We first encountered the poem Miss Thompson Goes Shopping by Martin Armstrong in a 1950’s poetry book.
In her lone cottage on the downs,
With winds and blizzards and great crowns
Of shining cloud, with wheeling plover
And short grass sweet with the small white clover,
Miss Thompson lived, correct and meek,
A lonely spinster, and every week
On market-day she used to go
Into the little town below,
Tucked in the great downs’ hollow bowl
Like pebbles gathered in a shoal.
At the time we too lived not in a lone cottage but a house high up on the Sussex downs and made the journey to the little town below and so the poem seemed to speak to us in a very particular way. It’s a simple tale, a trip to the town on market day, a dash to each shop in turn…
To Watson’s bootshop. Long she pries
At boots and shoes of every size —
Brown football-boots with bar and stud
For boys that scuffle in the mud,
And dancing-pumps with pointed toes
Glossy as jet, and dull black bows;
Slim ladies’ shoes with two-inch heel
And sprinkled beads of gold and steel —
and there something catches Miss Thompsons eye….
A pair of slippers — scarlet plush.
Miss Thompson feels a conscious blush
Suffuse her face, as though her thought
Had ventured further than it ought.
But O that colour’s rapturous singing
And the answer in her lone heart ringing!
But Miss Thompson resists temptation and forges onwards to the Fishmongers and the Chemist. But the lure of the slippers are too much and she rushes back, buys them and pops them in her bag alongside her other purchases and the kippers! The poem continues describing her joy at exploring the market day shops but suddenly she realises the time, she has stayed far too late…………..
Then as she climbed the misty downs
The lamps were lighted in the town’s
Small streets. She saw them star by star
Multiplying from afar;
Till, mapped beneath her, she could trace
Each street, and the wide square market-place
Sunk deeper and deeper as she went
Higher up the steep ascent.
And all that soul-uplifting stir
Step by step fell back from her,
The glory gone, the blossoming
Shrivelled, and she, a small, frail thing,
Carrying her laden basket. Till
Darkness and silence of the hill
Received her in their restful care
And stars came dropping through the air.
But loudly, sweetly sang the slippers
In the basket with the kippers;
And loud and sweet the answering thrills
From her lone heart on the hills.
Our picture shows what we imagine to by Miss Thompsons view as she climbs the Downs back to her cottage, the lights of the town below and the sea, as is so often the case in Sussex, creating a deep blue backdrop to the scene.
Miss Thompson goes shopping is worth reading in full (click here) as are other poems by Martin Armstrong for their strong narrative, and an enjoyable picture of simple pleasures and an England of not so long ago.