“This eagerly-awaited collection of new poems by ‘LHH’—now published posthumously following the sudden, tragic death of the author—takes the language of flowers as its leitmotif.”
I smile ironically as I write this. LHH had absolutely no interest in flowers. He dismissed the exquisite garden that his wife, Leanne, painstakingly created as “very pretty”. Planning it, she said, helped to fill her long, lonely days.
“The collection takes its name from the opening poem, ‘Red Carnation’, which I have just had the privilege of reading at LHH’s funeral. Here he takes the cliché of the red carnation in the buttonhole, worn as a means of recognition between strangers, and twists it so that we find the two protagonists are not strangers at all but a husband and his dead wife.”
The real twist is that despite a twenty-year marriage LHH and his wife lived like total strangers. He never tried to understand her—as indeed he never tried to understand me, or my writing, though he condescendingly called me his protégé. And happily it is he, not Leanne, who is dead.
“The poem is composed of three quatrains with a final rhyming couplet. It is therefore a classic Elizabethan love sonnet, though within this framework it is, interestingly, written largely in free verse without the equality of line length or rhyme pattern of the sonnet form.”
LHH always liked to make an outward show of sticking to the rules—so of course he could never publically admit to the breakdown of his marriage by agreeing to a divorce. Besides, divorces are generally rather disorderly affairs, not easily resolved into quatrains and rhyming couplets.
“The poem climaxes with a play on the word ‘miss’, expressing the desperate hope that, despite her death, he may one day meet his love again.
But not to miss, I’d carry a bouquet
Of red carnations.
How we shall miss you, LHH!”
On the evening of the funeral Leanne and I returned to the churchyard. There, across the grave, we joined hands. I called softly, “Lionel, look at us—together at last.”
I was wearing a red carnation. Poetic justice?