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City of London

School for girls

The poetic friendship of the fab four

A group of four alumnae have been recalling their school days and preserving the bonds they forged at City through a common passion. Sheila Sparrow (class of 1967) tells us how their poetry club has been a source of solace as they share the meaningful benefits that literature can provide.  

Lockdown has been a difficult and strange time for all of us. Four of us alumnae from the 1960s missed our annual meeting in London in June to celebrate us all turning 70. 

The ‘fab four’ (as we call ourselves) are Jenny Clay (née Warwick, class of 1968) a retired teacher, Alison Reynolds (née Penhallow, class of 1967) a retired registered general nurse, Sheila Sparrow (née Stewart, class of 1967) also a retired registered general nurse and Heather Love (née Thompson, class of 1968) a retired teaching assistant. 

At the end of March, I sent an email to the three saying ‘I remember so well at our last reunion, Alison reciting the poem… ‘Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry now’ by A. E. Housman…. and I wondered if you would like to join my ‘Poem a week club’ to share poems that mean a lot to you or resonate with you in some way’. 

The response was very gratifying as all three sent back most enthusiastic messages such as, ‘Great, I’d love to join as so often, I can recite the first line of a poem, but it will be lovely to remember and ponder the whole poem again’. 

We chose poems and prose that related to life, loss, faith, nature and much more with a little introduction such as… ‘I have been debating whether to send you this Philip Larkin poem because it’s not a ‘feel good’ one but I have always found it strangely compelling and still do’. This was to introduce the poem ‘Days’. 

So, during these months of lockdown, we have shared many poems together making a wonderful and varied collection. 

To name a few of them, I will just give the title and the first line.   

  • ‘Endymion’ by John Keats. 

  • ‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever.’ 

  • ‘Cargoes’ by John Masefield.  

  • ‘Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir.’ 

  • ‘Composed on Westminster Bridge’ by Wordsworth. 

  • ‘Earth has not anything to show more fair.’ 

  • ‘If –‘ by Rudyard Kipling 

  • ‘If you can keep your head when all about you’ 

  • ‘New every morning’ by Susan Coolidge 

  • ‘Every morn is the world made new.’ 

  • ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ by William Butler Yeats. 

  • ‘I will arise now, and go to Innisfree’. 

This is just a small taste of some of the poems that we shared - some a reminder of our parents, some recited at funerals and some learnt at school. At the City of London School for Girls it was common for us to learn poems by heart as homework. 

Its advantages are summed up by the literary critic John Walsh who likened learning poems in this way to ‘having your own private internal iPoems library’. 

Photographed (left-right): Alison Reynolds (née Penhallow), Heather Love (née Thompson), Sheila Sparrow (née Stewart) and Jenny Clay (née Warwick)