“In the Vicinity of the Crank-House”



I am becoming a connoisseur of walking sticks
Comparing my own stout stump with the slender ferrule,
The harsh metal wand, or the pair of hospital crutches.

Not lameness or amputation, thank God, simply old age
And a condition known as “degenerative spine” –
Something between a moral menace and a washed-out weakling.

In the vicinity of the crank-house the maimed swing by
As I make my own slow way between sets of traffic lights,
Grinning a greeting grimly in complicitous courtesy.

My first was something much lighter, with a silver band,
But I had to leave that behind as my back shrank.
Sometimes I journey uphill muttering to myself

That bit of Christina Rossetti in a stertorous way.
There are worse ways of being a connoisseur
Than quoting Christina Rossetti, and comparing walking sticks.


–Anthony Thwaite

I enjoy this poem for its lack of overt poetry-ness.  Instead, Thwaite stealthily opens up the universe of a poem by giving us a guide:  the walking-stick certainly stands as both image and metaphor.  Also the crank-house stands at an uncertain place as an uncertain kind of place.   I’ve known quite a few crank-houses; I even live in one.

I love the way Thwaite uses the phrase “journey uphill” as a segue into Christina Rossetti and her poem, “Uphill”.  Using a walking-stick, expounding upon Christina Rossetti brings us to the neighborhood of mortality.

When my friend was dying I would bring her lap-top to her bed and we would search for a good steady stable decorative walking-stick.   She (and I) too became connoisseurs of walking sticks.  Her walking stick would be wooden and stout, with Celtic Victoriana engraved throughout.  The handle would be brass and long and depict an animal–an animal with a smooth and long proboscis.  An elephant or a nickel-plated horse or a chrome-coated jaguar.  Perhaps a duck or a dog.  A crook-handled stick would not offer enough support.  And mount-badges!

“Grinning a greeting grimly in complicitous courtesy” I would find another page of walking sticks to covet.  Thwaite’s superb poem brings me straight back to the time when it seemed possible to appease the menace of cancer by ordering a bespoke walking-stick from abroad.  From Cornwall, specifically.



Author: Gubbinal

Bookish, tea-drinking cat-lady who loves great poetry and music and is in the midst of dying

2 thoughts on ““In the Vicinity of the Crank-House””

  1. There was a time, years ago when I felt the need for a walking stick and surfed the internet for something like the beauties you have displayed here. That was followed by a time when my main criterion was sturdiness, heavy-duty support, durability. Now that I need two sticks to even perambulate my humble daily doings, I go for the latest technology in sticks that can take weight, maneuver a variety of terrain, stand alone, and be magically retrieved without my having to bend when they accidentally fall. I cannot even walk without them.
    So I find this poem only mildly interesting. Still, I can understand the very special meaning it evokes for you as you so poignantly played the game of the beautiful walking stick with your dying friend. The poem evoked in your mind is probably far more powerful than this one by Anthony Thwaite, but I think “In The Vicinity of The Crank House” does its job as a poem, if it creates that poem in your mind.


  2. As a walker and hiker, I loved the poem and your thoughts and then had to go and read the Rosetti poem, which is now a favorite as well. I am walking the Hadrian Wall Path next year and trying to decide whether to bring my walking poles or not–I like the rhythm they help me maintain and they are essential for steep downhill tracks. How’s that for a metaphor–needing help on the downhill part? 🙂
    >Thwaite’s superb poem brings me straight back to the time when it seemed possible to appease the menace of cancer by ordering a bespoke walking-stick from abroad.

    We do what we can.


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