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This 101-year-old romantic still writes poetry Meet your neighbour

George Hart

George Hart

We have been here before. In September 2013 Lorna Krawchuk wrote an engaging article in Leaside Life about George Hart who writes poetry.

At that time George was only 99. Now he is 101. His friends expect he will make it to 102 next October — no sweat.

Not much has changed for George. He goes for a daily walk in his Leaside neighbourhood. And most days he either writes a poem – usually a love poem – or translates French verse, sometimes centuries old.

Once a week, Rosel, his caregiver, comes by and sings for him sweetly. As she leaves, she gives him a kiss.

He smiles and declares later, “I am a romantic. I always have been.” In recent years he has charted his life in poetry. In a poem titled Birth he writes:

My young mother sang to me

Lolling in the sweet sea of her womb.

“Here I am,” then I cried

And gulped the salt air.

That would have been in Charlottetown in 1914. A lifetime later, in 1973, he and his late wife, Jean, parents of six, moved to Rumsey Rd.

Today he lives at SAHIL(Stay at Home in Leaside), a seniors’ building at Bayview and McRae.

“My father was English, educated in France. It’s because of my father’s influence that I read a lot. I started university (in PEI), but we were poor, I had to break off.”

He taught in a country school, frustrated that Canadian history was so ill-served. “There was a little red book of 90 pages – and that was Canadian history.” So he wrote a history of PEI, had it printed privately and sold it for 25 cents a copy. He was 20.

He went back to university, got an MA in English and served in the Canadian Navy in World War II. Afterwards, he applied for a reporting job at the Halifax Herald. But with a wife and two children to support, the $25 salary offered was not enough.

George would hold important jobs in social services – he was executive director of Toronto’s Social Planning Council – but he always had the writing urge.

He wrote of the 400-year history of his mother’s family in North America; and there was Transcontinental  Pedestrians, a book about a Canadian sea-to-sea walking race that took place in 1906 and that might yet inspire a movie script.

But it was only with Jean’s sudden death from a stroke in 2005 that poetry moved to the centre of his life. Memorably in:

My love went a-walking

Left her paintings on the walls

Left her song book and silent keys

 

And came not home again…

My love went a-walking

She did not know to say goodbye

She did not know to say goodbye

And came not home again.

 

“It was a huge shock. I poured out my grief in poems,” he recalls. Lonely years followed. Then he moved to SAHIL, “this Leaside haven we enjoy,” he called it one poem.

And he met Mary MacMillan, who also writes poetry. .

By chance I went calling

On a lady

And forgot my dark pain,

Quick from my lips words sprung,

“Oh Mary, you look so young.”

You will find the two of them of a Saturday night in a room stacked with books. “When I hear your voice,” he recites, “my heart wakens, is young.”

Or she’ll phone him from her home: “Have you seen the moon?” And, he says, “I will go and look.”

His age, he says, is no burden but  “a tremendous gift. A person is very lucky to be in reasonably good health.”

He continues to self-publish his poems for friends – there are five collections so far. Why still write and translate? He is often lonely. “It makes the day pass,” he says. It also, of course, keeps his mind blackbird-sharp. And it allows him to look at his own remarkable life with playful humour.

A recent poem seems much on his mind. Ancient’s Valentine, it’s called.

Pushing this walker beside you

Is not my idea of gallantry.

I am old as the chaff

On the threshing floor

And should be blown away.

And he concludes:

A cane only will I use,

If you will hold my hand.