English Poems Reviews

Charles Lamb – Old Familiar Faces

I am slowly going through a book published in Sneek (of all places) in 1887 called: “A Casket of Jewels – selected from poets of the nineteenth century” by E. J. Irving. It contains a small selection of Poems by 42 English and American Poets. As I know virtually nothing of  English or American literature (or any other literature actually) I am reading through it poet by poet to see which are the ones that somehow draw my attention. Today I liked reading this poem by Charles Lamb (1775 -1834):


I have had playmates, I have had companions,
In my days of childhood, in my joyful school-days,
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.

I have been laughing, I have been carousing,
Drinking late, sitting late, with my bosom cronies,
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.

I loved a love once, fairest among women;
Closed are her doors on me, I must not see her—
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.

I have a friend, a kinder friend has no man;
Like an ingrate, I left my friend abruptly;
Left him, to muse on the old familiar faces.

Ghostlike I paced round the haunts of my childhood.
Earth seem’d a desert I was bound to traverse,
Seeking to find the old familiar faces.

Friend of my bosom, thou more than a brother,
Why wert not thou born in my father’s dwelling?
So might we talk of the old familiar faces,—

How some they have died, and some they have left me,
And some are taken from me; all are departed;
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.

Source: gutenberg.org

The main reason why I initially got interested in this poem was the fact that it seemed to be honest and timeless. Always keen on finding answers on why, what, how, what for etc. I want to write I was pleased to see that a poem like this could make it into this casket of jewels. Nothing seems to be made up in this poem and it is actually so bare in it’s cry of sorrow that I felt that it was almost inviting an extra strophe in with some more details about place and setting of the writer.
The line “Left him, to muse on the old familiar faces” sounds adorable self critical to me and with a hint of nature in the next strophe: “Earth seem’d a desert I was bound to traverse” the poem has all my interest.

I knew nothing about the dramatic background of Charles Lamb, so after looking up the poem on the internet I spent the next our reading the details about his life around 1796. A remarkable story indeed, shining another light on the poem.