“The Best things in Life are Free” by Margaret O'Driscoll

Book Review by Lieutenant Colonel Shyam Sunder Sharma, Shaurya Chakra (Retd.)
Margaret O'Driscoll
The Best things in Life are Free
Category: Poetry
Author: Margaret O'Driscoll
Pages: 92
Size B
Cover: Paperback
Publisher: lettertec

“The Best things in Life are Free” by Margaret O'Driscoll“The Best things in Life are Free” an interesting proverb for a book title, as you get reading the eighty one poems spread over ninety one pages of the book, you find it being reiterated and at the end, you are reassured, this is not just a proverb, it is a good mantra to adapt for life.

“The Best things in Life are Free” is a book of compiled poems of Margaret O'Driscoll published by Lettertec Ireland Ltd. Printed on paperback, the front cover is adorned by a beautiful painting done by the poet herself that depicts a butterfly on a Buddleia, and the back cover carries a brief introduction of the poet and her photograph.

The book opens out without a preface, dedication or introduction and rightly so as no introductions are needed, they would have been a superfluous. Margaret’s poems speak directly for themselves. Speaking of the contents, it has an intriguing index, one which has titles of poems and page numbers, it works well, you can go directly to the poem you wish to read, however there are no serial numbers. I have noticed so many patterns which poets use to index the contents of their poems, there are plenty like me who mostly shun titles, then there are some who don’t even like page numbers and want the reader to read from end to end, some have no index at all, in this case the intriguing part was the index without serial numbers, as you read through the book, you find that , yes there is a definite pattern, a pattern that does not necessarily fit into serial numbers, Margaret’s poems are arrayed just as months are in a calendar year or seasons of the year, without watertight sections, the poems shift from months to changing seasons, it is a beautiful layout to arrange poems in a book, at the end of the reading, you realise not just months or seasons of calendar year, it is also a narration of various chapters of life from winter to spring, rains, autumn and back to winter. The circle commences with the opening poem ‘A Speck of Blue” which holds out hope even in bleak January winter, “The Garden Plot” poem she talks of April when the soil getting warm and ready to be tilled, “Nature gifted me a shrub/“A delightful self-seeded Buddleia/Wafts it’s sweet scent each July/That I had planned to buy”, graduates to autumn - “We are easing into Autumn’s/Ever changing kaleidoscope” , and onto winter, the penultimate poem is “The Great Escape” where the poet narrates the bare necessities of her happiness, frugal living with a purpose.

“Time to leave the treadmill
Live in a meaningful way
at harmony with nature
Carpe diem, seize the day!”

The concluding poem “The End of Year” completes the wisdom of spiritual awareness, a profound summation of life without being preachy.

The language, diction and tempo of Margaret’s poems are simple, unforced, and unrushed. Without knowing the poet in person, I know for sure we would make great friends. The most pleasant surprise in the book, are birds, plenty of beautiful poems about birds, their nesting, habits, songs. From bird spotting to bird identification as

“A bird is pecking beneath a bush
Fluffed up feathers, looks like a thrush
A closer look, it’s a Redwing
My heart melts, first viewing!”

How delightful, the simple joy of first viewing and correct identification.
Bird lovers will tell you that the real joy of bird watching is not just correct identification but
observation of their flight, their beautiful plumage, courtship antics as well as bird songs which
are so uplifting.

Lt.Col. Shyam Sunder Sharma
Margaret captures all these skillfully in multiple poems like for instance her poem Gold Crest,
from the high pitched bird call “tsee tsee tsee” to the spotting and its accurate identification with
its “ A flash of gold on its crown.”

“Life is what you make it” in one her poems, she asks

Have you ever seen the sun rise

or watched the mist depart
Have you listened to the morning chorus
can you tell each bird apart”

or as she narrates in her poem, “The Kingfisher”

“It’s electric blue back
shimmered along the river
I’d seen it to best effect
my heart was all a quiver”

Another one, “Blackcurrant picker” like stumbling into

“I part the blackcurrant bushes
Not making a sound
A blackbird is busily picking
Fallen fruit from the ground”

Margaret’s blending in with nature and her keen observations that are visible in her poems
remind me of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden – Life in the Woods, by their simplistic and
naturalistic philosophy. The “Best Things in Life are Free” her poem which is also the title of the
book draws out beautiful parallels of freedom from nature reiterating that indeed the best things
in life are free.

Just as Thoreau said “It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see”, many of
Margaret’s poems are wonderful etchings of nature in its changing seasons in sync with varying
flora and fauna.

“Forest Track” is one such gorgeous poem, another delightful one is “By the Riverside”

“By the river
Indian balsam by the riverside
at the slightest touch seedpods explode
A dog jumps in for a dip and
shakes dry by the bridge on the road”

Her poem “Forever Wild” echoes my sentiments with apt illustrations summed up in few words , the need for letting nature stay in its element – wild, free and unhindered.

The other pre-dominant subject in her poems is her bonding with her grandchildren. One of her poems which made me smile ear to ear is “Dancing Partner”

“Listening to her laughing
keeps me on my feet
She’s like a little wind-up doll
moving to the beat

My dancing partner doesn’t care
if she wears no sock or shoe
Just dance with fun abandon
like my granddaughter aged two!”

It is delightful to see the adult not just indulging the child but being a wholehearted partner in merriment. The poet is most at ease with her grandchildren as seen in the “Hazelnut Harvest” and she relates well with what brings joy to children

“Back home coats are pulled off
Wellies left by the door
It’s fun to crack the hazelnuts
With delight they ask for more”

In her poem “Out in the Garden” we learn that the grandchildren are well informed gardeners who even know the names of all the plants, gardening, learning and fun come together in a lovely bunch.
“Out in the garden
My grandchildren spend hours
They help sowing seeds
Help water the flowers
They know all the plants
Name out each one

One two three four
Finding ladybirds
Searching for more
They watch worms
Wriggle into the soil
They smile with delight

As they hold then awhile

Out in the sun
Arms outstretched
Towards me they run
I hug them and lift them
Then twirl them around”

The poem “Children’s Nature guide” is an immaculate calendar poem that illustrates the changing seasons throughout the year and the coinciding worthwhile unique events that must be observed or participated in nature. This simple poem has so much to teach, it should be taught to children in school to get them to understand nature.

It is a blessing to be able to regain lost innocence in the company of children and the poet fits in with ease, as she depicts in her poem “ A Little Child’s Drawing”

The poet has some useful suggestions for adults too especially in the adult’s handling of children. Her poem “Patience” explains it succinctly

“Letting them know you’re there
Taking it easy, taking it slow
Having patience to see it through
Gaining the confidence to grow

It may take many attempts
To finally work things out
Having patience to wait calmly
Is what love is all about”

Intermingling well among the nature and poems for children are a few philosophical poems that revolve around self realization and self actualization.

The poem “Be your best friend” says it well “Test the water, dip your toe
Try something different, have a go”

Another thought provoking poem is “Checkmate” about elderly men engrossed in a game of chess sitting on a park bench.

“Silently points scored

An opportunity to socialize
Keeping their minds keen
Checkmate in the sunshine”

There is much unsaid wisdom in this poem and it is not just an innocuous description of a leisure activity.

While most of Margaret’s poems are simple and direct, there are handfuls that have depth to explore.

A fine metaphor and hyperbole in one stroke she displays in the poem, “The sky is on the ground”
The opening line - ‘The sky is on the ground’, he said and the closing lines

“I head to the library
My books dispel the grey”

Much is said with brevity and finesse in this poem. Balancing well against the serious poem is a fun poem of the poet’s youthful days, “The Trad season” that displays subtle humour.

“They said we had natural talent
Some joined us out on the floor
They didn’t know we were bluffing
We laughed as they asked for more!”

To be able to connect and gel with nature, it is imperative to have frugal needs, her poem “The Cob house” lists out all what the poet needs now are bare necessities

“A view across the valley
from the window and open half-door
No need to aspire, a home to desire
who could ask for anything more

The poet’s oneness with solitude and spirituality is well illustrated in the later poems Solitude, A special Spot and My Great Escape.

“Our life is frittered away by detail... simplify, simplify.”Henry David Thoreau. Margaret O'Driscoll has immaculately illustrated nature, children, seasons and life in her poetry compilation “The Best Things in Life are Free”

I strongly recommend “The Best things in Life are Free” by Margaret O'Driscoll for all poetry lovers especially all nature lovers, birdwatchers, poets, young parents and children. The book is available for €10.00 at lettertecbooks.com

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