Noel Coward: 3 Epic Poems Written in Jamaica

The Magical Kingdom of Ffirefly - Actors and actresses from Hollywood, from Broadway and the London stage, political leaders and royalty for years beat a path to this remote mountain-top lair overlooking a dazzling view of the blue-green Caribbean and Jamaica's spectacular North Coast. They came here to enjoy the incomparable wit and wisdom and company of playwright, author, composer, lyricist, poet, novelist, actor, producer, director Noel Coward in his winter writing and composing retreat. He named his beloved four-acre Firefly Hill "in honor of the myriad of glowing insects larger and more luminous than I have ever seen."

"Firefly Hill has given me the most valuable benison of all: time to read and write and think and get my mind in order," he would write in his diary. "I love this place. It deeply enchants me. Whatever happens to this silly world, nothing much is likely to happen here." Writing, he believed, came easier when he was here, "the sentences seemed to construct themselves, the right adjectives appeared discretely at the right moment. Firefly Hill has magic for me. . . ." 

Coward died under a Jamaican heaven on Firefly Hill March 26, 1973, at 74 of a heart attack. He is buried in a marble tomb embraced by a gazebo-like wrought iron frame in his garden on the spot he would sit each night watching the sun set as he sipped his brandy with ginger ale chaser and looked out to sea and along miles and miles of lush green coast spread out beneath him. On a wall in his four-room, two-level, white-stucco house he built on the crest of Firefly Hill in 1956 is his last poem. It begins:

When I have fears, as Keats had fears,
Of the moment I'll cease to be
I console myself with vanished years
Remembered laughter, remembered tears,
And the peace of the changing sea . . . .

Coward's biography, written by his friend Cole Lesley, is called "Remembered Laughter" from the line in that poem. It was here on Firefly Hill in his study that Coward wrote his novel "Pomp and Circumstance," his musical "Ace of Hearts," his collection of verses "Not Yet the Dodo," his comedy "South Sea Bubble," and several of his 50 plays, nearly 300 songs, his reviews, musicals, short stories and autobiographies. The consummate playwright of comedy, Coward, the son of a British musical instrument salesman, born Dec. 16, 1899, and a protege of the London stage, wintered in Jamaica for 30 years.

The list of those who flew to Jamaica to spend a few hours or several days watching the spectacular sunsets from Firefly Hill as they sipped cocktails and were charmed by Noel Coward read like a Who's Who of the theatrical world and the rich and famous. Those who would spend more than a day stayed at Blue Harbour, his guest house two miles down the steep one-lane trail through a jungle of bougainvillea, ferns and banana trees. Firefly Hill is 20 miles east of Ocho Rios on Jamaica's North Coast. Ian Fleming and his wife Ann lived down the mountain, three miles away at Goldeneye, Fleming's estate on the seashore at Oracabessa...

Coward was a witness at their marriage. He was a close friend of Fleming's since World War II days and often read the proofs of Fleming's James Bond books as they came from the printers. It was in 1948 while visiting the author of the 15 James Bond books that Coward bought his Jamaica property.

"All these important people came to see Mr. Coward, came to stay with him, and I had never heard of them before. I didn't know who they were because I have always lived here in the mountains of Jamaica far from movie theaters and things like that," said Imogene Fraser, 49, the mistress of Firefly Hill, who quit school when she was in fourth grade.

"I didn't know who Mr. Coward was at first either, but I soon found out he was a very famous man." She and her husband, Miguel, went to work for Coward in 1963, nine years before he died. Imogene was the housekeeper at Firefly Hill. Miguel was the butler. They both served the master of the house his cocktails and meals, as they did his guests. It was Imogene Fraser who discovered Coward in his bathroom early in the morning crying out for help as he was dying of a heart attack. She and her husband lifted him onto his bed and were alone with him when he died. In 1975, Graham Payne, a friend who was willed Firefly Hill, presented the property to the people of Jamaica. It is administered in their name by the Jamaica National Trust Commission and open to the public.

Below are Five Epic Poems that Coward wrote in Jamaica....

I Am No Good at Love

I am no good at love
My heart should be wise and free
I kill the unfortunate golden goose
Whoever it may be
With over-articulate tenderness
And too much intensity.

I am no good at love
I batter it out of shape
Suspicion tears at my sleepless mind
And, gibbering like an ape,
I lie alone in the endless dark
Knowing there's no escape.

I am no good at love
When my easy heart I yield
Wild words come tumbling from my mouth
Which should have stayed concealed;
And my jealousy turns a bed of bliss
Into a battlefield.

I am no good at love
I betray it with little sins
For I feel the misery of the end
In the moment that it begins
And the bitterness of the last good-bye
Is the bitterness that wins.

Nothing is Lost 

Deep in our sub-conscious, we are told
Lie all our memories, lie all the notes
Of all the music we have ever heard
And all the phrases those we loved have spoken,
Sorrows and losses time has since consoled,
Family jokes, out-moded anecdotes
Each sentimental souvenir and token
Everything seen, experienced, each word
Addressed to us in infancy, before
Before we could even know or understand
The implications of our wonderland.
There they all are, the legendary lies
The birthday treats, the sights, the sounds, the tears
Forgotten debris of forgotten years
Waiting to be recalled, waiting to rise
Before our world dissolves before our eyes
Waiting for some small, intimate reminder,
A word, a tune, a known familiar scent
An echo from the past when, innocent
We looked upon the present with delight
And doubted not the future would be kinder
And never knew the loneliness of night. 

Lie in the Dark and Listen

Lie in the dark and listen,
It's clear tonight so they're flying high
Hundreds of them, thousands perhaps,
Riding the icy, moonlight sky.
Men, materials, bombs and maps
Altimeters and guns and charts
Coffee, sandwiches, fleece-lined boots
Bones and muscles and minds and hearts
English saplings with English roots
Deep in the earth they've left below
Lie in the dark and let them go
Lie in the dark and listen.
Lie in the dark and listen

They're going over in waves and waves
High above villages, hills and streams
Country churches and little graves
And little citizen's worried dreams.
Very soon they'll have reached the sea
And far below them will lie the bays
And coves and sands where they used to be
Taken for summer holidays.
Lie in the dark and let them go
Lie in the dark and listen.

Lie in the dark and listen 
City magnates and steel contractors, 
Factory workers and politicians 
Soft hysterical little actors Ballet dancers, 
'reserved' musicians, 
Safe in your warm civilian beds 
Count your profits and count your sheep 
Life is flying above your heads 
Just turn over and try to sleep. 
Lie in the dark and let them go 
Theirs is a world you'll never know 
Lie in the dark and listen.  

Xaviant Haze

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