It was many years before I realized I had unconsciously modeled my cramped study—the simple desk and narrow bed—on Winston Churchill’s office in the war rooms. As a boy I memorized lines from his speeches. “We shall go on to the end,” he’d said. “We shall fight and never surrender.” Trembling in the dark, I’d lie on my childhood bed and say those words out loud to the night, and even now sometimes his gravelly English voice floats through my dreams. Early on Churchill turned to painting as an antidote to what he called the “blackdog” of depression. He painted hundreds of canvases and his charming little book, Painting as a Pastime, has always been a balm to me. He painted the places he’d visit—Venice, Mont Blanc, Avignon, Marrakech. At his Chartwell country home he captured the meadows and gardens, the black swans on the lake. Painting competed with bricklaying. I’ve never laid bricks, but my sons and I have considered building a wall on the eastern front of our property in his honor. They say Churchill drank; yet at night while others slept he labored and wrote some fifty volumes of history and speeches. After the war, my father bought a Toby jug of Churchill. Churchill is seated, holding his cane and gloves, wearing his black hat and greatcoat, the usual cigar between his lips. After my father died, I asked my mother if I could have the Toby jug she kept in the crystal cabinet. She said no: it reminded her of life in England. When Churchill was old, he bid farewell to his ministers, saying, “Man is spirit.” And I remember that as a young man, he wrote in Amid These Storms that in heaven he would spend a considerable portion of his five million years in painting.
Richard Jones is the author of seven books of poems from Copper Canyon Press, including The Correct Spelling & Exact Meaning, as well as five collections from Adastra Press, including the recent King of Hearts. Editor of the literary journal Poetry East and its many anthologies—Paris, Origins, and Bliss — also edits the free poetry app, “The Poet’s Almanac.”