To thine own self be true...
Nicola Davies’ poem – What does me mean?
Who created it?
"I did a zoology degree and went on to study various animals in the wild; bats, geese, whales... Then I went to work at the BBC Natural History Unit, first as a researcher and later a presenter on The Really Wild Show. TV was fun for a while, but I really hated the pressure. The good thing about it was that it allowed me to earn money, and still have time for my kids when they were little. I’ve loved being a mum, absolutely adored it." (Walker Books information)
My creative response
What does me mean?
I sometimes wonder what it means when I say ‘I’.
Is ‘I’ the kid who’s got a smile for everyone,
The sort who’s welcome everywhere like cake or apple pie,
That people turn to, glad, like flowers turning to the sun?
Or am I that other ‘I’? Full of storms and dark?
The one that always scowls at people in the street,
And tramples blossoms every time she’s in the park?
The one that no one ever, ever, ever wants to meet?
Maybe I am mixed up for a reason;
Like weather that’s a blend of rain and sun
I’m in a stormy, sunny, Springy season
That will help me grow into whatever I’ll become.
Then maybe I’ll get to understand my me
And be a better part of we.
About my creative response
“Telling the truth was a big, big part of what my parents wanted from me. As a born story teller this was sometimes tricky, as my idea of what had really happened and what made a good story about what had happened, sometimes didn’t match their standards of actual reality. So my mum was always telling me ‘to thine own self be true’. I found that very difficult advice as a young person, because I had to be different selves to survive. I was clever and fat and often the new girl, as I moved schools quite a bit, so I had to develop strategies not to be bullied or to be drawn in by bullying to deflect the attention to someone else. I was really fragile, easily upset and often had terrible storms of emotions that I just didn’t understand. I often felt left out and friendless, even if I had lots of people around me. I think I drove my poor parents to distraction with my moods.”
“When I was about 15 I discovered the most useful of all strategies, which was making people laugh. I set up a kind of new persona for myself that worked really well; it allowed me to be clever, without being teased about it because I was also funny and a bit naughty. I gave one or two teachers a really hard time. But it came at a price, which was that I felt that I was never quite able to relax or be myself. And by the time I went to university I’d almost forgotten what ‘myself’ really was.”
When have you been ‘true to yourself’?
“The thing that saved me from going bonkers completely was my deep love of nature. That was the touchstone of the real me. Being in nature, studying plants and animals put me back in touch with my deepest self, the self I’d been as a very little kid. I’m still a mix up of things. I’m still prone to storms of emotion that catch me unawares and leave me tearful and exhausted. But now I know they will pass and that if I just step onto the beach or into the lane, sit outside under a tree or take time to watch the rooks wheeling in the sky I’ll be calmer, happier, more at home in my own skin. Back inside my eight-year-old inner self. Being such a mix up has had its advantages. It helps imagine things, it helps me to be in my stories, and it helps me understand other people and be kinder.”
“When I was young I felt like a complete loner, that I didn’t really connect properly with any other humans, that I was shut behind an impenetrable sheet of thick glass. Now I see I’m part of an ecosystem and, just like a tree in a forest, I’m connected to everyone, and everything else in all kinds of ways. Life is still a big mystery to me but I’m never bored and always learning. That’s why I wrote this poem - for other people who, like me, feel that they are a bit of a mixture, and for whom getting to know yourself is a bit of a lifelong project!”
There are lots of types of poem you can write in response to Shakespeare’s quote: “This above all, to thine own self be true”. You can find out about lots of different ways to write a poem here: Shakespeare Week poetry frameworks
Nicola Davies has also written some other lovely Shakespeare inspired poems – you can watch her read one of them here: