Posts Tagged ‘Church Going’

August favourites #3: Philip Larkin

August 3, 2018

Church Going

One of the last century’s great English poets, whom I’ve long liked, Philip Larkin was not a religious man, and yet he wrote one of the most thoughtful and profound religious poems I know; perhaps it’s precisely because he was a non-believer. Even the title challenges: church going, as in going to church? or as in the church is going, disappearing? Both are possible, maybe intended. The structure: solid, eight-line stanzas and long sentences with frequent enjambment create a sense of thoughtfulness, reflection. Here is a man who is drawn to visit churches, not knowing why; compelled, attracted and inside, realising that such places hold a meaning even for unbelievers like himself, a way of marking birth, partnership and death, events unavoidable whether one has a faith or not. Equally, the age and timelessness of a church reflects on our own transience…

Unfortunately I can’t post the text as there are copyright restrictions, but you can reasonably easily track it down online…

I’m doing something different for the holiday month of August, writing about some of my favourites: poems, plays, music, art and other things, a short piece on a different topic each day. The categories are random, as are the choices within them, meaning that’s my favourite that day, and is subject to change… And I will try and explain why each choice is special for me. As always, I look forward to your comments.

 

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My travels: E for Easton-on-the-Hill

January 13, 2017

Easton-on-the-Hill has always seemed an odd name for the village where I was born, mainly because whenever we approached it, from Stamford, we went downhill into it… back in the day it was actually in Northamptonshire, but now is in East Northamptonshire (whatever that may be). County borders are quite complicated there, as Stamford is at the boundary of five counties. It’s one of the beautiful villages in the area because of the colour of the local stone, and also the famous Collyweston stone slate roofs: Collyweston is the next village along, only a couple of miles away and a scene of dread to my sister and I when we were very young, for it was the site of the ‘prick shop’, ie the local clinic where we had to go for our vaccinations…

I have happy memories of this village where I lived for five years; the family next door, the eccentric old lady two doors down, the little sweet shop a couple of doors in the other direction. There was also a small, fairly stagnant pond a little way beyond our house. There was a post office and a bakery further up the village, and a bus service to the town, which I got to use on Sundays when it was a treat for my dad and I to come back from church on the bus, and later, when I started school I had to go into town and back on the bus, though this was only for a term, for then we moved into Stamford itself. There’s a small monument to Polish paratroopers from the Second World War; my father spent some time stationed near there during the war, which is probably why this was my home village. It’s two miles from the town, a walk that I had to do every Friday while quite small, there and back as my mother went to the market; a bag of broken biscuits from Woolworths under the pram cover (my sister being in the pram) sustained me on the homeward leg.

I think I know the village better now than I did then, as it’s on a really pleasant circular walk from Stamford itself, a walk which does take you seriously uphill, and past the ancient and rather beautiful parish church – Anglican, of course, so as Catholics we never had anything to do with it when we lived there – largely twelfth century, I think, and quite modest in itself, timeless in the way it is surrounded by its graveyard, and the aisles within are very worn down by the feet of worshippers over the centuries. Quintessentially English. There’s a memorial in the church to a Norman knight, probably one of the Conqueror’s crew, with the inscription in Norman French. It’s a very quiet and peaceful place, and if I ever do the walk I always spend a few minutes in the church, in the Philip Larkin manner: ‘It pleases me to sit in silence here…’

I’ve always tended to romanticise village life; as long as you’re within a couple of miles of a town, it’s bearable, but further than that and I think the disadvantages begin to tell…

Poetry: my choices

January 6, 2015

I looked at my shelves to see what poetry I have collected over the years, apart from the usual anthologies. Chaucer is there, representing for me the time when a recognisable English begins to flower into poetry, now deemed too difficult for our sixth form students, by and large. Shakespeare, obviously, though as I’ve opined elsewhere in these pages, it’s his dramatic rather than his lyric poetry that moves me most, and the lyrics of the metaphysical poets shine out most strongly to me from that time period – Donne, Herbert, Marvell, Vaughan. After that, there is a huge gap until the twentieth century, where I have been enchanted by Eliot, Cummings, Larkin and others… so I will not claim any kind of comprehensive knowledge or appreciation of poetry: it’s what I like and what speaks to me.

Poetry used to be narrative; Milton has always astonished me, and I’ve always been conscious of being in a very small minority here. Paradise Lost works best when read aloud – Anton Lesser’s stunning account on Naxos Audiobooks is highly recommended. Sounds, words, rhyme and rhythm, all the other poetic devices come alive in their full glory, as does Milton’s inventiveness with the language, rivalling Shakespeare’s.

Poetry has always been associated with love and passion; for sheer verve I’ll take The Sunne Rising or The Flea, by Donne, or Marvell’s To His Coy Mistris, for tenderness Donne’s Valediction Forbidding Mourning is hard to beat. Some of Shakespeare’s sonnets are very clever. As I taught Love Through The Ages as a unit in the sixth form I came to know and like much twentieth century love poetry for its honesty, frankness, passion and eroticism, its attempts to break out of the old and often rather sexist conventions.

The other side of that coin for me has always been religious poetry, with feelings running as deep, and  just as unfathomable. Donne’s Holy Sonnets and Herbert’s The Temple are obvious, but Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach speaks to a more modern age, an age of doubt and questioning, as does Larkin’s Church Going, which is probably my favourite, working on so many levels, very clever but beautifully understated…

I’ve written earlier about war poetry, portraying the unspeakable, and sometimes I have been struck by other, more ephemeral verse, about nature, natural beauty, different ways of seeing things. And this, for me, is poetry’s value and achievement: briefly I share someone else’s view of something, I stop and contemplate and wonder and am entranced…

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