Friday 19 April 2019

Poetry please

A rare photo of R.S. (sort of) smiling

Being a blog mainly devoted to questions of BBC bias, but explicitly not only devoted to that, may I recommend to all lovers of poetry hereabouts an unfamiliar poem by my second favourite poet (after George Herbert), R.S. Thomas.

It's religious poetry for Good Friday.

I was brought up traditionally Anglican, with the lightest, least-bothered-about touch on my parents' believing part - though with a christening and nativity plays and all.

And I was then promised for confirmation as an Anglican, partly to get me into a good local Anglican grant-maintained faith school.

And confirmation duly followed my acceptance - followed, in turn, fairly swiftly by our family's finding other things to do of a Sunday morning. 

One year at our Anglican faith school brought disgrace upon us all by scandalously finding 27-3 in favour of Darwin's theory of evolution against Genesis. (I think we were all aged about 12 or 13 at the time). 

So I fell. Further.

But, being somewhat conservative even then, I felt in my early-to-mid teens (in the early-to-mid '80s) that I really ought to properly believe by the year 2000, or else. I might party, Prince-like, in semi-belief till 1999, but I must ready myself for Judgment Day in 2000.

The year 2000. Full belief. Full armour of belief. Happy Redeemer. Result!

It didn't happen. Science, including the spellbinding works of Richard Dawkins, made me briefly into the kind of atheist who would - at the turn of the millennium - happily wrestle a very pleasant door-ringing Jehovah's Witness into half-submission by banging on about inconsistencies in the Bible for nearly two hours.

(True story, though it was a one-off. Wonder what happened to Karl, the Jehovah's Witness? Hope my cheery militancy didn't do any lasting damage). 

That said, thanks to watching the BBC's Horizon, among other things, my pre-2000 rationality dissolved like something that shouldn't be easily dissolved in water and I genuinely feared the falling-apart of the social fabric of Western civilisation - and the lights going out - at the turn of the millennium.

I was half-persuaded by the scientific/BBC consensus over the seriousness of the Millennium bug.

New Years Eve 2000? Riots on the streets of the UK. Planes falling from the skies. Health systems collapsing and patients dying. Food running out.

(Sounds slightly familiar?).

My dread was real. Half-persuasion led to a credulous belief that, thanks to the Millennium bug, the 21st Century might send us back into the Medieval era.

That was the first New Year's Eve I didn't look forward to.

Is the BBC now, via 92-year-old 'national treasure' Sir David Attenborough, pushing the young of today towards feeling even more anxious about 'Apocalypse Soon' than I felt in the late years of my youth? Or is Sir David a true prophet of scientifically-predicted potential apocalypse for human society, if we don't heed his and the BBC's warnings?

I don't know. Really, I don't know.

Such questions bring me though, with no inevitability, back towards my second favourite poet and the fact that I, a non-religious man, love two religious poets as my first (George Herbert) and second (R.S. Thomas) favourite poet...

...a complication made even more complex by the fact that, except for loving the sea, sea-birds and silence, I couldn't disagree more with the latter, R.S. Thomas, about everything.

That very peculiar man - an anti-social Welsh Anglican priest with a genuinely racist loathing for the English and a strong sympathy for Welsh nationalist terrorism, plus a truly bizarre loathing of every trace of modernity, from tractors to (English) tourists, from TVs to blood transfusions and air-conditioners - at least loved the sea and birds.

And, yes, the sea and the birds should be my only connection with ultra-uptight bigot R.S., but I think his poetry beats pretty much everyone else's poetry.

The misanthropic Welsh nationalist clergyman makes the language of his hated English sing with a beauty Plaid's late leader Leanne Wood couldn't even dream of in her worst Welsh nationalist dreams.

Such as this Good Friday rarity from R.S.'s later years:

They set up their decoy
in the Hebrew sunlight. What
for? Did they expect
death to come sooner
to disprove his claim
to be God’s son? Who
can shoot down God?
Darkness arrived at
midday, the shadow
of whose wing? The blood
ticked from the cross, but it was not
their time it kept. It was no
time at all, but the accompaniment
to a face staring,
as over twenty centuries
it has stared, from unfathomable
darkness into unfathomable light.

Oh, I do like that. It's a Good Friday poem that somehow resonates with me despite my disbelief. I like the idea of moving from unfathomable darkness into unfathomable light. 

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