THIS THAT AND THE OTHER (15)
How lovely this year's lingering autumn. In front of the Vicarage on still and frosty mornings, showers of sunlit, yellow-brown oak leaves, idly spinning, drift gently down to greet the gravel audibly. As I write the oak trees are still half-leafed, but the poplar trees to the west of the garden are now leafless, silhouetted tracery, bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
An anthem for atheists
For many of us the bleakest moments of the day are those between waking up and getting up. This was certainly so for the non-believing, pessimistic curmudgeon of a poet Philip Larkin. He wrote one of the twentieth century's most despairing poems, a brilliant but hopeless atheist's funeral hymn and de profundis. Called "Aubade" it begins:
I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what's really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die..…
Unlike for Larkin, it takes only a hot shower, a cup of coffee, a leisurely Mattins said with Diana and a bowl of porridge drenched in maple syrup to dissipate my gloom and fill me with anticipation for the day ahead. Thank God for the Christian tradition and all its beauty, joy and hope. I wouldn't be an atheist for quids.
An anticlimactic climax
Last Sunday morning I listened to a program on Radio 4 called "Something Understood". It was all to do with Advent, a glorious mixture of music, poetry, prose and reflection, broad of sympathies, wide of cultural reference and thought provoking.
The program's title is a quotation from George Herbert's poem "Prayer", my very favourite poem. Far more than a quotation, the two words are the anticlimactic climax of an astonishing, single sentence sonnet. The whole poem is a cascade of astonishing images depicting prayer. Every single one of them I find myself saying "yes, yes, yes" to.
There are twenty six of these glorious, paradoxical, exotic images that capture, define and characterise prayer. To end the list and close the sonnet there is the splendid extraordinary ordinariness of prayer being simply "something understood."
Prayer says Herbert..... the Churches banquet, Angels age, Gods breath in man returning to his birth, the soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage, the Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth; engine against th' Almightie, sinner's towre, reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear, the six-daies world transposing in an houre, a kinde of tune, which all things heare and fear; softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and blisse, exalted Manna, gladnesse of the best, heaven in ordinarie, man well drest, the milkie way, the bird of Paradise, church-bels beyond the stars heard, the souls blood, the land of spices; something understood.
Stress and pressure
The attractive old reprobate Jeffery Bernard once said that the "successful should thank their lucky stars that they can experience stress and pressure, two things that prevent life from becoming a coma that lasts, on average, 70 years. Skating on thin ice is a far better exercise than jogging...."
On the website http://www.andrewneaum.com all these weekly ruminations can be viewed, under the title "Boldre still and Boldre"