Friday, 13 July 2012

The Abbey

There goes rhymin' Tucker. David is on poetic form…

Going on our Westminster Abbey tour?
Would you like some canapés? 
(And pssssst – better whisper this – a couple of them are mind altering.)
Anyway, help yourself. Or pass. 
Yes, that’s right – they’re canapés for the mind. And ear.
They’re poems. About Westminster Abbey. 

LW's Karen broadcasts to the nation outside The Abbey

Precious little history in them. They’re doing something else. Something that history can’t do. They give you tonalities – what certain Westminster Abbey moments felt like. A couple of them – reading them, latching on to the sensibility that wove these words – well, it’s like swinging into the Abbey on a jungle vine. 
Anyway, I’ll set out a couple here. The rest you’ve got at your fingertips.
Maybe start with Francis Beaumont’s On the Tombs in Westminster Abbey. 1603
And then there’s Thomas Hood’s An Address to the Very Reverend John Ireland, D.D. 1820
There’s John Betjeman’s In Westminster Abbey. 1940
And Adrian Mitchell’s To the Statues in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey. 1968
And that’s as “bibliographic” as I’m going to be. Let’s get the real deal out here. Some poetry. Here’s Roger Woddis’ Do Not Go Sober.
Do not go sober into that dim light,
Young bards should burp and belch at end of day;
Rage, rage against that crabby, Abbey site.
Though poets at their end know wrong is right
Because their words have left them legless they
Do not go sober into that dim light.
Good men, who know what sweat it is to write,
And cheat and sponge and get their end away
Rage, rage against that crabby, Abbey site.
Wild men who did their best when they were tight
And languished when they kept the booze at bay
Do not go sober into that dim light.
Grave men, now dead, who know, as well they might,
Memorial plaque diminish human clay,
Rage, rage against that crabby, Abbey site.
And you, Lord Byron, lying on my right,
Proving that dissolution rules OK,
Do not go sober into that dim light,
Rage, rage against that crabby, Abbey site.
And finally, this one. My favourite (as unquestionably great as Betjeman’s is). It’s called Cathedral Builders. And, yes, that’s right, it’s not about the Abbey specifically. But it certainly holds good for the Abbey. And boy does it ever mainline us to “what it felt like” – and best of all, it’s a “what it felt like” that we almost certainly never would have been privy to had not John Ormond produced this little gem of a poem.
                     Cathedral Builders                     


They climbed on sketchy ladders towards God,
With winch and pulley hoisted hewn rock into heaven,
Inhabited stone, took up God’s house to meet Him,

And came down to their suppers and small beer;
Every night slept, lay with their smelly wives,
Quarrelled and cuffed the children, lied,
Spat, sang, were happy or unhappy,

And every day took to the ladders again;
Impeded the rights of way of another summer’s
Swallows, grew greyer, shakier, became less inclined
To fix a neighbour’s roof of a fine evening,
Saw naves sprout arches, clerestories soar,
Cursed the loud fancy glaziers for their luck,
Somehow escaped the plague, got rheumatism,
Decided it was time to give it up,
To leave the spire to others; stood in the crowd
Well back from the vestments at the consecration,
Envied the fat bishop his warm boots, 
Cocked up a squint eye and said, “I bloody did that.”
Oh and by the way, the Abbey tour takes place every Monday and every Friday.


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