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Easter In England

Christ has risen, but not, it seems, in secular England. A quick look at the terrestrial TV listings for this long holiday weekend reveal no stone has been unturned, to present any even vaguely religious, uplifting, or redemptive shows. Where are any of the great Biblical TV or film epics of old? Or a family musical? Beyond the wasteland of cringingly-secular TV, turn to the pages of The Sunday Times - whose pages make no mention that this is the holiest day of the year for Anglicans and Catholics - hardly a complete minority of readers. Instead, lewd stories of brothels in Nazi-occupied France, and the latest sleaze from the Gordon Brown inner circle (which looks increasingly Nixonian) are paraded before us.

What has happened to England, and, more generally, to the UK? Its churches are half-empty - and so are its poetry readings. I see a connection (Eyewear always does, of course) between the ebbing of the sea of faith, and the decline in an interest in poems. Consider how many of the modern greats wrote religious or spiritual poems: Whitman, Dickinson, Hardy, Eliot, Auden, Prince, Dylan Thomas; even Wallace Stevens explored atheism with a sense of the numinous. There has been a lazy atheism at work in British popular culture since the 1960s that can be roughly linked to the easy hedonism of the rock and roll and comedy ethos. But life is not just a joke, or a three minute song, however perfect. After the sex, and the drugs, there are deeper implications, farther needs. I am not convinced that science, technology, or the entertainment industries have managed to find any magic bullets for that part of the self - call it a soul - which calls out for healing, and to love, often unconditionally.

Poetry, when joined to the sacred, can be empowered - and, indeed, even an honest struggle with faith - as one encounters in Hopkins, or R.S. Thomas - can be thrilling and profound. However, Larkin's surprsing hunger for the serious has been strip-mined by the British media - and blogs now feed this devil's banquet as much as the older formats. Yesterday, my neighbour rang my door at midnight to say to me "Happy Easter! God is dead!" - his idea of an atheist's prank. What a sad statement on the world of today. Eyewear tries to respect a variety of faiths, beliefs, and philosophies, but has little time for pure negativity, of any kind, especially when it seems aimed at merely cheapening the complex and various experiences of the inner life. Poets who deny the possibility of another world, or life, beyond this one, must surely be reducing their visionary range immensely. At any rate, however austere or low the horizon, the thing to do, one hopes, is to try and spot something better, ahead. Peace be with you.

Comments

Toast said…
You'll probably find your easter programming on the same channels where you'll find programming that serves Britain's majority religions.
Ms Baroque said…
And also with you, Todd...
Donald Brown said…
I'm ambivalent; after freeing myself (to the extent that's possible) from eight years of Catholic school, it seems retrograde to mourn the passing of something I was glad to be rid of, personally. But at the same time, getting old, one does inevitably mourn the passing of a way of life, a sense of life, that one simply expected to remain in place forever. And the larger point you make is important: without a sense of some kind of metaphysical meaning in the world, poetry becomes not just secular but wholly mundane.

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JOHN ASHBERY HAS DIED

With the death of the poetic genius John Ashbery, whose poems, translations, and criticism made him, to my mind, the most influential American poet since TS Eliot, 21st century poetry is moving into less certain territory.

Over the past few years, we have lost most of the truly great of our era: Edwin Morgan, Gunn, Hill, Heaney and Walcott, to name just five.  There are many more, of course. This is news too sad and deep to fathom this week.  I will write more perhaps later. 

I had a letter from Ashbery on my wall, and it inspired me daily.  He gave me advice for my PhD. He said kind things about a poetry book of mine.

He was a force for good serious play in poetry, and his appeal great. So many people I know and admire are at a loss this week because of his death. It is no consolation at present to think of the many thousands of living poets, just right now. But impressively, and even oddly, poetry itself seems to keep flowing.