Friday, October 20, 2006

The Old Liberals

Ever since I was a child I've loved this time of year. Particularly in childhood and adolescence, grey, windy skies, rain and the clouds racing over, bare trees - seemed more appealing than spring flowers and showers.

Long before Goth was thought of, fourteen-year olds were sat in their suburban front rooms, watching the clouds, reading Aleister Crowley and Lovecraft, listening to Donovan Leitch's 'Season of the Witch'. I got over it.

Hence the odd link like October Song.

Here's another autumn poem - Betjeman's The Old Liberals. I'm not mad about the first verse - or the third for that matter. The second verse is perfect, but doesn't work without the first. 'Sad as an English autumn, heavy and still. Sad as a country silence, tractor-drowned'.

Betjeman is writing IMHO both about a semi-mythical ('the rose of a world that was not') Merrie England, and about our cultured, musical daughter and dad, increasingly out of place in a new post-war world. A little ode to the first few leaves to fall from the tree, foretelling the death of Christian, civilised, orderly England.

The Yattendon Hymnal was put together by the poet Robert Bridges in 1899. William de Morgan was an arty, lefty mate of William Morris - you can still buy his tiles at this posh shop. The hautbois is an early wind instrument (somewhere between clarinet and oboe ?) still played in English churches in Victorian times.

The Old Liberals

Pale green of the English Hymnal! Yattendon hymns
Played on the hautbois by a lady dress'd in blue
Her white-hair'd father accompanying her thereto
On tenor or bass-recorder. Daylight swims
On sectional bookcase, delicate cup and plate
And William de Morgan tiles around the grate
And many the silver birches the pearly light shines through.

I think such a running together of woodwind sound,
Such painstaking piping high on a Berkshire hill,
Is sad as an English autumn heavy and still,
Sad as a country silence, tractor-drowned;
For deep in the hearts of the man and the woman playing
The rose of a world that was not has withered away.
Where are the wains with garlanded swathes a-swaying?
Where are the swains to wend through the lanes a-maying?
Where are the blithe and jocund to ted the hay?
Where are the free folk of England? Where are they?

Ask of the Abingdon bus with full load creeping
Down into denser suburbs. The birch lets go
But one brown leaf upon browner bracken below.
Ask of the cinema manager. Night airs die
To still, ripe scent of the fungus and wet woods weeping.
Ask at the fish and chips in the Market Square.
Here amid firs and a final sunset flare
Recorder and hautbois only moan at a mouldering sky.

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