Thursday, 26 March 2015

The day thou gavest


(after conjectures that the hymn tune 'St Clement', long attributed to the Rev. Clement Scholefield, might be in part the work of Arthur Sullivan)

What part is Clement, what part Arthur,
none now can hope or need to tell.
The hymn the singers love is seamless;
if sewn, then sewn together well.

Whatever zones part eve from waking,
the shadow edge of light in air
moves elegiac in its raising
along the spine and through the hair.

And did the famous aid the cleric,
whose other music fell away?
The question stands, and needs no letters,
no fingerprints, no DNA.

And only wishing tells us Clement,
himself a part of all he'd met,
once only found, once only, music
more great than most, more nearly great.

This poem was written in 2013 for the Mirehouse/Words by the Water competition, whose theme that year was the Tennyson quotation "I am a part of all that I have met." I cannot remember what led me, at about that time, to the Wikipedia page for the hymn tune 'St Clement', so effectively tied to the words 'The day thou gavest'. But here was a story of authorship questioned after more than a century, and blurrings of individual contribution that had become impossible now to determine. I thought it fitted well with the quotation.

I've now entered the poem in a Poem Pigeon competition on the theme 'Awakenings'.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

The finest-hour syndrome

The finest-hour syndrome

(A minister became convinced that God was telling him that his wife would die and he was then to marry Samantha)

Perhaps he spoke as other men had,
only the God-talk more;
I don't know if Samantha'd been
through the same pattern before.

I believe the minister had been
a captain of high finance.
Oh, utmost probity, no swindles;
no hint of dalliance...

I suppose, though, he'd told young Alison
Sylvia would soon retire,
and I suppose he took pride
in Alison as she flew higher.

And I suppose a still small voice
said ten years long he should quit
the firm, and voluntary church work
would not silence it,

but I suppose when he gave in
to study for the ministry,
surrender wrenched him like tooth loss,
hard-cold as January.

I believe the finest-hour syndrome
is what happens when
somebody foils a blaze then wants
the buzz all over again,

studding the rest of his career
with unexplained small fires.
Pray God the minister was no worse
than such artless self-liars.  

This poem was written in 2000 and published in Orbis 170, winter 2014, p.69.  The version in Orbis, reproduced here, has benefited from some editorial suggestions by Carole Baldock.

The term 'finest-hour syndrome' is my own invention.  The phenomenon of serial arson by a former fire hero is one I first heard of ca 1996 in the course of training as a Fire Safety Manager at work.  In all the refresher fire training I've had since then, I haven't heard of it again.  Googling in search of more detail, I've had the impression that former heroes are very much a subset of the would-be heroes' subset of serial arsonists.

The minister's error, as described in the title note, is close to events I read of as having happened at a church in London in the early 1990s.  But the poem's prequel to that story is entirely speculative.