Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Famous Yellowbelly

St. Margaret's, Somersby. Charming in its way, a typical little Wolds church, even if not one of Lincolnshire's most impressive. Its claim to fame, though, is in being right across the road from the poet Tennyson's birthplace - his father was Rector here, as well as holding the living at the exotically named Bag Enderby, just half a mile away down a narrow lane. Nowadays it stands closed and dark, in a now-prosperous hamlet hardly big enough to provide it with a congregation, even if the residents were so inclined. His Fan Club, though, hold regular commemorative services and there's a bust inside for them to look at. From the outside, the main clue to its history is the the C15th window, which looks as if it's been bought as a medieval flat-pack, assembled and bodged in by the same local builder who made the porch-arch, roughly hewn from sandstone identical to the main body. Only the standalone cross on the mound, particularly the base, hints at an even more ancient origin.

I don't know whether visits to famous people's birthplaces ever do actually give an insight into their work. Come to think of it, I think they can; considering some of the places I've been. Ferriday and Tupelo spring to mind. More often though, I guess they're kind of a pilgrimage for fans. Poetry though, like opera, is an art-form that generally leaves me cold and wondering what on earth it is I'm missing. Seeing Somersby at first hand, imagining its claustrophobic remoteness 200 years ago, still leaves me guessing as to what it did for Tennyson's muse. The only one of his I could have called to mind goes, 'Tumty tumty rode the six hundred, tumty tumty someone had blundered'. I've looked up his stuff and no wonder that's so famous - his other stuff is impenetrable. Is it just because it's Victorian.. can it still speak to us? Am I dismissing it as old-hat? Here's one I picked out, mainly because it touches on a topic I've been pondering lately:

The sun, the moon, the stars, the seas, the hills and the plains,-
Are not these, O Soul, the Vision of Him who reigns?

Is not the Vision He, tho' He be not that which He seems?
Dreams are true while they last, and do we not live in dreams?

Earth, these solid stars, this weight of body and limb,
Are they not sign and symbol of thy division from Him?

Dark is the world to thee; thyself art the reason why,
For is He not all but thou, that hast power to feel "I am I"?

Glory about thee, without thee; and thou fulfillest thy doom,
Making Him broken gleams and a stifled splendour and gloom.

Speak to Him, thou, for He hears, and Spirit with Spirit can meet-
Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet.

God is law, say the wise; O soul, and let us rejoice,
For if He thunder by law the thunder is yet His voice.

Law is God, say some; no God at all, says the fool,
For all we have power to see is a straight staff bent in a pool;

And the ear of man cannot hear, and the eye of man cannot see;
But if we could see and hear, this Vision-were it not He?

Now if he's saying (and I do mean IF) that the expression of God is all about us in the natural and physical world and there is no need to construct our own anthropomorphic version of Him.. well fine. I can go with that... but he's putting up a fairly radical idea, and I'd far rather see it done as an elegant essay which tackled the objections and attempted to persuade me with reason, than what he's done - which is a set of bald assertions, hidebound by the need to find rhymes.

Probably I should get myself a slim volume and, next time I'm passing, leave my world-weariness at the lych-gate, settle down under a yew and prepare to be enlightened. Tennyson was the Dylan of his age, applauded and ennobled for his work. Surely twenty-five million Victorians can't be wrong.


Glamourpuss said...

Bag Enderby is a great name for a crone.


All Shook Up said...

Blimey you were quick.. hadn't done editing it. BE isn't far from Claxby Pluckacre... Victorian Villains abound here.

Anne said...

And in The Meaning of Liffe, Mavis Enderby is "The almost-completely-forgotten girlfriend from your distant past for
whom your wife has a completely irrational jealousy and hatred."

Tennyson can be tedious and sententious, as in the piece you quote. But he has his moments, eg in [the fragment called] The Eagle:

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

Isn't the sea wonderful? And that's clearly not Skeg he's describing.

Anonymous said...

PS (since you asked) you'll find me here. Although I'm not a yellowbelly, I grew up in Lindsey.

Blog comments are strange aren't they? Talking to people when you haven't been introduced!


All Shook Up said...

Oh dear... and on the very post where I confess to a blind spot for poetry. Anyway, hello.. I'm sure yours is fine.

Yes, the eagle lines are much better. Nope.. Skeg's not the place for them - too much beach.

Selena Dreamy said...


Paradoxically, perhaps, since I live in England, I can never think of England without feeling homesick for England...

I possess a small pergament bound volume of Tennyson's, but alas, on my various travels, it seems to have been mislaid. "Tedious and sententious - but he has his moments" - a good summary of the man.


All Shook Up said...

"homesick for England".. pockets of it still exist.