The purpose of the arts is to impinge on the senses. For example, poetry is meant to be performed, read aloud. I received a book of John Clare’s poetry for my birthday, and instantly I wanted to speak it out - let the sounds and words roll round my mouth and tumble out into the world.
Another birthday gift was a painting of The Raft of the Medusa, an early 19th century work by Théodore Géricault, depicting the poor survivors of a shipwreck who were cast adrift on a raft, while the Captain got away safely on a lifeboat. It is a deliberately political piece of art about inequality and refugees. Last September Mamadou Ndiaye swam for 24 hours in the Atlantic Ocean. A film of his struggles, head bobbing in the waves, eyes bleary with exhaustion, was displayed on a giant screen at the Dutch National Opera, whilst a chorus of 115 sang Henze’s oratorio based on the story of The Raft of the Medusa. The chorus were stood on a lift that rose and fell like the waves, in a way so affecting it made some audience feel sea sick.
This was a wondrous conjunction of the arts to assail the senses to get the point across, and it clearly spoke to many about the refugee crisis, wealth inequality, and responsibility. Am I being too lofty to dream that one day Herbert will get this treatment? Words and music we have already, but what about film or nature, or fine art too. Let this poetry live!
In Lent I memorised 'Love III', and used it at the beginning of some services as well as my personal prayer times. Encouraged, I did a whole school assembly on George Herbert, and performed it in front of 400 pupils at Sarum Academy - you know how teenagers love poetry! Then at Easter I thought I'd use 'Easter Wings' as an introduction to prayers but oh, how I came unstuck! As I read and re-read it I couldn’t get any sense of how it was supposed to be read aloud.
Then I looked on the internet, and couldn’t find agreement there. In fact, it only befuddled me further, with lots of talk of scansion, meter, feet and so on. Here was I, enjoying poetry for 40 years without knowing any of this! Looks like I’ll need to do more homework though before I attempt performing 'Easter Wings'.
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