Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Punching above its weight

St.Michael's church in Stinsford

The church of St. Michael in the Dorset village of Stinsford isn't the sort of place you can just be passing' because Church Lane in Stinsford doesn't actually lead anywhere except to the end of Church Lane.

The church yard certainly punches above its weight when it comes to famous incumbents as it is the final resting place of both Thomas Hardy and the former poet laureate Cecil Day-Lewis (father of the more famous now triple Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis). The hamlet of Stinsford is only a couple of miles or so from Hardy's cottage at Higher Bockhampton and was used by the Dorset born writer as the basis for his fictional village of Mellstock

The reason for the posting about Stinsford and Day-Lewis is simply because of one of those coincidences that life throws up every now and then. On Saturday on our return from Weymouth we had to take a diversion due to an accident on the A35 just east of Dorchester and found ourselves passing both Stinsford and then a few moments later, as we headed across country via a series of tracks and one vehicle at a time lanes, Higher Bockhampton. Day-Lewis, who died on 22nd May 1972, was such a great admirer of Thomas Hardy that he asked if he could be buried as close as possible to the writer.

Day Lewis's work seems to have been overlooked in the last forty years, overshadowed probably by the works of Yeats, Heaney and of course Oscar himself, but his writings covered a period from 1925 until 1970 and is as broad in scope as it is in longevity.  One of his most famous, certainly his most popular poem is called 'Walking Away' which he wrote recalling a day he walked his eldest  son, Sean, to school.

It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day –
A sunny day with leaves just turning,
The touch-lines new-ruled – since I watched you play
Your first game of football, then, like a satellite
Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away

Behind a scatter of boys. I can see
You walking away from me towards the school
With the pathos of a half-fledged thing set free
Into a wilderness, the gait of one
Who finds no path where the path should be.

That hesitant figure, eddying away
Like a winged seed loosened from its parent stem,
Has something I never quite grasp to convey
About nature’s give-and-take – the small, the scorching
Ordeals which fire one’s irresolute clay.

I have had worse partings, but none that so
Gnaws at my mind still.  Perhaps it is roughly
Saying what God alone could perfectly show –
How selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.

I think those last two lines are two of the most beautiful and moving that I have ever read and anybody who has ever been the parent of a child, whatever age or sex, will recognise that feeling when you realise that you are no longer the centre of somebody's universe and simply have to acknowledge the fact.

 Day Lewis (he himself dropped the hyphen fearing that it was a sign of snobbery) was a Marxist and member of the Communist Party during the 1930's - a fact some believe why, the person T E Lawrence famously said to Churchill was the only great man in Britain, wasn't buried in Poets Corner, Westminster Abbey. Day Lewis himself turned away from left-wing politics after becoming disillusioned with the events of the Spanish Civil War and then upon hearing about Stalin's purges.

Day Lewis wanted to do something for the British war effort in World War Two but having been under observation for years by the British Security Services he was refused the chance to work at the Ministry of Information, instead he joined the Home Guard.

His personal life is entwined with his creative life in ways most people would find difficult to understand or contemplate but like all great artists he left behind some inspiring works for us to enjoy and reflect upon.


Span Ows said...

Nice post Paul and very informative about rural Dorset and Day Lewis.

Paul said...

Thank you.

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