ROLAND JOHN: A LAMENT FOR ENGLAND
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|ROLAND JOHN: A LAMENT FOR ENGLAND|
Whilst noting the title of this fine collection, a reader might be excused in thinking that Mr John is concerned solely with the loss of standards of behaviour, beliefs — of so many familiar landmarks within this England of ours. There are poems that do conform to this first impression; not surprisingly A LAMENT FOR ENGLAND is one of them:
Remember Argosy, Picture Post, The Boots Library, unsigned reviews in the TLS, queuing: a common culture shared, the BBC. That time of poverty, making do and mending, always buying Empire Made.Mr John is far too good a poet to allow himself limitations of this kind. This is not to say that LAMENT FOR ENGLAND is a poor poem — it isn't — it is, though, a heuristic piece written from the standpoint of a subjective generalization:
Is the scramble for fortune an excuse for the criminal? The lust of ambition someone else's despair; was it better when we all knew our places, when benevolent despots judged what was fair?He has reminded us succinctly of an old dilemma: are we always in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water? The reader will be justified in assuming Mr John thinks we are.
In OPEN COFFIN (i.m. PQJ) that intense sense of loss is made particular, given a personal note, in the regret at the death of an elderly friend:
Always returning to the past as if the present world resented him, I watched him amongst old books mouthing their fragile words - Greek? Latin? Some older tongue? That's how I remember him, an anachronism, his eighty years unsung.Here, anachronism exemplifies the seemingly long lost contentment of doing something for its own sake — a contentment ridiculed by the corporate world (and exploited by our places of higher education):
Unacknowledged by his peers, still he wrote,All is not lost. There are pockets of landscape (although not quite what they were) that do well enough in calming a troubled spirit — WEST COUNTRY VILLAGE:
And where the river sluggishly winds under an ancient bridge, children bathe; something unchanged about this scene and if a team of oxen ploughed the field, there would be no surprise. The quiet rows of houses broken by an old or newer one, nothing modern scars and in the evening light the gardens throw back such colours to match the high banks, the glistening slopes.The collection sustains an essential sadness throughout its ninety odd pages but communicates it in myriad forms — though always with restraint. This variance ensures the reader a sadness that is uplifting rather than depressing; a quality that Clare, Hardy, and Larkin had in abundance. THE CHILD BRIDE'S DIARY — a delicate set of nine linked ballads — is, in its gentle simplicity of form, a perfect example of Mr John's ability both to move and delight us at the same time:
Here at the water's edge you held my hands, my Lord with the proud eyes you promised all. For a year now I have come to the same place watched winter harden and the snow whiten all.
|reviewer: Michael Bangerter|