Opening up literature (and music)

My immersion in the beauty of language really was associated with my immersion in church music from the age of 7.  I was a chorister in our small local Church of England, St. Marks.  I was encouraged and nurtured by a remarkable priest, George Purdy.

My love of singing meant an absorption of the lyrics of hymns from many ages and from many Christian poets and philosophers and mystics.  Over 10 years I sang hymns, choruses and anthems. And the music became part of me, and the words, and the faith.

In my middle teens I stepped up a level into the world of literature as music itself. In the mid 1950’s came another epiphany. I heard the first broadcast of the work of Dylan Thomas the Welsh drunken poet, “Under Milk Wood” on the BBC in January 1954. Astounding – prose being poetry being music. I read as much of Dylan Thomas and about Dylan Thomas as I could find. To me the definitive Radio performance of “Under Milk Wood” was in 2004 with Richard Burton as 1st Voice.

My great fortune was having a sister, older friends and associates with whom I could share, talk, listen.

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poetry as part of me

I always was an avid reader, encouraged by my Mom and Dad. One of my early memories is of lying in bed under the covers with a torch reading after ‘lights out’ – but hasn’t everybody?

And I was encouraged to write, with Mom making booklets of my 5 year old stories or verses/poems. I have some of them still and I look at them with feelings of being well loved.

School brought more chances and experiences, both to read and to write and to listen. In Grade 5 (when I was 10) I came across Thomas Hardy’s poem “Weather” and I learned it and loved it and unravelled it’s imagery.

 

I read constantly during my adolescent years, both poetry and prose. Literature at Grammar school covered wide vistas and helped me see the poetry in prose. Some stuck and helped form my soul while others vanished from memory ( which was always poor). I had special feelings when I read Robert Browning’s –
“Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made.
Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God:
See all, nor be afraid!” 

Why this poem about old age should be so meaningful to teenage me has never puzzled me.

Recently in my 7th decade the choir I sing with was given a piece based on Elizabeth Barrett Browning. This really struck home. Love expressed more meaningfully than a Shakespeare sonnet. I’ll leave you with it.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

The digital world – my epiphany

The year was 1981. The time was a visit to family after 6 years in Australia. The place was my parent’s home in Smethwick, England. The moment was finding my younger brother’s BBC Micro magazine.

With an interest born of known ignorance on the technology I turned the pages. A very peculiar feeling came over me as I looked at page after page of absolutely meaningless sentences and words – a feeling that sent shivers and sparks through my entire body and brain; and with it an overwhelming determination to understand this. It was akin to knowing I must learn a foreign language but with few sources, dictionaries or glossaries, and meeting concepts outside my experience.

That year I came across a Sinclair ZX81 while visiting a friend. Her son was on the floor with this magic little box attached to the family TV. Simple coding with such amazing visual results.

And then my touchpaper was lit – my sister gave me a ZX81 as a birthday present!!!

 

Taking the plunge

I remember as a boy of 7 or 8 years imagining myself flying, as I jumped by leaps and bounds down large seaside sand dunes. No hesitation, just knowing how wonderful it would feel.

I remember as a lad of 10 years throwing myself into the Atlantic sea straight underwater to accept the shock of the cold. No hesitation, just knowing how wonderful it would feel.

Then, I remember, over the years that confidence being eroded. Hesitation in new situations gradually becoming the norm. So now in this new situation of exposing my thoughts in a blog, here I stand taking the plunge – with some trepidation, but also with some new found courage.

More about the re-awakening in future posts.

And just to show my age……..