Sunday, February 1, 2009

the loss in exile



the novelist larry mcmurtry was on cspan last night. he addressed an audience at rice university, talking about the end of reading books. that is, he explained how as a bookseller, which he is as well as a man of letters, that reading books could not continue in the face of the overwhelming tech tsunami. 

actually, the talk was brief and very moving, especially when at the end he quoted the poet philip larkin's 1972 poem, "going, going", which is about the loss of his native england. but here, mcmurtry likened the poem's metaphor to loss of western civilization which is based in part on reading books. i have included the poem below, but i want you to read it and think about the loss not of england or book reading, but instead, think of the loss of christendom:

GOING, GOING

I thought it would last my time -

The sense that, beyond the town,

There would always be fields and farms,

Where the village louts could climb

Such trees as were not cut down;

I knew there'd be false alarms

In the papers about old streets

And split level shopping, but some

Have always been left so far;

And when the old part retreats

As the bleak high-risers come

We can always escape in the car.

Things are tougher than we are, just

As earth will always respond

However we mess it about;

Chuck filth in the sea, if you must:

The tides will be clean beyond.

- But what do I feel now? Doubt?

Or age, simply? The crowd
Is young in the M1 cafe;
Their kids are screaming for more -

More houses, more parking allowed,

More caravan sites, more pay.

On the Business Page, a score

Of spectacled grins approve

Some takeover bid that entails

Five per cent profit (and ten

Per cent more in the estuaries): move

Your works to the unspoilt dales

(Grey area grants)! And when

You try to get near the sea

In summer . . .

        It seems, just now,

To be happening so very fast;

Despite all the land left free

For the first time I feel somehow

That it isn't going to last,

That before I snuff it, the whole

Boiling will be bricked in

Except for the tourist parts -

First slum of Europe: a role

It won't be hard to win,

With a cast of crooks and tarts.

And that will be England gone,

The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,

The guildhalls, the carved choirs.

There'll be books; it will linger on

In galleries; but all that remains

For us will be concrete and tyres.

Most things are never meant.

This won't be, most likely; but greeds

And garbage are too thick-strewn

To be swept up now, or invent

Excuses that make them all needs.

I just think it will happen, soon.


quite powerful stuff. but, what you may not know is that larkin also wrote another poem called, "church going," which is even more poignant:

CHURCH GOING

Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.

Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new -
Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don't.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches will fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

A shape less recognisable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation - marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these - for which was built
This special shell? For, though I've no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.


i said all this to remind us that while the death of christendom is necessary -- if the church is to be the church -- that death to many of us is sparked with pain and regret and tragedy. which began to remind me of walter brueggemann's writing, when he likened the current loss christendom for christians to the loss of the nation to the hebrews in the hebrew bible. that is, he calls it a form of exile. he said their are two responses, the first is to grieve -- this is lamentation, and the next is to dream. that is, to take the text and see how our imagination can open the text anew and re-dream the dream. my generation is grieving, it'll be up to the next to dream.