04 January 2009

Coming from Evening Church (1830)

A couple of years ago, while perusing Peter Ackroyd's fascinating Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination (NY: Anchor, 2002), I came across some references to a 19th-century English painter of whom I had never before heard--Samuel Palmer. While the only reproduction of one of Palmer's paintings in that book--'A Hilly Scene'--was certainly intriguing, it was also too small to be very satisfying. Fast forward to last summer, and I finally got around to looking the guy up online. There I found a painting I like even better. It's called 'Coming from Evening Church', and I have posted it to the right.

Even better, I also found a modern poem written about the painting here. It's by Moniza Alvi, a tutor at the Poetry School in London, and a 2002 winner of the Cholmondeley Award.

Coming from Evening Church
after Samuel Palmer, 1830

Suppose we did walk straight out of a stained-glass window,
through the churchyard and up the slope,
an endless gilded procession,
framed by the overarching trees.

Roof, hilltop, spire, a series of echoes.
Leaves printed on the moon
like patterns on a lamp.

We'd be purposeful,
held in the flaring lap of the earth.

Bearded like prophets, tall as saints,
we'd descend to the homesteads,
the ivy as real as we could want it.

And with our children and flowers
we'd keep on walking
in exceptional brilliance,
in the glass certainty of the world.

There's something I really love about this painting, and this poem. I wish all paintings had poems to go with them, and vice versa. Anyway, one can see more of and read more about Samuel Palmer here and here, though 'Coming from Evening Church' is far and away my favourite of his works.


orrologion said...

What a great painting! Thanks.

Peter Ackroyd's "Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination" was Barbados beach reading for me a number of years ago. It was in the resort's little library and I devoured the book. I'd love to take another read of it. One thing that stuck with me was his sentiment regarding 'truth' in an Englishman's storytelling - not always completely 'factual', yet always true. I have to get that quote for methinks my wife would agree that I am, in this way, quite the Englishman my passport says I am (well, what one of my passports say I am).

Another favorite quote from "Albion":

"There is a word in Old English which belongs wholly to that civilization - dustsceawung, meaning contemplation of dust. It is a true image of the Anglo-Saxon mind, or at least an echo of that consciousness which considered transcience and loss to be part of the human estate; it was a world in which life was uncertain and the principal diety was fate or destiny or wyrd."

I think he came out with another book recently along similar lines.

aaronandbrighid said...

I remember this passage about 'dustsceawung'. It's a theme that got taken up in later mediaeval 'Ubi sunt...?' poetry. Tolkien's Rohirrim song--'Where are the horse and the rider...?'--is a lovely modern version. It seems like I alluded to it in an earlier post, but if not, I should!