U3A members were offered a rich afternoon of aesthetic delight last Thursday when Revd. David Sargent gave a poetry reading enhanced by most atmospheric photographs. His focus was on the landscape, often drawing on our local fells and countryside but also featuring the mountains of Scotland as well as images of gentler rural scenery and characters of Cumbria. David did not, however, offer a blandly soothing afternoon of beauty and sentiment but included the challenges our landscape, and life, bring.
The first poem took us straight to our own familiar Herdwick sheep, amusingly introduced by these words of Ross Baxter, ‘When God said, ‘Let there be sheep’… David’s reading of this poem, as with others, was accompanied by several carefully selected images each bringing the feeling expressed by the words directly into our eyes. From there, we climbed together the steep, lung-bursting slopes of mountains, with difficulty and with joy, through the words of Anne Banks, ‘Overtaken by Grazing Sheep’ and of Norman MacCaig. The latter’s ‘Climbing Suilven’ offers its own pictures in thoughtfully chosen words: ‘Between my feet a loch shines in the brown, Its silver paper crinkled and edged with rust.’
Lower down the slopes, we were invited to consider different features of the landscape with contrasting thoughts on the gnarled hawthorns of Great Mell Fell, the much-loved bluebells of Rannerdale and Juliet Fossey’s delightful depiction of snowdrops in her poem, ‘Sirens.’ More grimly, we heard the very thought-provoking poem, ‘Red’ from the Cumbrian anthology depicting life after a stroke for a once very active person who loved the fells.
Another section of David’s talk was on Cumbrian people, included a poem, ‘A Runner’s Son’, feting the legendary sheep farmer and fell-runner, Joss Naylor. He referred also to the work and writing of a local, increasingly well-known and respected farmer, James Rebanks, whose latest publication, ‘English Pastoral’ has been appreciated by many. His work of returning the land he farms to traditional ways of farming to honour and encourage wild life was celebrated in ‘Dry stone walls’ starting rather strikingly, ‘Once the barricades of change, bones of a mountain pulled from scars…’ and ending, perhaps challengingly, ‘Don’t just do something, stand there.’
Finally, broader issues of life and death were poignantly considered through RS Thomas’s ‘Bright Field’ and Gerald Manley Hopkins’ wonderful ‘The World is charged with the Grandeur of God.’ David Sargent’s selection of poetry came from the work of contemporary local poets in a compilation entitled, ‘This place I know’; from a selection of the writings of RS Thomas, ‘Frequencies of God’; and from Norman MacCaig, ‘The Poems of Norman MacCaig’. A moment of two of silence followed by spontaneous applause greeted the end of this splendid talk before Robin Acland’s heartfelt vote of thanks.
Sue Tomlinson, 21.3.21