“And now to God the Father”, he ends,
And his voice thrills up to the topmost tiles:
Each listener chokes as he bows and bends,
And emotion pervades the crowded aisles.
Then the preacher glides to the vestry-door,
And shuts it, and thinks he is seen no more.
The door swings softly ajar meanwhile,
And a pupil of his in the Bible class,
Who adores him as one without gloss or guile,
Sees her idol stand with a satisfied smile
And re-enact at the vestry-glass
Each pulpit gesture in deft dumb-show
That had moved the congregation so.
Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1828)
Thomas Hardy is known more as a novelist than a poet. Here is a poem which is a straight forward depiction of a church incident and quite typical of the way characters change face in his books. It could also be said that it is typical of his religious sentiments. Although somewhat disillusioned with religion in his youth he regularly attended his local church, read lessons, and had great respect for tradition.
S1 – The preacher has wooed a packed church with a brilliant sermon. It’s as though the congregation has bowed to his words rather than to God. The first line states the ending words of his performance – “And now to God the Father”, he ends. And after gliding to the vestry-door shuts the door on his satisfying achievement thinking he has his own private space to be himself – and thinks he is seen no more.
S2 – It takes a child to see a completely different preacher. To be disillusioned by the confronting vanity of a person who she adores – as one without gloss or guile. A preacher who a moment ago moved the congregation in dramatic fashion is now moving this young student in quite a different way. The child is left dumb and betrayed.
The poem makes no judgement. The reader is left to put interpretation and consider the nature of the two players. Reflecting perhaps how people and children in particular, become disillusioned when suddenly seeing the unexpected negative nature in a person. If it had been an older person viewing the vanity it might have been more acceptable and brushed off with a laugh – but for this child a different matter.
It is perhaps typical of Hardy’s religious sentiments for the church to give no consolation and for the church to play on emotions and be there for the benefit of itself. And of course quite poetic for a child to see through to what the church is really like – for the preacher to be brought down to earth with quite a thud.
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