In Church – Thomas Hardy – Analysis

In Church

“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.

Here is a link to Stinsford Church where Hardy worshiped.

The Moor – R. S. Thomas Analysis

The Moor

It was like a church to me.
I entered it on soft foot,
Breath held like a cap in the hand.
It was quiet.
What God there was made himself felt,
Not listened to, in clean colours
That brought a moistening of the eye,
In a movement of the wind over grass.
There were no prayers said. But stillness
Of the heart’s passions — that was praise
Enough; and the mind’s cession
Of its kingdom. I walked on,
Simple and poor, while the air crumbled
And broke on me generously as bread.

R. S. Thomas: The Moor, from Pietà, 1966

R. S. Thomas was an Anglican minister so he knew exactly what ‘traditional church’ was like but in this poem he discovers a different church while walking on his local Welsh moorland.

One enters a church with reverence taking the hat off and you expect a certain quiet – that is if there is no service in progress – so this description is an apt translation as he sets foot on the moor. And by holding his breath giving greater attention to the surrounding as he first sets foot on the moor.

But in this ‘church’ there is no listening to God via the pulpit. Here God is known as a feeling. The clean colours implying perhaps that the moor is clean and sinless – so we may assume there is no litter to corrupt the eye. If it was a windy cold day then that may have provoked a watering of the eye. On the other hand the feeling of the presence of God due to the beauty of the moor may have been so overwhelming that this caused such moisturising.

In church communication with God is by prayer – but on the moor there is direct communication between God and man via the environment.  The stillness of the heart’s passions is communication if considered as a religious response from walking on the moor in the form of a settling peace within the poet. This could then be regarded as an automatic prayer of both praise and thanks – especially by R. S. Thomas being tuned to religious thought.

The mind’s cession of its kingdom gives an emphasis to the exhilaration in this moment such that the mind is expanded in wonderment in trying to give comprehension. But then the move as he walks on – the breaking away from this intense communion – clearly likened to a church communion where there is the breaking of bread.

I think in today’s twenty four by seven world we all need to find time to escape into a place of solitude – to find our own moor and perhaps in the still and beauty of a such a sacred place experience the presence of God and a settling within. If my bible memory is correct JC had to do likewise when he was overwhelmed by the masses that pressed in on him.

R. S. Thomas on Wikipedia.

Here are some wonderful images of the Welsh Moor on Tom Clark’s Blog.