Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Elizabeth Jennings

I was pleased to hear Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the distinguished astrophysicist, on the Today programme this morning lauding, and indeed quoting, a poem by the late Elizabeth Jennings. 

It was the poem which started her on her interesting path of lecturing on Astrophysics and Poetry.  She mentioned to James Naughtie that when she lectures on Astrophysics, it is nearly always to an almost exclusively male audience, but when she adds 'and Poetry' women come along...

The poem quoted was Delay:

The radiance of the star that leans on me 
Was shining years ago. The light that now 
Glitters up there my eyes may never see, 
And so the time lag teases me with how
Love that loves now may not reach me until 
Its first desire is spent. The star's impulse 
Must wait for eyes to claim it beautiful 
And love arrived may find us somewhere else.

Elizabeth Jennings

It is fairly typical of Jennings' verse: formal, clear, profound and moving.

Jennings was a Catholic poet, whose poem about Euthanasia I have quoted before.

Her poetry is well worth exploring: no easy answers here, but a real exploration of many themes, including her own mental health issues, but shot through now and then with a Faith to which she always returned.

I had the pleasure of meeting her on a few occasions many years ago - she was a friend of my mother's - and one of the delights of her verse, for me, is the complete contrast it offers to her conversational style.  In conversation, she was more like Henry James' writing - constantly interrupting one thought with a parenthesis, non sequiturs abounding as her mind moved faster than her conversation.  Yet she distilled this into lucid, clear, concise, formal and elegant poetry, which I often find profoundly moving.

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