Aug. 4th, 2011

sheenaghpugh: (Default)
One of the more fascinating things about writing is how you can, while doing it, assume not only another persona but opinions and feelings you never held, experiences that never befell you, etc. I can write about being widowed, though I never have been; one just steps into the skin of Lady Franklin and uses one's imagination.... I could, though an atheist, write from a religious viewpoint: I'd feel vaguely uncomfortable about it, which is probably why I have only ever done it when translating from others, but it's perfectly possible.

Hilaire Belloc was a religious man, or so he always claimed, a practising Catholic, but you wouldn't gather as much from this poem, one of his "The world's a stage" sonnets. Some of these are frivolous; this is not:

The world’s a stage. The light is in one’s eyes.
The auditorium is extremely dark.
The more dishonest get the larger rise;
The more offensive make the greater mark.
The women on it prosper by their shape,
Some few by their vivacity. The men,
By tailoring in breeches and in cape.
The world’s a stage —I say it once again.
The scenery is very much the best
Of what the wretched drama has to show,
Also the prompter happens to be dumb.
We drink behind the scenes and pass a jest
On all our folly; then, before we go,
Loud cries for “Author”…but he doesn’t come.

Now one could argue that the fact that the "author" - God, in the context of this extended metaphor - doesn't show up doesn't mean he doesn't exist. R S Thomas's God is similarly and discouragingly absent, and undoubtedly believed in. But this isn't usually how Belloc visualises his God. It's also possible that he was in an uncharacteristically gloomy mood at the time. I know very little about him biographically since he's a long way down my favourites list, either as a poet or a person, so I don't know if he was depressive or subject to metaphysical doubts. But I'd then expect that when his mood changed he might have been iffy about publishing this in its current form. I wonder therefore if he's consciously in persona here, trying to see the world through the eyes of someone who genuinely sees it as a pointless and unauthored sham. If that's so, I'd be impressed, because it doesn't usually work that way round; while atheists are fascinated by the thinking of the religious, most religious writers are supremely uninterested in the viewpoint of the other side and unconvincing when they attempt it (vide C S Lewis and his pantomimic villains). Whatever the impetus, this is one of Belloc's more impressive efforts; the extended metaphor is well sustained and the last line is terrific.

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December 2011

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