Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Christ in the clay-pit: the vision of Jack Clemo

A drawing for Holy Week:

“I was astonished,” wrote the Cornish poet Jack Clemo (who became both deaf and blind for much of his adult life), “when early in February 1945 I came in from a stroll around Goonvean clay-work one Sunday afternoon and immediately wrote, quite effortlessly, some lines which I knew at once were the finest poetry I had ever penned. The poem was ‘Christ in the Clay-pit’ …”

… I peer
Upon His footsteps in this quarried mud;
I see His blood
In rusty stains on pit-props, waggon-frames
Bristling with nails, not leaves. There were no leaves
Upon His chosen Tree,
No parasitic flowering over shames
Of Eden’s primal infidelity.

Just splintered wood and nails
Were fairest blossoming for Him Who speaks
Where mica-silt outbreaks
Like water from the side of His own clay
In that strange day
When He was pierced …

Clemo later reflected:

“I brooded much on this ‘resurrection’ of a dormant faculty, and began to realize that this too was part of the paradox of my Christian life. While I lived for poetry I wrote only doggerel; it was only after I turned my back on poetry that I became a poet. I proved in the literary sphere the truth of Christ’s words: ‘He that loseth his life for my sake, the same shall find it.’ I renounced poetry because it had meant for me the worship of strange gods, the cultivation of ideals that could never be reconciled with the curt brutality of the Gospel. I chose the bristling, harsh barren world of dogma because it was the world of our Lord; and the result was that I began writing poetry of a quality that would never have been possible to me had I devoted myself to the beautiful, the ideal, the fanciful. The claywork symbolism, sensuous Calvinism, credal sexuality – all the idiosyncrasies of my writings – were produced by the renunciation of the ‘natural’ vision of the poet. All poets are aware of the antagonism between Nature and dogma, but no poet, except by the grace of God, ever takes the side of dogma against Nature.”

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