Poetry and Christian faith 'in perfect harmony'
Poet Nigel Jackson has found that poetry enables him to tune into 'the Beyond'.
By Nigel Jackson
October 4 2018Now in my mid-seventies I look back and realise that I am one, assuredly, who “took the road less taken”, as Robert Frost so beautifully put it. How did this happen and what might it add up to?
My mother set me on the road to poetry even before I began primary school. My sister and I had a life filled with nursery rhymes and then Romantic and Victorian verse. I still recall Mother reading Tennyson’s ‘The Lady of Shalott’ whose fashionable melancholy appealed to her somewhat frustrated (by child-raising) romantic nature (Shelley was her favourite poet). Andrew Lang’s coloured fairy books and, especially, Peg Maltby’s ‘Peg’s Fairy Book’ introduced me to Fairyland, a realm to which I could never henceforth be unfaithful.
Then three schools and several teachers shook more and more of poetic beauty into my awareness. In England for primary school I fell in love with Alfred Noyes’ poem ‘The Elfin Artist’ and the romantic high adventure of ‘The Highwayman’; back in Australia for secondary school I was shown Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ (a bright moment in a lacklustre year). I began to dabble in writing myself. An unforgettable experience was being taken to see ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at the Comedy Theatre with John Alden as Oberon.
In England Mother had also read to us Kipling’s ‘Just So Stories’, focussing especially on her favourite: ‘How the Elephant got his Trunk’; but, independently, I recognised myself instantly as ‘The Cat who Walked by Himself’. Proud to be such a one, I was nevertheless not ready for the almost inevitable result in mature life: lack of interest from the literary world.
All this time I was being soaked in traditional, orthodox Christianity by parents who, effectively, offered me this introduction but by no means enforced anything on me in the way of belief or otherwise. We had night-time prayers at home from childhood on – and very comforting they were, notably The Lord’s Prayer and ‘Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord!’ I was christened; we attended St George’s Mont Albert, then St Swithun’s Purley and finally St Dunstan’s Camberwell, where Father joined the vestry. I was confirmed at my school chapel, where I particularly liked singing Psalm 121.
While I loved many of the stories and much of the poetry of the Old Testament, it was, rightly, the figure of Jesus who dominated my imagination. I developed an image of him in which serenity, effortless command, compassion and justice were predominant features. He remains the central figure of my imagination; and I am fond of telling people that while Shakespeare was indeed a colossal genius (I wrote two university theses on his plays), he still looks small when set next to the four canonical Gospels.
With the onset of puberty and the realisation of the extraordinary beauty of girls, I moved into a critical phase. It was marked most of all by private listening to music: hit parade numbers, of which my favourite was the eerie tango ‘Blue Mirage’, Strauss waltzes, Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony and his violin concerto, Brahms’ violin concerto, ‘The Swan of Tuonela’ by Sibelius and French songs by Charles Trenet, Tino Rossi and Edith Piaf. I discovered the experience of Romeo-and-Juliet love, something that takes us ‘right out of this world’ and really is ‘heavenly’.
I now realise that I was actually engaging in a vital phase of self-education as a counterbalance to my school lessons which were almost all essentially based around the development of the logical mind, memory and the acquisition of stores of knowledge with which to negotiate the space-time world which science told me we lived in. I was (without fully understanding it) exploring and strengthening my ability to ‘tune in’ to ‘messages’ from the Beyond. I could call it ‘the world of Spirit’, but I prefer to avoid clichéd language, especially in dealing with the delicacies of transcendental discussion.
At the same time I began to realise that there was something about ‘the Church’ that made me feel uncomfortable – an obscure feeling that all was not entirely well with the institution. It was the cultivation of ‘wordless knowledge’ through music and poetry that enabled me to resist fatal indoctrination into religion-as-cult. I had come to know directly the importance of not only conscience, but also intuition and inspiration. And that is how it is that I have remained an Anglican Christian, if somewhat on the periphery.
Chapter Four of Jeremy Naydler’s 2009 book The Future of the Ancient World discusses the concept of non-locational space, which he sees as the world of spirit which enfolds and upholds the space-time world that some people foolishly imagine is all that there is. I have discovered that devotion to poetry and practising a Christian life go in perfect harmony when this is understood – for Fairyland is a part of the Kingdom of Heaven! Both as writer and worshipper, I happily witness to that reality.
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