Nomination: An Arundel Tomb [20 February 1956. From The Whitsun Weddings]
My choice of ‘Poem of the Month’ wavered for a while between Philip Larkin’s ‘Church Going’ and his ‘An Arundel Tomb’. (I’m especially interested in ecclesiastical buildings and all they represent.) In the end, though, I’ve chosen the latter, which I’ve admired ever since I first discovered a beautifully inscribed copy of it in Chichester Cathedral, displayed adjacent to where “The earl [of Arundel] and countess [Eleanor, his second wife] lie in stone”.
The poet pinpoints one distinctive feature of the sculpture in particular, drawing us back into “pre-baroque” history and then highlighting subsequent changes in society – throughout which his subjects “rigidly persisted”, while “up the paths the endless altered people came”.
The poem and what it depicts have a strong, personal resonance for me. I spent 1969-70 at Bishop Otter College in Chichester, which had close links with the cathedral there – where I experienced works of religious art that had been brought into being through Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester, 1955-77. His life has long inspired me. I first ‘inherited’ his artistic legacy in the ’60s as a member of the choir at St Matthew’s Church, Northampton – home of Henry Moore’s Madonna and Child and Graham Sutherland’s Crucifixion. These had both been commissioned during Hussey’s time as Vicar of St Matthew’s, 1937-55 – as had some of the music I sang. Several other choral works were written for this church during my time there, and Hussey’s unique legacy lives on in Northampton and Chichester in the art and music that have continued to be commissioned for both establishments.
By chance, during my college year in Chichester I was once fortunate, at a service in the cathedral, to introduce Dean Hussey to my parents; they attended St Matthew’s and keenly supported all my musical endeavours. ‘An Arundel Tomb’ transports me into a wider world; the ending of this wonderful poem is one of the most moving I know in all poetry.