Sunday, 12 May 2019

'The radio's prayer'

On Anecdotal Evidence today, Patrick Kurp writes about that 'metaphysical medium', radio. He notes that in films set in the Thirties and Forties, the radio is invariably playing a comedy show or news of Pearl Harbor. The English equivalents are ITMA (the popular wartime comedy show) and Neville Chamberlain's solemn announcement that the nation is at war.
  'Like prayer,' Kurp writes, 'radio demands attentiveness, openness and imagination'. In this country, radio can be overtly like prayer: we have that magical incantation, the Shipping Forecast, which Seamus Heaney celebrates in a sonnet –

Dogger, Rockall, Malin, Irish Sea:
Green, swift upsurges, North Atlantic flux
Conjured by that strong gale-warming voice,
Collapse into a sibilant penumbra.
Midnight and closedown. Sirens of the tundra,
Of eel-road, seal-road, keel-road, whale-road, raise
Their wind-compounded keen behind the baize
And drive the trawlers to the lee of Wicklow.
L'Etoile, Le Guillemot, La Belle Hélène
Nursed their bright names this morning in the bay
That toiled like mortar. It was marvellous
And actual, I said out loud, 'A haven,'
The word deepening, clearing, like the sky
Elsewhere on Minches, Cromarty, The Faroes.

The Shipping Forecast finds its way, too, into a fine Carol Ann Duffy sonnet that bears the title Prayer

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child's name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio's prayer –
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

And not that long ago, radio also regularly featured the late evening office of Compline, which gives its title to this Larkin poem – 

Behind the radio’s altar light
the hurried talk to God goes on:
'Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done...
produce our lives beyond this night,
open our eyes again to sun.'

Unhindered in the dingy wards
lives flicker out, one here, one there,
to send some weeping down the stair
with love unused, in unsaid words:
for this I would have quenched the prayer

but for the thought that nature spawns
a million eggs to make one fish.
Better that endless notes beseech
as many nights, as many dawns, 
if finally God grants the wish.

Has television ever inspired a poem? I can't think of any. There's nothing metaphysical about television.