Saturday 31 August 2019

The Professor Speaks

'I don't think much of science as a phase of human development. It has given us a lot of ingenious toys; they take our attention away from the real problems, of course, and since the problems are insoluble, I suppose we ought to be grateful for distraction. But the fact is, the human mind, the individual mind, has always been made more interesting by dwelling on the old riddles, even if it makes nothing of them. Science hasn't given us any new amazements, except of the superficial kind we get from witnessing dexterity and sleight-of-hand. It hasn't given us any richer pleasures, as the Renaissance did, nor any new sins ... We were better off when even the prosaic matter of taking nourishment could have the magnificence of a sin. I don't think you help people by making their conduct of no importance – you impoverish them. As long as every man and woman who crowded into the cathedrals on Easter Sunday was a principal in a gorgeous drama with God, glittering angels on one side and the shadows of evil coming and going on the other, life was a rich thing. The king and the beggar had the same chance at miracles and great temptations and revelations. And that's what makes men happy, believing in the mystery and importance of their own little individual lives. It makes us happy to surround our creature needs and bodily instincts with as much pomp and circumstance as possible. Art and religion (they are the same thing in the end, of course) have given man the only happiness he has ever had.'
  That's Professor St Peter in Willa Cather's The Professor's House (which I'm reading just now). He's speaking in, I guess, the early Twenties, just before science did in fact give us some 'new amazements', in the shape of modern quantum theory – but I think there's a lot of truth in the general thrust of his argument. As Wittgenstein put it, 'We feel that even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all.' And the role of scientific rationalism as a universal solvent acting to demystify human life has been spiritually and socially damaging, eroding the mythological basis that all societies need in some form or other, and encouraging a kind of moral nihilism by default. We need that sense that our little lives have an element of mystery and importance, and we need that 'pomp and circumstance' to sanctify our needs and instincts, that place where 'all our compulsions meet, are recognised and robed as destinies' (as Larkin puts it in 'Church Going'). One of the most eloquent lines in King Lear is Lear's anguished cry, 'O reason not the need!' (the need for the retinue of knights that makes him who he is). When reason gets to work corroding the mystique of our institutions and our sense of ourselves, reducing even a king to a 'bare forked animal', it can lead anywhere – to an old man being banished into the raging storm, and another old man having his eyes gouged out, and an innocent daughter being hanged. Not that I'm laying that at science's door.

Friday 30 August 2019

In the Cotswolds

I was walking in the Cotswolds yesterday with my walking friends. It was a quite magnificent walk – great churches, beautiful rolling landscape, stone-built villages, and good late summer weather to set it all off. The highlight was Northleach, a small town dominated by one of the magnificent 'wool' churches of Gloucestershire, built in an age when great wealth often created great beauty. This church, glorious from the outside (that's a part of the beautiful South porch above), is strangely disappointing inside, after the initial jaw-dropping impact of its sheer size – vast height, length and width. It's an extremely bare and bright interior, the modern furnishings are unimpressive, the huge East window (Christopher Webb, 1963) is an awful anticlimax, and the whole thing feels as if it has had far too much attention from restorers, cleaners and scrapers over the years. It is spick and span to the point of sterility, and it's hard to detect anything numinous about it. Wonderful brasses, though, and plenty of them.
  Northleach is, like much of the Cotswolds, on the tourist trail, and it's not hard to see why. These villages of honey-coloured stone are quite achingly picturesque, to the point where they can seem almost like some kind of theme park. There is something unreal, and faintly depressing, about this endless perfection, this bland niceness, all marinated in heritage cosiness and, of course, money – its rich, horsey reek is everywhere. However, it is good to see the arts of stone carving and drystone walling still very much alive. And letter carving – the well lettered modern headstones in these Cotswold churchyards are a joy to see.
  And, speaking as a monument man, I have to add that the Cotswolds are home to at least two great Baroque monuments – to the Bray children at Great Barrington

and to Edward and Juliana Noel at Chipping Campden.

Wednesday 28 August 2019

'Hassock and cassock, paraffin and pew...'

John Betjeman's birthday today – he was born on this day in 1906. Browsing the Collected Poems, I alighted on this one. It's an evocative piece for a church crawler (and occasional churchyard picnicker) like me, though the chances of finding a key under the mat of a locked church are now, sadly, zero. As so often with Betjeman, death is never far away (here in the 'sweet smell of cerements') and the innocence of the scene has a faintly erotic edge – or is that just me?

An Archaeological Picnic

In this high pasturage, this Blunden time,
  With Lady's Finger, Smokewort, Lovers' Loss,
And lin-lan-lone, a Tennysonian chime
  Stirring the sorrel and the gold-starred moss,
  Cool is the chancel, bright the altar cross.

Drink, Mary, drink your fizzy lemonade
  And leave the king-cups; take your grey felt hat;
Here, where the low-side window lends a shade,
  There, where the key lies underneath the mat,
  The rude forefathers of the hamlet sat.

Sweet smell of cerements and of cold wet stones,
  Hassock and cassock, paraffin and pew;
Green is a light which that sublime Burne-Jones
  White-hot and wondering from the glass-kiln drew,
  Gleams and re-gleams this Trans arcade anew.

So stand you waiting, freckled innocence!
  For me the squinch and squint and Trans arcade;
For you, where meadow grass is evidence,
  With flattened pattern, of our picnic made,
  One more bottle of fizzy lemonade.

I guess 'Blunden time' means a time of rural peace and quiet in picturesque surroundings, as in Edmund Blunden's pastoral poems.
The 'Tennysonian chime', 'lin-lan-lone', occurs in a poem written for music, Far-Far-Away – 'The mellow lin-lan-lone of evening bells...'
'Trans' – an abbreviation since hijacked for other uses – is short for Transitional (between Norman and Gothic).

Monday 26 August 2019

The Undramatisable

Well, I can't pretend to have listened to all of Radio 4's A La Recherche (any more than I can pretend to have read it all – I've always retired defeated), but my general impression of the radio version is of a heroic, intermittently successful, attempt to do the impossible. Dramatising Proust is, I think, almost certainly doomed to fail, for the simple reason that the entire (written) work essentially takes place within the narrator's sensibility – it is action, interior action, as against plot – whereas drama happens in an exterior world; it is plot, it is out there, seen from outside. And, in the case of Proust, this external action can easily be seen as not amounting to very much at all: a lot of wealthy, well connected people with overdeveloped sensitivities and not enough to do, fussing endlessly about nothing very much and making a huge deal of everything. This uncharitable view cannot gain much purchase in the novels because we live through it all inside the narrator's extraordinary, supple, hyperacute sensibility; once it is out there, exposed to the light of day in the form of drama, it become something else, something much less interesting. And, it has to be said, the unconvincing heterosexual veneer wears even thinner. However, with all this acknowledged, there was enough of straight narration in this dramatisation to maintain something of the particular allure of the original, it was a quality production with an excellent cast and good use of music, and some scenes were effective as drama. It was probably about as good as a dramatisation of the undramatisable could be.


With a double hat tip to Dave Lull and Frank Wilson, I pass on a link to this excellent piece on editing – copy and line, necessity for and sad decline of.
 I spent a quarter of a century seriously editing copy other than my own, and I owe most of what I know of the subject to my old friend Chris, with whom I worked for a couple of very formative years on a well known listings magazine. She was a formidably good editor, and, unlike many in the trade, a good communicator. She worked for some while on a style manual which was a model of lucidity and accessibility, and an invaluable tool, full of crystal-clear explantations of knotty points of syntax. Unfortunately she was gone before the project was completed, and some while later it was handed to me – but I too was gone before I could get much further, and it was then handed on to the person most likely to obfuscate it or run it aground. Moving on to my next job, I was fortunate to come across another gifted and splendidly rigorous editor, a veritable connoisseur of the art. Her all-time favourite mark was the insertion of a (correct, of course) hyphen into 'obsessive compulsive'...
 Subeditors (as we call them) weren't always as good as those two. Back in the days when I wrote features on this and that for The Times, I would quite often open the paper to find my piece hideously mangled – and, worse, with factual errors introduced – but since then, I think, fewer editors has tended to mean better editors. And of course the internet has changed everything, making factual errors – if not sloppy writing and editing – much rarer. However, as the Washington Free Beacon piece argues, good copy and line editors are still needed, and there are now too few of them.
 I heartily agree with Frank Wilson that much of what is written online goes on too long and digresses too much. So I'll stop here.

Saturday 24 August 2019

Still Flukier

Seriously attentive readers might recall that in this post I concluded that I'd seen all the butterfly species I was going to see this year, barring a fluky Clouded Yellow or a 'still flukier Brown Hairstreak', the most elusive of all our butterflies... Well, this morning the 'still flukier' happened. I was strolling in the grounds of the local Ecology Centre – just making my way out actually – when I saw what I took to be a Gatekeeper fly down and settle on the lawn. I went over to have a look (they're beautiful little things) and when I saw its (actually her) underwings I knew it was no such thing. Could it be...? Yes, it was, as she promptly confirmed by flying off a little way and settling, wings folded, on the leaf of a bush, affording me a clear view of those beautiful and definitive 'hairstreaks'. A female Brown Hairstreak in prime condition. Alas, by the time I had laid my hands on my camera, she had flown off, this time disappearing over the roof of a building – but I had seen her, my first since a memorable occasion three years ago – and in the same place. I went on my way rejoicing.

Friday 23 August 2019

One Universe the More

I do like these little Penguin Great Ideas volumes – so pleasingly compact, so attractively designed. When I spotted this one the other day, I naturally snapped it up. It contains a long essay on John Ruskin (a writer who fascinated Proust and whom he translated), an equally long essay about the ecstasy of childhood reading titled On Reading (I), a much shorter On Reading (II), a few passages from Against Saint-Beueve, and Swann Explained by Proust – useful reading ahead of Radio 4's epic broadcast of In Search of Lost Time. That's terrific value, and all packed into 120 small pages –especially good value as Proust is perforce such a slow read; those long, long sentences can be pretty hard to disentangle. Try this one, about how Proust felt and behaved immediately after he had finished reading a book:
'And then, so as to give the turbulence loose inside me for too long to be able to still itself other movements to control, I would get up and start walking up and down by my bed, my eyes still fixed on some point that might have been looked for in vain either inside the room or without, for it was the distance of a soul away, one of those distances not to be measured in metres or in miles, unlike others, and which it is impossible moreover to mistake for them once one sees the "remote" stare of those whose thoughts are "elsewhere".'
Sometimes Proust makes Ruskin read like Ernest Hemingway.
However, for all the knotty phrasing, it is wonderful to witness such an extraordinary mind and sensibility at work. And he can, of course, write plainly and wisely, as at the end of his remarks on Swann's Way:
'Style is not at all an embellishment as certain people think, it is not even a matter of technique, it is – like colour with painting – a quality of vision, the revelation of the private universe that each of us can see and which others cannot see. The pleasure an artist affords us is to introduce us to one universe the more.'

Thursday 22 August 2019

Progress Report

Much to my surprise, I am now well advanced on the task of turning the individual chapters of The Book into something closely resembling an actual book, needing only to be printed. I had thought I would have to get professional help on this, but once I got going I found I could actually do it myself, though not without some technical difficulties along the way. I'm actually working on the last couple of chapters now, so it shouldn't be long before it's all put together – words, pictures and all – and sent to the printer (I've found a good one, recommended by a friend). There are a few last things that need ironing out, and could yet hold things up or even derail them altogether, but it's looking as if the book should be Out There in the early autumn. I'll let you know...

Wednesday 21 August 2019

Crazy Day

On this day in 1961, Patsy Cline recorded that classic song, Crazy, written by Willie Nelson and since sung by virtually everybody with a larynx – but never better than by Patsy, who, incidentally, cut the track in one take.
The story of how the song got from Willie to Patsy is, like anything to do with Willie Nelson, confused and comes in several versions, all involving strong drink and bar-rooms. But somehow Patsy's husband ended up suggesting to her that she should record this great song by Nelson. When she heard Willie's own, er, characteristic rendition of the song – before the beat, behind the beat, all around the melody – she understandably thought it was not for her. But happily she soon realised its possibilities, and it turned out to be one of the best things she ever did.
There's another musical milestone today too. James Burton, the 'Master of the Telecaster' and one of the finest guitarists ever to take up a pick, will be celebrating his 80th birthday. Here he is in action only last year, running through a few sweet licks. Many happy returns, James!

Monday 19 August 2019

Flying the Flag

So there I was, strolling through Carshalton Park just now, admiring the avenue of grand old horse chestnut trees in whose lengthening shadows my brother and I played out many an epic two-man 'Test match' (Martinia vs Nigelliana) in our far-off boyhood days. And then I saw it – flying from the top of one of those fine and blameless trees was the flag of Extinction Rebellion! They might not be great on critical thinking, but they clearly have some impressive tree-climbing skills – those trees are tall and complicated and the branches can be treacherous. I've no idea what gave XR the idea of flying their flag from one of them, but, as it happens, before I spotted it I was just thinking that it was high time to fell those annoyingly green trees and get down to some serious fracking. And now I have changed my mind completely, so well done Extinction Rebellion, keep up the good work!

Sunday 18 August 2019

Big Reads and Eng Lit

Reviewing the newspapers on Radio 4 this morning, the guests were talking about the latest report of the ongoing boom in audiobooks, book downloads, podcasts etc – which they regarded as a good thing, while hoping that people also continued to get their 'big reads' from physical books. Radio 4, as it happens, has another of its epic dramatisations of a very big read coming up – Proust's great novel sequence read and dramatised across the three days of the August bank holiday weekend, a total of ten hours' radio in nine episodes. These ventures usually work rather well – Ulysses and War and Peace certainly did, I'd say from what I heard of them – and I hope Proust will too (though I have my doubts about Derek Jacobi as Marcel – maybe that's just me)...
  As part of this discussion, Dame Joan Bakewell (who smiled very nicely at me when we passed in a corridor at the House of Lords) lamented the fact that fewer and fewer students are taking English A level or studying English at university. This seemed to her extremely sad. However, given the state of Eng Lit studies these days, I'd say it's by and large a good thing and those students are choosing wisely.
 In the course of my working life, I came across many English graduates who had emerged from university having studied only a thin sliver of the literature, having read little or nothing not on the syllabus, and having no desire to read anything more except the latest talked-about middlebrow fiction. And yet they were convinced they knew their subject – they had the piece of paper to prove it. By contrast, many of the most widely read, curious and open-minded people I came across were those who had avoided university. With English and the other Humanities increasingly in the grip of a deadening ideology of anti-racism, anti-imperialism, anti-sexism, anti-DWEMism and the rest, they are surely destined to wither on the vine unless things change drastically. The fall in numbers of A-level students and university applicants is very likely a sign that the process is already under way.
 Meanwhile young people with a love of reading and a curiosity about the whole range of literature would be well advised to stay away from university and Read, Read, Read – that is how to study literature. And it's never been easier to do, thanks to the internet, the wide availability of cheap (or free) books, and, yes, all those audiobooks and podcasts.

Thursday 15 August 2019

Joys of Late Summer

It's a rash man who says he has seen his last swift of the year, but I'm pretty sure I have now. It was last Friday (a week after I thought I'd seen my last) – just the one, flying high over the garden – and since then there has been so much foul weather that it's unlikely even the tardiest of swifts has been tempted to hang around.
 This afternoon, however, the clouds broke up and the sun finally came out, so I headed for Box Hill to see what butterflies I might find. It was rather blowy when I got there, and the sun was coming and going, so I wasn't too hopeful, especially of seeing the heat-loving Silver-Spotted Skipper, so short-winged and plump in the body it needs a good charge of solar energy to get it off the ground.
Amazingly, however, almost the first butterfly I saw was a Silver-Spotted Skipper, no less, sitting on the ground with its wings neatly folded to display those diagnostic silvery spots on the green underwing – and then another joined it before they both flew off, showing a remarkable turn of speed. A little later, I found another settled on a flower head and was able to take a longer look. It's always one of the great joys of late summer to see these exceptionally pretty – and obliging – little beauties.
  There were also Chalkhill Blues galore, and – what I was most hoping for – Adonis Blues. Not many – maybe half a dozen – but thrillingly beautiful as ever: there is no blue in nature (in English nature) quite like the intense celestial blue of the male Adonis's upperwings. With the Skippers and the Chalkhills too, this was a glorious show to end the butterfly year. It added what are surely the last two species to my 2019 list (unless a fluky Clouded Yellow appears, or a still flukier Brown Hairstreak). The total stands at 37 – all but one seen in my home county – which makes this, despite the vagaries of the weather, a pretty good year.

Wednesday 14 August 2019

Children's Crusades, Then and Now

I feel sorry for Greta Thunberg, the school-skipping 'climate activist' – well, sorry for her and intensely annoyed by her, also uneasy and embarrassed. She's certainly going to be having a hellish time for the next couple of weeks crossing the Atlantic on a racing yacht (basically one enormous sail with an afterthought of a hull) – but beyond that I can't help feeling that this is a vulnerable child who is being used as a mouthpiece for opinions that she's swallowed wholesale because she hasn't the maturity, breadth of knowledge or critical apparatus to question them. She's a child, and a more or less autistic one at that. She is being exploited – and, along the way, encouraging (among 'adults') an infantile level of discourse about the 'climate emergency'.
  Naturally, one's mind goes back to the Children's Crusade of 1212. This, according to traditional accounts, was inspired by a French boy who had, he believed, been visited by Jesus and instructed to lead a crusade to convert the Islamic world (by peaceful persuasion) to Christianity. Reports of portents and miracles seemed to confirm the charismatic child's mission, and soon some 30,000 children were heading South to the Mediterranean, confidently expecting the sea to part and allow them to walk dryshod to Jerusalem. This failed to happen, and the whole venture ended badly. Offered free passage on a boat, the children were either lost in a shipwreck or taken to Tunis and sold into slavery.
  Modern accounts, based on sounder historiography, tell a different tale (one of two distinct movements), but, like the traditional version, they do not end well.

Tuesday 13 August 2019

Swinging Classics from the Maestro of Mournful

I know, I know – this has got to stop. But I couldn't resist this one...

It's a poster for an album that was, alas, never made. In case you can't make out the small print, the quintet members are PL, Kingsley Amis, Johns Betjeman and Wain, and Barbara Pym. Track titles include 'Toad in My Lawnmower', 'Complan and Gin', 'Dewey Decimal Lady' and 'Can't Find the Gents'.
[Note for American readers: Complan is a powder that can be made into an ultra-bland nutritious drink for those unable to cope with food.]

Monday 12 August 2019


Born on this day in 1644 (in Bohemia) was the great Baroque composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, who wrote some of the most extraordinary solo violin music in the repertoire. If you have ten minutes to spare today, I'd recommend immersing yourself in this performance of his monumental Passacaglia by the rather lovely Elicia Silverstein...

Sunday 11 August 2019


When it comes to rhyming 'all along the line' (see yesterday's post), there is surely no more accomplished exponent than Kay Ryan. I just came across this one again –

Chinese Foot Chart
Every part of us
alerts another part.
Press a spot in 
the tender arch and
feel the scalp
twitch. We are no
match for ourselves
but our own release.
Each touch 
uncatches some
remote lock. Look,
boats of mercy
embark from 
our heart at the
oddest knock.

Saturday 10 August 2019

It's That Man Again

I may have put that 700-page volume of Selected Letters behind me, but it seems there's no escaping Philip Larkin. Yesterday, his birthday. Today, I find this image in my inbox, courtesy of a picture-sharing website. It shows Larkin paying a visit to his mother, and clearly having a whale of a time...
  So, to get away from Larkin, I thought I'd see if there were any literary anniversaries today. It turns out that Laurence Binyon, poet and scholar, was born on this date 150 years ago. He is remembered now chiefly for a stanza from his 1914 poem For the Fallen, which is still read at services of remembrance throughout the English-speaking world ('They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old...'). Other than that, his greatest contribution to poetry was perhaps in introducing the likes of Ezra Pound, Richard Aldington and H.D. to Chinese and Japanese art, of which he had an expert knowledge. He also did much to revive interest in Blake's pictorial work, and to save Samuel Palmer's visionary early pictures from being wholly forgotten. And he translated Dante.
 This was news to me, but in fact Binyon's translation became hugely successful when it was selected for the Viking Portable Library. It was written in Dante's own terza rima (aba bcb cdc, etc) form, despite this being impossible to sustain for very long in English without severe strain (our language is just too short of rhymes to keep the ever-rolling stream of terza rima flowing). Not that this stopped Dorothy L. Sayers attempting just the same thing with her translation (which was also, in its Penguin edition, very successful).
  Reading a little around the matter of Dante translation, I came across an essay by Clive James about his own translation (published 2013), which abandons terza rima in favour of the four-square quatrain – thereby, many would say, throwing overboard rather too much. In the course of his ruminations, James notes that, in Dante's original, 'within the terzina there is all this other intense interaction going on. (Dante is the greatest exemplar in literary history of the principle advanced by Vernon Watkins, and much approved of by Philip Larkin, that good poetry doesn't just rhyme at the end of the lines, it rhymes all along the line.)'  Yes, Larkin again – there's no escaping him.
  For the record, I maintain that the best way to read Dante is in an edition with the original on one side and an accurate prose translation on the other (as in the old Temple Classics). That way you keep the unique, unEnglishable beauty of the verse – and learn a little Italian along the way.

Friday 9 August 2019


Well, nothing much has changed in dear old Dieppe ('Nous ne changeons pas,' as the formidable patronne of our hotel declared proudly, and accurately). One or two of the more interesting little shops have gone, but there are still plenty left, and happily no sign of an English-style 'death of the high street'. The epic restoration of the church of St Jacques proceeds slowly but (these days) surely, though it's unlikely to be finished in my lifetime. At the smaller St Remy, on the other hand, recent progress has been rapid, and the building is quite transformed from the crumbling near-ruin it was a decade or two ago – though of course much remains to be done. The back streets of the old town, too, are getting smarter as more and more of the old buildings are refurbished as apartments, mostly without loss of character. On the Quai Henri IV, the old reliables among the restaurants are as good as ever, the seafood wonderfully fresh – and the old-fashioned Mini-Golf by the promenade is still in business. Needless to say, a good time was had by all in the days we were together (though I was turned out of the swimming baths for wearing unsuitable swimwear – swimming shorts, as against trunks, are banned in all public pools in France, I was bemused to learn)...

And now we're back in England, just in time for Philip Larkin's birthday – he would have been 97 today, so it's the big one in three years. 'Birthdays,' he remarked in a letter to Monica (Jones), 'are a time when one stock takes, which means, I suppose, a good spineless mope: I scan my horizon and can discern no sail of hope along my own particular ambition...' Well, cheers – happy birthday, Phil!
Here's Larkin on days in general, short and to the point –


What are days for?
Days are where we live.   
They come, they wake us   
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:   
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor   
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

Saturday 3 August 2019

Swift Summer Over?

The third day of August, and already the neighbourhood swifts have flown. There were a couple passing by quietly the evening before last, and that, it seems, was that – an early finish to the swift season. No doubt I'll see more elsewhere before they're all gone – last year my final sighting was on August 19th, and my first of this year was on May 1st, so at least the close season was pleasingly short. It always seems too soon, though, when the swifts disappear. We have them for a scant three months, in which time they manage to mate, nest and raise a brood to the point where they can fly South with the older birds. They are extraordinary, mysterious creatures, and we are lucky to have them with us for that short season, the 'Swift Summer'.
  Talking of flying South, today we are off on the first leg of the annual pilgrimage to Dieppe, with son, daughter-in-law and their two enchanting children. This short visit has become a fixture, and continues – even unto the third generation – a tradition that began 30 years ago, back in those golden days when the Dieppe ferries were fast and frequent, and sailed right into the heart of the town. Au revoir, mes amis! I'll be back by the end of next week...

Friday 2 August 2019

Porter and Betjeman in Cornwall

The poetry of church crawling is dominated by Philip Larkin's mighty Church Going, a poem that stands in a league of its own. A little further down the slopes of Parnassus, the other great practitioner of the genre is Betjeman, and some fine specimens by other hands are collected in the recent anthology Building Jerusalem, which I wrote about a while back...
Peter Porter, too, wrote church poems, notably An Angel in Blythburgh Church.
This one (which I spotted in his Collected Poems) finds him in Betjeman country, down in Cornwall – though there is little of Betjeman's tone about it:

Visiting Cornish Churches

Folded in lush combe
Or sentinelling the land,
The wide-naved churches stand,
Like platitudes of doom.

Lanteglos with Polruan,
Lansallos by Lantivet –
Paths of stormy privet
Where leaves soundlessly are strewn –

Hoarders of forgotten saints,
Sites for moral doggerel,
Lit by the improbable
Gold of restorers' paints,

Sanctuaries of afternoon
When the sun lies in the wheat
And flower-arrangers meet
To make comfortable God's room.

Past Celtic cross and over
Graves at a hundred angles,
Through grass and nettle tangles,
The tourist breaks from cover.

The air he breathes is clean
And roseate with death,
Pevsner-listed souls beneath
Share with pew and screen

Small absolutes of fame:
Nothing remarkable here
But men's and women's fear
Of losing even a name,

And when he comes to quiz it
No monument will keep
Him long. He hopes they sleep
The better for his visit.

Betjeman loved Cornwall so much that he ensured he was buried there, in the churchyard of the remote, dune-girt church of St Enodoc, Trebetherick, now surrounded by a golf course. His funeral cortege had to walk the length of the tenth fairway in driving rain, followed by the struggling London literary press corps, seriously underdressed for the wild weather.
Eighteen years earlier, Betjeman wrote this uncharacteristically dark poem recalling a death-scented moment at St Enodoc –

By the Ninth Green, St Enodoc

Dark of primaeval pine encircles me
With distant thunder of an angry sea
While wrack and resin scent alternately
     The air I breathe.

On slate compounded before man was made
The ocean ramparts roll their light and shade
Up to Bray Hill and, leaping to invade,
     Fall back and seethe.

A million years of unrelenting tide
Have soothed the strata of the steep cliffside:
How long ago did rock with rock collide
    To shape these hills?

One day the mayfly's life, three week's the cleg's,
The woodworm's four-year cycle bursts its eggs,
The flattened centipede lets loose its legs
    And stings and kills.

Hot life pulsating in this foreshore dry,
Damp life upshooting from the reed-beds high,
Under those barrows, dark against the sky,
   The Iron Age dead –

Why is it that a sunlit second sticks?
What force collects all this and seeks to fix
This fourth March morning nineteen sixty-six
   Deep in my head?

[A cleg, by the way, is a horse fly.]