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Poetry and music raise up St Paul’s

by
12 October 2012

By a staff reporter

© ST PAUL'S CATHEDRAL

Toasting the space: the perform­ance seen from the Whispering Gallery of St Paul's Cathedral

Toasting the space: the perform­ance seen from the Whispering Gallery of St Paul's Cathedral

A NEW poem about St Paul's Cathedral by Sir Andrew Motion, the former Poet Laureate, was given its first performance at the end of last month, in St Paul's.

The poem, Resurgam, was commissioned by the Very Revd Dr John Moses when he was Dean, to mark the 300th anniversary of the completion of Wren's cathedral. It was completed a while ago, but a first performance was delayed so that Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Master of the Queen's Music, could set the final section to music. It was performed last month by the choir of St Paul's, directed by Andrew Carwood.

The readers were the actors Sheila Hancock and Sam West, although Mr West's arrival was delayed, and his place was taken by Canon Michael Hampel for the first part of the performance. Both the poet and the composer were in attendance.

The poem is more than 800 lines long, and tells the story of the cathedral from the very beginning:

Before the Temple of Diana;
before King Lud;
   before Restitutus . . .
before the Word, even,
there was the simple fact of
   rising ground.

The core of the poem is the construction of the current cathedral after the fire. Sir Andrew finishes the section with an image of Wren diving down through the building from the top of the cross:

His arms fit precisely into the
   crossing
and his legs fill the whole length
   of the nave.

His heart bursts out of his chest
and locks in the dark box of
   the altar.

His voice stretches out of his
   throat
and discovers perfect harmony
in the stone mouths of trumpets
   and angels.

When he reaches ground level
   he is a dust-grain,
sifting easily through into the
   crypt below
and the tomb which is prepared
   for him.

The poem carries on through the intervening years: the cathedral's adornment ("The cathedral demands to be simple: that was Wren's command and intention, but the tide of the city cannot control itself"); and jeopardy ("the cathedral itself must stand and suffer. It must stand and be saved, Churchill orders it"); to the present day ("I climbed the dome. I touched the turning sky").

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