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The Nearer You Stand: Poems and images, by Roger Wagner

17 January 2020

Richard Harries enjoys an artist-poet’s pointers to the mystery of God

THE hugely talented painter Roger Wagner deserves to be better known than either Tracey Emin or Damien Hirst. And in 100 years he will be. He is also a highly accomplished poet, and this book sets poems in relation to paintings in a way that digs deeper into their truth.

Some paintings, which are visually stunning but puzzling, such as St Martin at Andethanna, unveil themselves in this way. His paintings are mostly in private collections, although the Ashmolean in Oxford purchased one, two major ones are in Auckland Castle, and one is on loan to St Mellitus College. Others can be seen on his website

His major paintings depict a scene from the modern world, with a power station such as Didcot or Battersea, or a factory as a dominant feature. Within them will be a biblical scene almost hidden away, such as Abraham and the three angels hidden in dark shadow under a tree, or the supper room at Emmaus, which is scarcely noticeable. Influenced by de Chirico as a teenager, Wagner seeks to show in these meticulously painted scenes something mysterious, something other going on.

© Roger Wagner 2019From Wagner’s window The Flowering Tree, 2014, at St Mary’s, IffleySometimes in this book, he writes about how a painting came into being, and this is particularly interesting in relation to his work in response to Dura Europos, in Syria, the earliest known Christian church on the border of the Roman and Persian empires which was destroyed about 256. Wagner also paints wonderful trees in the tradition of Samuel Palmer. In this book, a poem, “I turn the page of my life”, responds first to a stark winter tree in the Saltings and then to Oak Tree with Gold.

I turned the pages of my life
And found at last a page of gold
A page whose utter grace will
When I am withered
And grown old.


The Rt Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth is a former Bishop of Oxford, and an Hon. Professor of Theology at King’s College, London. His last book The Beauty and the Horror: Searching for God in a suffering world (SPCK) is now out in paperback.


The Nearer You Stand: Poems and images
Roger Wagner
Canterbury Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

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