Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Charged with bringing the living to life

Serendipity - the fortuitous discovery of something when you weren't actually looking for it.

Let's back up. Every Christmas Eve at 1500 GMT there is a service of Nine Lessons and Carols broadcast from King's College, Cambridge. This goes out live on the radio (and these days is repeated on Christmas Day) all round the world. For some years now King's have also recorded a television carol service: this is pre-recorded especially for television, and uses some of the same music as the main service but mostly different lessons. Indeed, the spoken elements are not all biblical texts (as in the main service) but include poems and other pieces of writing.

This year one of the readings in the television service was Innocent's Song by Charles Causley. Hilary and I remarked that we hadn't known it before. Causley is well-known to generations of British schoolchildren for his poem Timothy Winters, but not too many of his other poems are familiar. This one sometimes makes it into anthologies of humorous verse.

Anyway, I was in the library today: I might not have been, only the online renewal system had crashed so I had to take my books in. While I was there I looked around, and came across Causley's Collected Poems. I haven't read many of them yet, but of the ones I have, one stood out as appropriately seasonal - and suitably thought-provoking.

Ballad of the Breadman
Mary stood in the kitchen
Baking a loaf of bread.
An angel flew in the window
‘We’ve a job for you,’ he said.

‘God in his big gold heaven
Sitting in his big blue chair,
Wanted a mother for his little son.
Suddenly saw you there.’

Mary shook and trembled,
‘It isn’t true what you say.’
‘Don’t say that,’ said the angel.
‘The baby’s on its way.’

Joseph was in the workshop
Planing a piece of wood.
‘The old man’s past it,’ the neighbours said.
‘That girl's been up to no good.’

‘And who was that elegant fellow,’
They said. ‘in the shiny gear?’
The things they said about Gabriel
Were hardly fit to hear.

Mary never answered,
Mary never replied.
She kept the information,
Like the baby, safe inside.

It was the election winter.
They went to vote in the town.
When Mary found her time had come
The hotels let her down.

The baby was born in an annexe
Next to the local pub.
At midnight, a delegation
Turned up from the Farmers’ Club.

They talked about an explosion
That made a hole on the sky,
Said they’d been sent to the Lamb & Flag
To see God come down from on high.

A few days later a bishop
And a five-star general were seen
With the head of an African country
In a bullet-proof limousine.

‘We’ve come,’ they said ‘with tokens
For the little boy to choose.’
Told the tale about war and peace
In the television news.

After them came the soldiers
With rifle and bomb and gun,
Looking for enemies of the state.
The family had packed up and gone.

When they got back to the village
The neighbours said, to a man,
‘That boy will never be one of us,
Though he does what he blessed well can.’

He went round to all the people
A paper crown on his head.
Here is some bread from my father.
Take, eat
, he said.

Nobody seemed very hungry.
Nobody seemed to care.
Nobody saw the god in himself
Quietly standing there.

He finished up in the papers.
He came to a very bad end.
He was charged with bringing the living to life.
No man was that prisoner’s friend.

There’s only one kind of punishment
To fit that kind of crime.
They rigged a trial and shot him dead.
They were only just in time.

They lifted the young man by the leg,
Thy lifted him by the arm,
They locked him in a cathedral
In case he came to harm.

They stored him safe as water
Under seven rocks.
One Sunday morning he burst out
Like a jack-in-the-box.

Through the town he went walking.
He showed them the holes in his head.
Now do you want any loaves? he cried.
‘Not today’ they said.

Charles Causley


At 30 December, 2010 06:06, Blogger Persephone said...

That's spooky. I just did a post on "The Innocents' Song" a couple of days ago. It's also been put to music by the folk artists A Show of Hands.

We used to get the televised Lessons and Carols on television on Christmas Eve every year. Lately, it's been showing up on another channel in the wee small hours. This year, not at all. BBC charging too much for broadcast rights, perhaps?


Post a Comment

<< Home