Vaughan Williams Pilgrimage

The Sea SymphonyA statue of Ralph Vaughan Williams in Dorking
Opens with rolling tympani
The waves creeping dangerously onto the sands
In five four time, one two, one two three
Exploring the stave
With cadenzas of faith.
Monk’s Gate
Closes on a Sussex estate
Sending the explorer, stepwise steadily forward
With the conductor’s eyelids leading the Leith Hill Choir
Pilgrims on a journey
Of arpeggio beauty.
Dives and Lazarus
Walk past the best of us
Picking up litter in Dorking plastic bags
While the baton drops, waving incongruously
Switching on light
With fresh insight.
The Greensleeves FantasiaPortrait of Vaughan Williams by Sir Gerald Kelly, painted in 1958-61 (EMI)
Makes history crazier
Than Henry the Eighth ever intended it to be
Splitting the dominant seventh into semi-quavers
While the world derides
As a church divides.
But The Lark Ascending
Meets heaven descending
Agnostic uncertainties exchanged for believer doubts
As an unconvinced atheist yields to divine revelation
In the search for meaning
With music leading.
Sine Nomine
Lauds the day
When saints will truly from their labours rest
Just sixteen bars of it before they rise
To assembled praise
In morning rays.
October 2008
Written after listening to Morning Worship on BBC Radio Four, reflecting on RVW’s spirituality, and not long after walking the Vaughan Williams Trail in Dorking. It is there where the composer had lived for many years, founded the Leith Hill Music Festival and also participated in many aspects of community life, including the picking up litter in the town!

For more information on some of Vaughan Williams compositions mentioned in the poem see:
A Sea Symphony; Monk’s Gate; Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus; Fantasia on Greensleeves; The Lark Ascending; Sine Nomine