I suppose I could draw on a similar threefold blessing. I first entered the cloisters of Wantage as I came to the end of my training at theological college in Oxford. I have gone on retreat there, among other places, ever since. Part of my withdrawal from parochial life allowed me to pray and reflect on aspects of life and ministry, as well as mull over various writing projects. Of late that has been mostly poetry.
Anyone who has discussed this art form with me will know of my love of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Indeed, my youthful work suffered somewhat as I attempted to emulate the unemulatable. ‘Mance on a flattop building’ will hardly be up there with ‘daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon.’
Wantage also has the cachet of another, more celebrated, poet, John Betjeman. Once a denizen of the then pretty, small market town, he wrote his farewell in On Leaving Wantage 1972. I have been working on a similar piece about my departure from London’s East End but, as they say in the movie Airplane, ‘That’s not important right now.’
One of Hopkins’s wonders is Binsey Poplars in which he laments the destruction, the ‘strokes of havoc’ that ‘unselve’ an avenue of trees. Wantage is one of many expanding towns with new housing to accommodate what successive governments argue has been a response to a crisis.
At the same time, there has been a decline in religious orders in the Western Church. Some, the Community of Saint Mary the Virgin among them, have found their numbers and fortunes seriously affected. How they respond to that is their challenge.
Any human development has negative impact. In one area, not far from the convent of the CSMV, there has been an attempt to ensure the survival of a colony of newts while the construction has been rolled out. How successful that is can not be assessed at present.
What might be up for assessment is what I penned after one of my walks on retreat there earlier this year.
How can I love you in destruction
When all that’s fair is crushed,
Infinite points beyond construction
Which even silence hushed?
As now I watch the desolation
Of seasons’ growth unblushed,
This view of past years’ contemplation,
Like human waste, all flushed.
Now plastic, brick enshrine creation
And stillness now is rushed.
How can I love you? There’s temptation,
Yet in decay I must.
As with all else my destination
Is for dust from dust.
© Kevin Scully, 2018