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"Soothing and Awful"

U.A. Fanthorpe

(Visitors' Book at Montacute church)


You are meant to exclaim. The church 

Expects it of you. Bedding plants

And polished brass anticipate a word.


Visitors jot a name,

A nationality, briskly enough, 

But find Remarks beyond them.


I love English churches!

Says Friedrichshafen expansively.

The English are more backward. They come,


Certainly, from Spalding, Westbury-on-Trym, 

The Isle of Wight; but all the words

They know are: Very Lovely; Very Peaceful; Nice.


A giggling gaggle from Torquay Grammar,

All pretending they can't spell beautiful, concoct 

A private joke about the invisible organ.


A civilised voice from Cambridge

Especially noticed the beautiful churchyard.

Someone from Dudley, whose writing suggests tight shoes,


Reported Nice and Cool. The young entry 

Yelp their staccato approval:

Super! Fantastic! Jesus Lives! Ace!


But what they found,

Whatever it was, wasn't what 

They say. In the beginning,


We know, the word, but not here,

Land of the perpetually-flowering cliché, 

The rigid lip. Our fathers who piled


Stone upon stone, our mothers

Who stitched the hassocks, our cousins 

Whose bones lie smooth, harmonious around —


However majestic their gifts, comely their living, 

Their words would be thin like ours; they would join 

In our inarticulate anthem: Very Cosy.


From The Poetry Review January 1984.

Reproduced with permission from R V Bailey. The poem is available in U. A. Fanthorpe, New and Collected Poems (Enitharmon, 2010).