This is by way of being my contribution to Steven's meme A Transformative Moment, at which blog, if you care to pop over (later, of course, after you have read mine) you can catch up with the other responses. I did begin by thinking that I should break away from art and poetry and all that jazz on this occasion, be less boring and come up with something less predictably me. However, having excluded all those moments which are either too personal or too much involving others, those involving mainly close family others - those, in other words, that I am not prepared to air in public - and having considered carefully all those that remained - or as many of those that remained as I could recall - I found myself forced to the conclusion that one moment towered above all the others. A longish moment as moments go, to be sure, but whose measuring? And - would you believe - a moment to do with art. And worse than that, one on which I have blogged before, though not in these terms. All the same, wrapping up any discussion there might have been on the topic: I am boring. Q.E.D.
As a small boy I had a lot of ill health and spent a lot of time in bed. In the main I kept myself occupied by drawing and painting. Mostly this would consist of copying from books or magazines, sometimes getting members of the family to pose for me, and occasionally - though, looking back, surprisingly infrequently - drawings distilled from my various fantasies. There was some contact with art work in reproduction, though this was almost completely Victorian art.
I also made my first unsatisfying attempts to write verse. Jingles mostly. Rhyming, of course. None of it worth a grow's kneecap, except that it helped to keep me sane.
When I was well enough to do so I would wander anywhere there were plants or trees to be seen: the garden, the common, other boys' gardens. Trips to the seaside were occasions of intense delight in all the flora and fauna of beach and rock pools.
Another aspect of life that was important to me at the time was church. Perhaps because it spoke of a reality beyond the one that I was finding frustrating. At a very early age I became an altar boy - possibly, had I not had such a dreadful voice, I would have joined the choir, but that was an impossibility.
And then, at some point, I was taken to The Tate Gallery. I say "taken", though I can't remember who took me. I can't recall, either, how old I was. I am sure, though, that I was too young to have been allowed to take myself. What I do remember is seeing the Samuel Palmers, The William Blakes and the Graham Sutherlands. Obviously there were others. They were a revelation. I was, in modern parlance, gob smacked.
I don't remember all the individual works I saw, but I remember their affect upon me.
I remember the Blakes particularly because there was poetry and painting locked in each other's arms and enhancing each other. Almost neither poetry nor painting, but some new art form I had never before encountered.
I remember the Sutherlands particularly because there I was seeing clearly expressed what I had sensed fleetingly in my mooching about on common and foreshore: that the shape and texture of something like a moss-covered stone can give intimations, not only of everyday reality, but of another reality that is mysterious but is not quite mystical in the churchy sense.
I remember the Palmers particularly because they seemed to speak directly to something inside me. It was to do with a third type of reality, an inner one.
I do believe now that the experience was the first step on a what would be a long road to Wallace Stevens's position: to thinking that in many ways and for many people - including at the moment myself - poetry has replaced formal religion.
The images below, in order, are of paintings by Samuel Palmer, Graham Sutherland and William Blake.
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