Bordeaux Bay

Bordeaux Bay
Watercolour by Tony Taylor http://www.paintingbreaksguernsey.com

Thursday, 18 September 2014

FIRE AND BRIMSTONE


Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, is reputed to have remarked: Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man, and it’s certainly true that early influences leave their mark for better or worse. The writer, Philip Larkin, was more succinct in his much-quoted poem, This Be The Verse, when he wrote: They fuck you up, your mum and dad./ They may not mean to, but they do. 
Back in the nineteen forties and early fifties, when I was growing up in Presbyterian East Belfast, the power of the church was absolute and God-fearing parents, with the best of intentions, indoctrinated their hapless offspring into the concept of guilt and of Heaven and Hell: the latter with its unquenchable flames in which sinners would burn for eternity. 
You don’t get over that easily.  

ORIGINAL SIN

Catechism came with porridge
on Sunday mornings, then. 
Question
and Answer. 

What is man’s chief end?

A lifetime later, adult, grown,
I have the forthright answer still:

To glorify our God, amen.

How those morning pictures linger.

With hair slicked down and parting straight,
scrubbed knees, nails free of grime, clean hands,
in Sunday Best, clean underpants
and vest, black brogues with Bible shine,
I went with hymn-book to the church,

then into Sunday School we trooped like little soldiers off to war,
while parents stayed for Hell-Fire words and promises of Satan’s wrath
that they, in turn, would promise us.

Grey were the Sundays of my youth: shut shops, shut faces, shuttered hearts.
A football kicked would damn to Hell. 
A comic read, a careless laugh, would be recorded in God’s book.
Guilt was instilled and mortal fear.
I haven’t yet got off the hook.


4 comments:

  1. A very powerful and moving poem Richard, well done. It reminds me of the reasons I moved away from faith as a child and young man, interestingly only to return to a less 'fire and brimstone' and more loving one later in life.

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  2. Young lives are such fragile things for parents to handle, and generation after generation we so often get it wrong. It's encouraging to know that faith can be invoked by the carrot instead of the stick. Thank you for your comment, John.

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  3. Wow, know that feeling well. Very well written, 'you have a way with words...'

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  4. My late parents, bless them, got a lot of things right but instilling an anxiety, that's lingered all my life, wasn't one of them. Clearly, you understand.

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