Stanley Spencer at
‘Angels and Dirt’: an exhibition at the Hepworth Gallery,
Wakefield, June-October 2016.
On the grubby streets of Cookham
Angels can appear, to bless
Figures clumsy and dishevelled
And imperfect. Spencer revelled
In sheer human messiness.
See his people and you know they
Laugh and fight and swear and fart
And cry out wildly to their Saviour.
But we are on our best behaviour;
We have come to look at Art.
We are pilgrims to the Hepworth:
Our smart-casual clothing states
We’re cultured persons, and have come
From no Spencerian rural slum
But mostly from quite choice estates.
Here he paints the Day of Judgement
When all Cookham’s dead will rise;
Well-used flesh back on their bones,
They push away constricting stones
To view the world with opened eyes.
How solid are these people who
Draw happy gulps of wondrous breath!
Not just thin souls but bodies thrive,
Again most humanly alive,
Rejoicing in transcending death.
Between us and such vivid pictures,
Is there a slight awkward tension?
For us, too modern to believe,
Do these scenes seem a bit naïve -
Perhaps a cue for condescension?
But then I see a young attendant,
Smart and upright on her chair
I notice how her nose is shaped...
Why! That’s a nose-shape that's escaped
From Spencer’s ‘Wedding’ over there!
And that man with head cocked sideways,
Listening to his audioguide,
Stands oddly, like this painted lout,
And that thin woman has the pout
Of that ecstatic village bride.
In our world his world finds echoes;
Unsparingly but with affection,
He paints us too, and, generous,
He offers all, and even us,
In all our wayward imperfection,
A chance to see ourselves transformed
As in a wonderful reflection,
And for a moment share his dream
That we too, daft as it might seem
Might just be worth the resurrection.
If you have any comments on this poem, George Simmers
would be pleased to hear from you.