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Friday, 11 August 2017

Norman Nicholson: Interweaving faith and geography into a theology of place

Vising the Lake District has reminded me of another great Cumbrian poet, Norman Nicholson, who was born on 8 January 1914 in a Victorian terraced house in Millom, where he was to live for most of his life. His writing career stretched from 1940 up until the time of his death. He was awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 1977, and the OBE in 1981.

His poetry is noted for its local flavour, its straightforwardness of language and the use of elements of common speech.Norman Nicholson died on 30 May 1987, leaving behind a rich legacy as the greatest modern day Lake's poet. In St George's Church in Millom, you will find a specially commissioned stained glass window designed and made by Christine Boyce. It is inspired by Norman's poetry and has sections of some of his poems worked into the design.

Martyn Halsall says that with Norman Nicholson we "have a writer whose intense localism proved actually to be liberation, enabling him to interweave faith and geography into a theology of place that stretched beyond global warfare into humanity's war against our fragile globe; a prophetic prophecy with which we need continually to engage."

A post at Vulpes Libris notes that Nicholson "was a man of firm Christian beliefs, and that permeates much of his work – not least the title poem of Sea to the West, which vividly describes the Irish Sea at sunset." "The closing lines of that same poem provided his epitaph – carved on the headstone of his grave at St George’s Church in Millom:

"Let my eyes at the last be blinded
Not by the dark
But by dazzle."

As a result of my visit to the Lakes I'll shortly be reading two anthologies compiled by Nicholson; Anthology of Religious Verse and The Lake District: An Anthology. The latter including Nicholson's wonderful poem about dry-stone walls which is simply entitled 'Wall'.

Kathleen Jones writes in the Introduction to Norman Nicholson: The Whispering Poet that:

"Norman Nicholson detested the ‘cult of the picturesque’. His chosen space was in the edgelands between the Lake District and the sea. He is the celebrant, not of the emotions aroused by landscape, but of man’s relationship with the land, above and below ground, documenting man’s capacity to produce industrial holocausts, exploring geology and its consequences. Norman had great admiration for the poet William Cowper. He wrote a biography of Cowper and praised him for ‘showing the English country scene more as it really was and less as it was imagined to be’. Cowper’s was not a landscape ‘of mountains, torrents and romantic wildness’ but of a more commonplace reality. Cowper ‘celebrated the usual, the everyday, the humdrum’, and this is where Norman chose to place himself, turning his back on the mountains and torrents that formed the north eastern horizon, to focus on everyday life in Millom."


Norman Nicholson - September On The Mosses.

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