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Friday, 6 October 2017

C. Day-Lewis, School Days in Sherborne, Dorset; Sherborne School; Blackmore Vale; Thomas Hardy; William Barnes



C. Day Lewis remembers his school-days (1917-1923) in Sherborne, Dorset

("As a writer I do not use the hyphen in my surname – a piece of inverted snobbery which has produced rather mixed results")  

“To the beauty and antiquity of this place I was for some years almost blind, just as the rich Dorset accents and the Hardy-esque names of townspeople – Penny, Chaffin, Dewey – were taken for granted, a background music to the disciplined and turbulent life of house and school…. The south-west wind, which carried upon it there smells of rain, wood-smoke and the cattle-market opposite…has had this romantic effect on me, both lulling and stirring. It came to us from west Dorset across the Blackmore Vale, over country whose varied loveliness I find incomparable now, but which then I saw little of and cared for less. We skirmished around this country on O.T.C. field-days: when the playing-fields were too hard for football, we went for long runs across it…Such employments did not commend the countryside to me.”

“When, this summer of 1922, I won the Barnes Elocution Prize, I knew nothing of the Dorset poet after whom it is named, except that the school Custos, Arthur Scott, had recited some of Barnes’ dialect poems at a penny-reading during my first year. Thomas Hardy, who was living only a bicycle-ride away, might have been an undistinguished native of Northumberland for all that many of us knew about him. These failures to draw our attention to such outstanding indigenous representatives of mind seem all the more deplorable….”


From The Buried Day, 1969.


"I think it is possible that a reader with a sensitive ear, a dispassionate point of view, and a thorough knowledge of the poetry of Hardy, say, would find as much difference as similarity between a poem of mine, influenced by him, and one of Hardy's own."  From  Preface to Selected Poems, Enlarged Edition, Penguin Poets, 1969.



It is strange to read how much writers like C. Day Lewis and David Cornwell (John le Carré) hated their days at Sherborne School. Neither of them felt that they fitted in; both rebelled against the institutional life, the 'false heroics' and 'facile', pious religiosity of the school in those days. John le Carré (1945-1948) left Sherborne School at the age of 16 ("11 years' hard labour in the English boarding-school gulag was enough for anyone"; "we were ruled by the rod, and by the athletes").

Sean Day-Lewis quotes another Sherborne School old boy, the distinguished documentary film-maker Basil Wright, "Being sent to Sherborne in 1921 was very like being sent to  a German concentration camp and I am not joking". Wright complains of bullying, mental and physical cruelty.

Other notable (literary) alumni include John Cowper Powys (1886-1891) and Alec Waugh (1911-1915).

"John Cowper, now known as Jack, was sent to Sherborne School, and he describes his experiences there with a sense of heightened and not always convincing horror. It is a classic tale of public-school nightmare, with bullying, beatings, flirtations and long-remembered injustices, and we see Jack in the process of forging his adult persona of orator and defiant clown. He learned early to use words as his armoury, and extravagant behaviour as a defence", Margaret Drabble, The Guardian
.
C. Day-Lewis is buried in St. Michael's Churchyard, Stinsford, Dorset. As Sean Day-Lewis writes in his biography of his father (1980), "Dorset was to become his nonpareil of English counties, and it is there that his mortal remains are buried...Hardy was to become Cecil's greatest literary hero".

"It was his wish to be buried near Hardy's heart" ("Wessex Has Their Bones", Douglas Greenwood, 1985)




Enforced cross-country runs and CCF drills  at school do not necessarily enhance one's love of the countryside as much as voluntary walks, rambles, even gentle jogs later in life! 


See also, past posting (November 2010) on Cecil Day-Lewis, Stinsford

Poets' graves

Walking Away

A reading of Walking Away

It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day –
A sunny day with leaves just turning,
The touch-lines new-ruled – since I watched you play
Your first game of football, then, like a satellite
Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away


Behind a scatter of boys. I can see
You walking away from me towards the school
With the pathos of a half-fledged thing set free
Into a wilderness, the gait of one
Who finds no path where the path should be.


That hesitant figure, eddying away
Like a winged seed loosened from its parent stem,
Has something I never quite grasp to convey
About nature’s give-and-take – the small, the scorching
Ordeals which fire one’s irresolute clay.


I have had worse partings, but none that so
Gnaws at my mind still. Perhaps it is roughly
Saying what God alone could perfectly show –
How selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.



The Graveyard by the Sea (Le cimetière marin, Paul Valéry)


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