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Church, Richard Thomas

Category: Writer

Richard Thomas Church, by William Johnstone,
circa 1932

Richard Thomas Church (26 March 1893 – 4 March 1972) was an English poet and critic; he also wrote novels and verse plays, and three well-received volumes of autobiography.

The Flood of Life, his first collection of verse, appeared in 1917; some seventeen further volumes included The Dream (1922), News From the Mountain (1932), and The Burning Bush (1967).

Church's poetry reflects his belief in the poet's duty to frame accessible affirmations of permanent human values. Meditation, emotion, and observation combine to Wordsworthian effect in his best work. With the exception of the free verse of Mood Without Measure (1928), he almost invariably used traditional verse forms.

His career as a novelist began with Oliver's Daughter in 1930; notable among his numerous other novels are The Porch (1937) and The Dangerous Years (1956). The lyrically descriptive qualities of his verse are present in his fiction, which he regarded as continuous with his activities as a poet.

By William Shackleton

Among his other works are the biography Mary Shelley (1928); and the critical study The Growth of the English Novel (1966).

Although Church’s poetry is worth entry onto this site, what is of especial interest are three volumes of autobiography, Over the Bridge (1955), The Golden Sovereign (1957), and The Voyage Home (1964).  While young, Church had a mystical experience at a convalescent home, which he recounted in his autobiography, 'Over the Bridge', and which was also recounted by the British occultist writer Colin Wilson. And experience followed experience, as you will see.

The first volume of Church's autobiography, Over the Bridge (1955), was awarded the Sunday Times Prize for Literature; the novelist Howard Spring described it as "the loveliest autobiography written in our time," pointing out that the writer had "found life full of enchantment, and how not the least of its enchantments was its challenge." The second volume, The Golden Sovereign, appeared in 1957. That year Church was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.

Life

Church was born in London, and educated at Dulwich Hamlet School. He was a civil servant from 1909 to 1933.  He left the civil service in 1933 to write full-time and became a journalist and reviewer. His first poetry appeared in Robert Blatchford's Clarion, and he contributed verse to periodicals for the rest of his life.

His first post as a literary editor was with the New Leader, organ of the Independent Labour Party. He was director of the Oxford Festival of Spoken Poetry during the 1930s and his much-anthologised World War I poem 'Mud' first appeared in Life and Letters, January 1935.

Mud  

 

  Twenty years ago
      My generation learned
      To be afraid of mud.
      We watched its vileness grow,
      Deeper and deeper churned
      From earth, spirit, and blood.

      From earth, sweet-smelling enough
      As moorland, field, and coast;
      Firm beneath the corn,
      Noble to the plough;
      Purified by frost
      Every winter morn.

      From blood, the invisible river
      Pulsing from the hearts
      Of patient man and beast:
      The healer and life-giver;
      The union of parts;
      The meaning of the feast.

      From spirit, which is man
      In triumphant mood,
      Conquerer of fears,
      Alchemist of pain
      Changing bad to good;
      Master of the spheres.

      Earth, the king of space,
      Blood, the king of time,
      Spirit, their lord and god,
      All tumbled from their place,
      All trodden into slime,
      All mingled into mud.

 

References

Poems

  • The Flood of Life (1917)
  • Hurricane (1919)
  • Philip (1923)
  • The Portrait of the Abbot (1926)
  • The Dream (1927)
  • Theme with Variations (1928)
  • Mood without Measure (1928)
  • Mary Shelley (1928)
  • The Glance Backward (1930)
  • News from the Mountain (1932)
  • Apple of Concord (1935)
  • Twelve Noon (1936)
  • The Solitary Man (1941)
  • Twentieth-Century Psalter (1943)
  • The Lamp (1946)
  • Collected Poems (1948)
  • Selected Lyrical Poems (1951)
  • The Inheritors (1957)
  • North of Rome (1960)
  • The Burning Bush (1967)

Novels

  • Oliver’s Daughter (1930)
  • High Summer (1931)
  • The Prodigal Father (1933)
  • The Porch (1937)
  • The Stronghold (1939)
  • The Sampler (1942)
  • The Cave (1951) AKA Five Boys in a Cave.
  • Dog Toby. A Frontier Tale (1953)
  • The dangerous years (1956)
  • The Nightingale (1958)
  • The Crab-Apple Tree (1959)
  • Prince Albert (1963)
  • The Room Within (1965)
  • The White Doe (1968)
  • Little Miss Moffatt: a confession (1969)
  • The French lieutenant: a ghost story (1971)

Autobiography

  • Over the Bridge (1955)
  • The Golden Sovereign (1957)
  • The Voyage Home (1964)

Other Books

  • Calling for a Spade (1939) Essays on country themes.
  • Plato's Mistake (1941)
  • Eight for immortality' (1941) Essays on contemporary writers.
  • A squirrel called Rufus (1941) For children.
  • Green Tide (1945) Essays, mainly on country themes.
  • British authors : a twentieth-century gallery with 53 portraits (1948)
  • A window on a hill [1951]. Essays, mainly on country themes
  • Books and Writers (Robert Lynd) Foreword by Richard Church (1952)
  • The prodigal: a play in verse (1953)
  • Down River (1957) For children.
  • A country window; a round of essays (1958)
  • Small moments. Decorated with wood-engravings by Joan Hassall (1957) Essays.
  • The bells of Rye. Front. by Michael Hubbard (1960) For children.
  • Calm October, essays (1961)
  • The growth of the English novel (1961)
  • A stroll before dark : essays (1965)
  • The royal parks of London. With drawings by Victor Cooley (1965)
  • Portrait of Canterbury (1968)
  • Speaking aloud (1968)
  • The wonder of words (1970)
  • A harvest of mushrooms: and other sporadic essays (1970)

Observations

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