Festival of Chichester patron Dame Patricia Routledge reads Keats’ immortal Odes to mark the bicentenary of their composition in a special night for the festival.
Poetry and Music with Dame Patricia Routledge, also part of the South Downs Poetry Festival, will be in Chichester Cathedral on Tuesday, July 9 at 6.30pm. Alongside Dame Patricia’s contribution, there will be stimulating new poetry read by South Downs poets and live music performed by Linda Kelsall-Barnett on classical guitar – all in the atmospheric setting of the cathedral.
“I am reading the Keats Odes which will be an enormous challenge,” Dame Patricia said. “It is the richness of the language, the music of the language, the profundity of his emotional and spiritual experience.”
In preparation: “I read them again and again and then I read them out loud.”
Dame Patricia finds herself helped by a lifelong love of poetry – a product of a time when poems were learnt at school and stayed learnt for life: “I do remember learning Ode to Autumn at school which is probably the favourite. It was de rigueur at school to learn great chunks of poetry. I do remember my mother would be cooking lunch and something would spark off a memory of some well-expressed poetic form and she would launch into a few lines of Morte d’Arthur and then get on with making the gravy!”
Dame Patricia recalls that it was through the poetry of Walter de la Mare that she gained her own understanding of poetry.
“I do think that modern poetry now is on the whole highlighted prose without paying attention to the technique, the rhymes, the rhythm, the assonance, the consonance. To me, poetry is about shape and form, and you get that with poets like Milton and Keats and Hardy and the great Seamus Heaney.”
Dame Patricia considers it tragic that poetry simply isn’t learnt by heart at school these days: “I think it is a wonderful discipline to learn a piece of poetry. It is a great comfort for later on in life. If you remember Terry Waite, it was the memory of the poetry and the prose and the Bible that he had learnt that saved his sanity.”
For Dame Patricia, Keats is certainly a particular favourite: “In this day and age we are more realistic and down to earth and even cynical, so it is wonderful to have one’s spirits lifted by romanticism, something which really is pooh-poohed a great deal now. But also it is the sheer beauty of the language. It is stunning.”
Adding to the pleasure are Keats’ Chichester connections. Dame Patricia says she was delighted to be invited to unveil the Keats sculpture by Vincent Gray in Eastgate Square, Chichester not so long ago: “It is absolutely lovely that you can sit down next to Keats, and it is beautifully placed across the road from where he stayed. You have got Keats looking down East Street towards the cathedral. It is lovely.”
Dame Patricia is also thrilled to be part once again of the Festival of Chichester: “I think it is a unique festival in many ways because it includes the whole community. It is a wonderful mix of full-time professional contributors and performers and local amateurs in the true sense of the word, and I think that is marvellous. You can leave the house in the morning and have a wonderful day with a whole variety of different activities.”