It was a fitting prelude to Charles Causley’s Centenary year in 2017 that a Causley poem should feature in the world renowned “Carols from Kings” service, along with poems from Rowan Williams and U A Fanthorpe in addition to bible readings.
The other two poets can both be linked to Charles Causley. Rowan Williams is a known, great admirer of Causley and he is to play a part in the Causley Centenary celebrations when he will stay at Cyprus Well in early December- and lead some of the events. Rowan Williams poem at Kings College was “Advent Calendar” – published in his first poetry collection in 1994 (“After Silent Centuries”) and later set to music by Peter Maxwell Davies as one of the 44 anthems in “Choirbook for the Queen” launched at Southwark Cathedral in November 2011.
U A Fanthorpe’s(1929 – 2009) poem was “BC : AD” – a typically robust and earthy description of the Nativity scene and picturing the lack of awareness of a great event by those present “This was the moment when Before turned into After…….”. Fanthorpe’s publisher and great supporter was Harry Chambers of Peterloo Poets in Calstock. He was also an admirer of Charles Causley and he published “Causley at 70” in 1987. Like Causley, Fanthorpe was also awarded the CBE(2001) and the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry(2003). She was a strong contender for Poet Laureate in 1999 but Andrew Motion was preferred – a Causley Trust Patron. When Penguin issued a second series of Penguin modern Poets in the mid 90s, Causley and Fanthorpe appeared together in volume 6.
The Causley poem chosen at King’s College was “Mary’s Song” – it came about half way through the Service which was an eclectic mix of biblical texts, poems and music which included “The Lamb” by John Tavener, “I Sing of a Maiden” by Lennox Berkeley, “Bethlehem Down” by Peter Warlock and “A Babe is Born” by William Mathias. “Mary’s Song” can be read on pages 291 and 292 of the newly published “Collected Poems for Children” (2016) and it carries its own John Lawrence illustration of the Nativity scene. The poem was not, originally, published as a separate work but as part of a Charles Causley play for children entitled “The Gift of a Lamb : A Shepherd’s Tale of the First Christmas”. The first performance was by the BBC Radio for Schools, in their “Lets Join In” series, on 2nd December 1977 – and published subsequently by Robson Books in 1978 and Puffin Books in 1980. The illustrations in the 1978 edition were by Shirley Felts and at the first performance the music was composed by Vera Gray who offered notes on how it should be played. Alan Kent’s book on “Charles Causley’s Theatre Works” of 2013(Francis Boutle) gives much interesting background and context to Causley’s often comparatively neglected plays. His first theatre works were one-act plays followed by the unpublished “The Journey of the Magi”, performed in 1940. “The Gift of a Lamb…” dates from 1977 after a long gap when poetry held sway. Most of Causley’s plays, including “The Ballad of Aucassin and Nicolette”, came in the late 1970s and the following two decades.
The Charles Causley Trust was delighted that Kings College chose to include a work by Causley in their very fine programme of words and music. The Service would have been seen and heard by many thousands of people worldwide and should encourage many to find out more about this great Poet and the celebration of his Centenary in 2017.
David Fryer, Chairman – Charles Causley Trust.