Lancashire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Steve Whitaker
Literary Editor
8:31 AM 31st October 2023

Poem Of The Week: The Bells of Heaven By Ralph Hodgson (1871-1962)

The Bells of Heaven

‘Twould ring the bells of Heaven
The wildest peals for years,
If Parson lost his senses
And people came to theirs,
And he and they together
Knelt down with angry prayers
For tamed and shabby tigers,
And dancing dogs and bears,
And wretched, blind pit-ponies
And little hunted hares.

Image by Amy from Pixabay
Image by Amy from Pixabay
It matters not a whit whether you share the poet Ralph Hodgson’s double-edged enthusiasm for the pulpit. That the Church in ‘The Bells of Heaven’ represents one half of an attitude towards a pecking order that relegated animals to the bottom of the list of metaphysical evaluations, is only matched by the kind of ‘people’ whose disinterest in this inventory of, often working, beasts was applied with proportionate brutality, in the fairgrounds, zoos and mines of the corporeal world.

Hodgson was keen on animal welfare; an expert in the breeding and maintenance of bull-mastiffs, his poem was speaking to an audience of sympathisers in a nation of supposed dog-lovers. And it is no surprise to find that ‘The Bells of Heaven’ regularly makes the Top 100 in populist poetry charts, for today’s audience shares much the same sentiment.

Which is no detriment to the poem, whose humour and jaunty rhythm make a pointed irony of the serious business of institutionalised animal cruelty. Hodgson’s tone is construed rather in the manner of the Victorian poet, Arthur Hugh Clough, who could skewer an iniquity with a sharp satirical blade. The final lines of this unambiguously partisan poem nail the poet’s colours firmly to the mast.

The Bells of Heaven’ is taken from The New Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1950, published by the Oxford University Press (1972)