Wrestling ......... 'not so much fights As long immobile strainings that end in unbalance'.........



When tidying the wrestling material on my bookshelves, I came upon a seemingly alien species: a slim volume of poems by Philip Larkin entitled "High Windows". Larkin had been a major poet after the Second World War, and I remember teaching his "Whitsun Weddings" collection to A level students.

Wrestling in literature is a rarity, but I remember at school the twitch I had when I read in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales that the mighty Miller "At wrestling he would have away the ram" and then years later watched a Breton carrying a big lamb around the ring on his shoulders as the winning wrestler.

Shakespeare's "As You Like It" has always been a favourite play, partly because of its rural and romantic themes, but also I had to support the young hero, Orlando, as he won Rosalind's heart by felling Charles, the Duke's wrestler.

Shakespeare also knew about hiping, for in two plays characters refer to having their adversaries "on the hip".

Sir Walter Scott and the Ettrick Shepherd, James Hogg both knew about Cumberland Wrestling and included it in their work. Hogg was a keen supporter of rural pursuits and organised the annual St Ronan's Games where wrestling featured. In his "Love Adventures of George Cochrane" published in 1820, the heroine's father organised a nightly wrestling match to decide who would court his daughter. The book was considered so racy by the clergymen who seemed to do so much of the editing in those days, that it is not included in Hogg's complete works.

Philip Larkin had also direct contact with our wrestling, for one of the major poems in his slim volume is "Show Saturday" written after a day spent at Bellingham Show in 1973. The poem has a wealth of humorous and affectionate detail of the day: the sheep show (Cheviot and Blackface), industrial tent, chainsaw competition; "a beer-marquee that half-screens a canvas Gents... folk sit around on bales Like great straw dice."

And then "The wrestling starts, late; a wide ring of people, then cars, Then trees". The wrestlers:
........."hug each other; rock over the grass,
Stiff-legged, in a two man scrum. One falls: they shake hands.
Two more start, one grey haired: he wins, though. They're not so much fights
As long immobile strainings that end in unbalance
With one on his back, unharmed.

The main theme of Larkin's poem which emerges in the last lines is that the showfield may be dismantled, but
"Let it stay there like strength....
...... something they share
That breaks out ancestrally each year into
Regenerate union. Let it always be there

..............And so say all of us. Happy Christmas.


Written by Roger Robson..... © Photographs by Roger Robson, Jill Robson, Julian Richardson or Linda Scott (2014)
Carlisle Wrestling Club December Senior Points Night
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