Show themes

‘rhythm and line and necessity’

John Riley and Czargrad

The poet and editor John Riley was born in Leeds in 1937 and after National Service in the Royal Air Force was educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge, between 1958 and 1961. He took employment as a schoolteacher before leaving the profession to concentrate on literary work. He was killed in a street robbery in Leeds in 1978, aged 41. John Riley’s literary papers were generously donated to Cambridge University Library by his wife, Carol Riley Brown, in 2013.

Czargrad holds a central place in Riley’s work. Writing in PN review in 1981, Douglas Oliver called it Riley’s ‘broadest, most comprehensive poem’, evoking ‘an imagined, pristine, Eastern Orthodox city, shining a little with Byzantine gold, ambiguously holding out promise of true government, of true citizenship, and held in mind-sight by tremulous energies of artistic creativity.’ The poem, written in four parts in the years preceding Riley’s reception into the Russian Orthodox Church in 1977, uses incantatory language to interweave English and Eastern scenes with recurrent imagery of wings, water, flowers, leaves, domes and light.

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