Between the idea And the reality Between the motion And the act Falls the Shadow.
T.S. Eliot (The Journey of the Magi)
I wrote this poem, as I did several of my recently blogged poems, many years ago. In ‘A Death I Die’ below the sober thoughts reflect a dark mood, the reason for which I now have no recollection. For me, at the time of writing, they obviously represented the Shadow, that halfway house between knowing and not-knowing, between what is and what might be, between Eliot’s ‘the motion and the act’.
A DEATH I DIE
I have no heart for selfish love that starts and ends with flesh. It leads along an endless path, it binds, compels afresh.
There is a sort of death I die; Am killed and kill myself. I am alone in this. I am a willing suicide. I go on a journey bearing my own end.
This death is a habit, a nasty selfish habit I know and hate it. I both give and receive. The giving is good – but also a habit.
Receiving – an infinite regression. We plan the means and the end is all. Purgatory is the cemetery, time the resurrection. And All is planned that This should be so.
The souls of the dead are out for the night; Relieved of life’s burdens, no cares in their world. They’ve cast off their dresses, their suits and their coats. They’ve shed their repressions, their shrouds now unfurled.
Yes, the souls of the dead are alive in this graveyard They relish their freedom from exigent life. It’s a long time since spirits were body and flesh, And bound by a lifetime’s perpetual strife.
Their skulls and their cross-bones – now symbols of joy; No more are they bound up by sinews and flesh. At last they are free to enjoy independence, Instead of entangled in life’s viscous mesh.
The gravestones that tumble aren’t suffering from age, But signs that life’s shadows from death have arisen, And now are quite free to enjoy their repose; No longer locked up in Life’s sepulchral prison.
‘Tis weird to think that those re-incarnated Are liking their life in the desolate grave. They’re loving their freedom to scare and to haunt To curdle the blood and to panic the brave.
The ghosts of the past are there in the air And hugely enjoying their spirited life Their terminal death has brought to an end Their fear of the gun, the rope and the knife.
They’re dancing on graves where their bodies were buried Carousing as though not a netherworld care ‘Tis different from life all bedevilled with worries Less urgent and pressing than work to be fair.
They hide when the day comes of course, as you know, They do need to re-charge their unworldly spirits To ready the next bout of haunting and mirth For them now there aren’t any rational limits.
Crepuscular light is enough for their congress With help from the thunder, the wind, and the lightning, They frolic and haunt, enjoying the moment; The wraiths, spooks and demons intent on their frightening.
The banshees and devils all join in the fun, The shades and the vampires, the ghouls and the phantoms, The wraiths with the zombies, kelpies and ghosts Give vent to their passions in furious tantrums.
So do not despair when you‘re laid in the ground A new life will certainly sprout from your ashes A life full of spirit, of new spectral bliss A bonus when mortal life finally passes.
The photographs used to illustrate this poem were all taken by me over a period of several years at churchyards in Surrey and in Devon, U.K.
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone, Silence the pianos and with muffled drum Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead, Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves, Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West, My working week and my Sunday rest, My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song; I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one; Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun; Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood. For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Auden composed two versions of this poem. This, the most popular version, was composed in 1938. It was written to be sung by the soprano Hedli Anderson in a setting by Benjamin Britten. It is now frequently used in funeral services, particularly since It was widely popularised in the 1994 British romantic comedy film ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’.
The pen and wash drawing above was made by me in 200. It is of Auden when in his sixties.
Photograph of Spencer at work inCookham Village … by WHB . . . 1957
Stanley Spencer, CBE RA (1891 – 1959)was an English painter. Shortly after leaving the Slade School of Art, Spencer became well known for his paintings depicting Biblical scenes occurring as if in Cookham, the small village beside the River Thames where he was born and spent much of his life. Wikipedia
The sleepers awake from an imagined death A teasing adventure in insubstantial earth
Pram pusher extraordinaire in the Village that lit up his life inspired his vision Trundled easel hearse put to work in progress To see, to feel, to breathe destiny on the village green The past become the present resurrected in tranquillity Life-lite under the churchyard yew this moulded flesh – full featured bringing joy from the stern grave Life’s resurrection imagined in hope and the churchyard in his eyes and his pigment Drawn and deified Death and Resurrection as Spring As buttercups in the greenest of fields.
The sleepers awake from an imagined death A pleasing adventure in insubstantial earth
Stanley Spencer: ‘The Resurrection, Cobham … 1924-27. Tate Gallery
as more mute shadows come and go so my life does ebb and flow clinging disturbingly with my every motion not prepared to let me go until at some time not yet determined in the day’s misty murkiness I will merge with the darkness along with life’s shrouded meaning to await that time which surely will arrive for the putting out of the light and the beginning of death’s adventure
The toppled torso tired and torn lay in the Church Street window Snapshot of fallen glory now in tired languor seeking to hide from view attempting to forget its past Once peacock proud And prettified full-fashioned Embellished and brocaded Bedecked in yesterday’s mode Reduced now to a fallen dusted death Memento Mori Of yet another High Street death