13 February 2010

The Funeral

The Funeral
“'Crossing is not as hard as you might think.'
I had not thought that it would be like this.”

I waited outside the Norman country church
with the pallbearers, standing under the yew trees
unwarmed by the low sun, chilled by the hoar frost.

Stamping their feet on the frozen ground
their breath hanging on the wintry breeze,
they paid me no attention;  I ached with cold.

They shouldered the heavy, oak coffin
slow marched step by deliberate step, knees
bent to enter under the ancient stone arch.  

I went with them, hoping to slip in
but as they paused in the doorway
the crowd of heads turned to stare,

Reproachful, tearful.  I made slow process
Down the aisle to the sole empty place
Reserved for me.

Words of welcome from the priest; a hymn
half-sung half-mumbled, a poem, a eulogy
from a friend described a man I did not know.

Another mangled hymn, the blessing,
we filed out into the bitter morning gathered
in supportive groups around the grave.

I watched from afar.  I had already departed.


  1. A well-written piece that’s bountiful of ‘gravitas’! A poem gives birth to a poem in a trance-like state. On the face of it, the departed pathway is cold and lonely. Yet upon examining the transformational first steps, the pathway is found adorned with warmth and new beginnings: the mystical sacred yew trees, sun, blessing, children, friends, family, arms around each other, supporting, gather around -– and so the departed is ever so present and never separate!

  2. FP - I think is really rather good. And clever.

    I like the way the surprise revealed in the last line was, we discover on re-reading, actually stated in the very first line. Clever.

    Eden Rock: I didn't know that poem - when I read the quote at the top I guessed Larkin.

    Something in your poem made me think of AE Housman

  3. Just came across this in a new Mary Oliver book.

    “Visiting the Graveyard

    When I think of death
    It is a bright enough city,
    And every year more faces there
    are familiar

    but not a single one
    notices me,
    though I long for it,
    and when they talk together,

    which they do
    very quietly,
    it’s in an unknowable language---
    I can catch the tone

    but understand not a single word---
    and when I open my eyes
    there’s the mysterious field, the beautiful trees.
    There are the stones.”

  4. I was just reading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essay No 20 ‘Nominalist and Realist’ out of his essays published between (1803-1882) I found some of the ideas in this essay were beautifully in congruence with the very clever well-crafted ending you chose for your poem! Below are the pertinent lines from the essay:

    - Emerson’s essay starts with these lovely poetic lines:

    “In countless upward–striving waves
    The moon–drawn tide–wave strives;
    In thousand far–transplanted grafts
    The parent fruit survives;
    So, in the new–born millions,
    The perfect Adam lives.
    Not less are summer–mornings dear
    To every child they wake,
    And each with novel life his sphere
    Fills for his proper sake. “

    - And then buried in the middle of the essay the following appeared:

    “…It is the secret of the world that all things subsist, and do not die, but only retire a little from sight, and afterwards return again. Whatever does not concern us, is concealed from us…
    Nothing is dead: men feign themselves dead, and endure mock funerals and mournful obituaries, and there they stand looking out of the window, sound and well, in some new and strange disguise…”