This poem appears in the Spring 2016 issue of Modern Age. To subscribe now, go here.
From Melton Mowbray south, you drive yourself,
alone, to Burrough on the Hill. You park,
hike up, your mind on visits years before,
your rucksack on your shoulder, holding seeds,
a token. Autumn sunlight, mixed with clouds,
affords fine prospects over Leicestershire.
The hillfort and its great green trapezoid
of Iron Age ditches, ramparts, counterscarp,
its marlstone, varied hues of ores, its ridge
and furrows tracing out medieval fields,
impose millennia of history,
denying time experienced—a day,
a life, a death. But magnifying, too.
That is your purpose: timelessness, or what
comes close to it. Old joys rekindle, quick
and poignant—pools of water on the shore
where memory shines its light; a thought of stars
more brilliant for the darkness, measureless,
that sets them off. —No excavations now;
it’s quiet, as if honoring the rite:
his body burnt, new ash, green laurels still.
A shudder seizes you, a chill, or grief;
yet something like a smile redeems the dread
of nothing. —On the Clifton Bridge, which spans
the Avon, son and daughter walk mid-point
to the abyss, a gin-and-tonic each
in hand—his preference—to salute once more
vir probus, father, friend extraordinaire.
The moment comes: you cast to east and west
as by a Mesolithic ritual
the hope of flowers and grain; they drink, then toss
their glasses toward the chasm. Hail and farewell.
To you, a singer, gardener, and muse,
who gather up the emblems of his fame
and evidence of love, by wifely ruse,
arrange his final sheaves, and keep his name,
these lines of homage go, a “tomb,”
a celebration wistful with regret,
averring that, beyond the body’s doom,
the music of the mind may echo yet.
Thus Mallarmé remembered Edgar Poe,
“Lui-même, forever”; toasted Gautier, well;
and Couperin devised a muse-tableau,
Corelli’s master tribute. So Ravel,
to honor Couperin and for a friend
undone in war, composed their double tomb,
exquisitely. Such music has no end,
the fates reweaving patterns on their loom.
Be consolate; he’s left his labours, free,
and rambles in the shadows of a glade,
where letters flourish by Apollo’s tree—
conversing, listening, himself a shade.