Thursday, September 25, 2008

Poet's Corner

It's four in the morning and I've been awake since 1:30. Guess ye olde jet lag has settled in. Whatever it is, I'm awake and thinking about Poet's Corner at Westminster Abbey in London. I love standing in the midst of the great minds of old authors hoping some of their ghosts will pass their genius along to me.

The most famous monument is to William Shakespeare and wasn't erected ujtil 124 years after his death. He's buried in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon. When the Abbey began burying famous folks, it was suggested his body be reburied there. But his epitaph made it clear his bones should not be disturbed:
"Good friend, for Jesus' sake, forbear
to dig the dust enclosed here!
Blest be the man that spares these stones
and curst be he that moves my bones."
So they built a statue instead. It shows him pointing with his left hand to a version of Prospero's lines from the Tempest:
"The Cloud capt Tow'rs
The Goreoous Palaces
The Solemn Temples,
The Great Globe itself,
Yea all which it Inherit, Shall Dissolve,
And like the baseless Fabrick of a Vision
Leave not a wreck behind."
(I'm not sure what all that means but Willie must have thought it was good.)

Many of the masters are buried beneath the Abbey floor, their names and dates engraved in the stone. Some have statues, like Wordsworth, and only the front of a bust like William Blake, which looks rather Halloweenish if you ask me. Jane Austen is one of seven women writers honored and she has only a small plaque that was installed in 1967.

Shelley and Keats are commenorated together. Shelley was initially refused because of his atheism but in 1945 he was linked to Keats by a marble swag. Lord Byron was excluded because of his scandalous lifestyle, but in 1969 he was given a floor stone.

Charles Dickens is the most visited. A floor stone covers his grave. The Bronte sisters have a wall memorial that states their names, dates of birth and death and below it is carved, "With courage to endure." Robert Browning is buried in the Abbey but his wife, Elizabeth Barrett is buried in Italy. John Milton waited 60 years before he was honored with a memorial bust that states simply, "Milton."

Chaucer, the father of English poetry, rates an altar sarcophagus; Christopher Marlowe, a memorial window in 2002. Handel, Laurence Olivier, Kipling. Names we all know and many more.

Being a writer, I decided I'd try my hand at a sonnet (written on the plane coming home.)

Good-bye, Britain
To your land of poets, palaces and queens,
To monarchs' fits of fancy, beheading, bedding and debauchery,
To glittering crown jewels and oppulant coaches that obscure the masses from your sight.
They've served you well and birthed our Eagle's Nest.
Thank you, Pilgrims, visionaries and Lovers of Liberty,
Pursurers of God's own plan.
Freedom has become our song, and bound by loyalty we wish not be released.
For holiday we visit you.
For living we come home.

Think I'll ever get a marble slab in the Abbey?

1 comment:

  1. I had forgotten Shakespeare's admonition: "Curst be he who moves my bones". Thanks for assisting me in brushing up my Shakespeare.