I handed in my PhD yesterday, which was to lift a huge weight from my shoulders. 4 years work! My mind free, I packed my camera and wandered down to Edgerton Cemetery. The monuments were coated in a light frost. The air was crisp and still. I stood for a moment and could hear all the little sounds. A robin flitted from headstone to headstone, and watched me from the top of a stone wall. I could hear the thrum brum of its wings. A rabbit bounced along between the statues – bump… b…bump… b… bump.
An angel looked down on me. An epiphany:
A fog was hanging still in the air, and freezing. It was nice. Tranquil. I couldn’t see far through the fog, so I came across the monuments bit by bit, not knowing what was ahead. There is quite a range of monuments at Edgerton. Tall obelisks, crosses, an occasional angel, and some very beautiful and decorative headstones. As I wandered, I read the inscriptions on the headstones. ‘In The Midst of Life we are in Death’ took my breath:
It seems such a contrast. There’s an easy poetry to it, yet the sense is that death pervades life. I didn’t think about it at the time. It just struck me, and sort of dumbfounded me. It seemed strangely beautiful. The words sound easy, but the meaning is hard. The setting is also that contrast between art and death – the leaves, the ribbon, on a headstone, in a cemetery, a body underneath.
I Googled the text later. It’s from The Book of Common Prayer, and is followed by THE line:
“Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
The finality of that!
I don’t know enough about rhythm and poetry to understand how those lines work. I have taught and marked GSCE English Literature, and one thing students comment on over and over again is the rule of threes. I can appreciate that. If the line ended with ashes to ashes, it would feel incomplete. If it went past dust to dust it would feel overblown. I don’t understand why threes feel right though. Maybe it’s a cultural thing. Maybe it’s hard wired?!
The first line on its own seems really commonplace on headstones. It still shocks me:
I might become a wanderer of cemeteries. They are such peaceful places, and beautiful too.
One thing that struck me in the cemetery is that there are times when I love being on my own. To just wander around on my own with my camera! It’s one thing that brings everything together.