Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Prospero bettered

We talked about what lives on.

David Henschel's poem Prospero bettered quoted a line, I believe from Shakespeare, every third thought was my grave.

I think the correct line is every third thought shall be my grave, from The Tempest. In searching the internet for the source I came across the strange claim that Shakespeare's contemporary, the playwright Christopher Marlowe, had a fake burial in St Nicholas's Church, Deptford, with the implication that he didn't after all die in a pub brawl.

I mention this apparently irrelevant claim because, coincidentally this morning, before coming across this curious claim, I was in conversation with my sister and for some reason the song Dem bones dem bones dem dry bones... came up. I told my sister something she didn't previously know, that the words of the song are derived from Ezekiel chapter 37 in the Old Testament. I went on to say that there is a rather crude carving depicting all the skeletons coming together set into the wall inside St Nicholas's Church, Deptford.

(The carving is attributed to Grinling Gibbons, but if that is true then I imagine he was six years old at the time and was trying out his first pen-knife, because it certainly didn't look like the work of Gibbons to me.)

I also mentioned associatively that Marlowe was supposed to have been buried somewhere in the churchyard but the grave is unmarked (I looked).

So there we are. Did Marlowe die or did he live on? What of us dies and what lives on? Or as the Bible says, can these bones live? (Ezekiel 37:3)

Prospero bettered

Father and son walked by
holding hands
the elder balding, face lined, yet
showing in the boy's clear face
spring hair and summer-coming feet
as once he was.

At first I smiled at this; then
saddened by time's evidence my
'third thought was my grave.'

But who would languish there –
the fourth was like the first and surer
for the sense of what lives on
despite the single death: perhaps
to better Prospero every fourth thought
should be brave.

Confirming worth
came sun with shadow patterning
the present path.

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