More from the siege of Exeter
“I pray for you, you know?” Fletcher whispers. “When I can. I ask God to release you from your suffering.”
Strelley’s eyes close, fighting back the tears that this simple revelation bring. “I have abandoned any prayers on my own behalf. You were wrong, you know, in the cathedral. I was asking God to look after you, after Longshawe and de Winter and Pike, and Andrew Shepherd. Elizabeth too, and my sister, and Caroline. Not me.”
“I was not wrong, Edward.”
“I have just told you-”
“That your prayers were for anyone other than yourself. I know. But it is my turn to tell you: you will not turn God to your side no matter how much good you do. You cannot bargain with him. Accept your fate, Edward, and abandon this hope that somehow, one day, you and Elizabeth will be together.” Strelley remains silent at this. “You might choose differently. You might say rather that you will take the gamble, risk everything for yourself and for her, and go to her. But your conscience says that you must not do that. Those are your choices. This, whatever it is, this strategy to win her by your good deeds… there is no third way.”
Poetry isn't really my thing. It is, apparently, some of my characters' thing, though, so I've had to be a bit sneaky and appropriate high-quality verse where I've been able to. In some cases, the appropriation is about right in time (Caroline de Winter's slightly pre-Shakespeare version of 'Doubt not that I love'), and in other cases it's been downright anachronistic, as when Edward Strelley writes the lines in imitation of Horace (punchline being: The joys I have possessed, in spite of fate, are mine.), which belongs over a century later. Edward Strelley's words that currently adorn the front page of this website are not (intentionally, at least) stolen from anywhere else. They come more-or-less directly from him, and although I typed them, he spoke them. Guy Fletcher stole some of Pope's translation of the Aeneid in one scene. So, for the most part, I'll have to leave poetry to someone else, and accept that if I can do anything well, that isn't it. I think rhyme, as evidenced by the small number of lyrics I've written in various bands, is next to impossible to do well without it being forced, and for whatever reason, I just don't have that skill, and I don't seem to be able to learn it!
So why 'remembering'? I haven't written a huge amount of personal stuff on this news page recently, but someone who used to read and appreciate this blog died fairly recently, and I had a terrible and difficult fight with myself about how best to deal with that. I didn't go to her funeral, and some bit of me made that decision for the entirely selfish reason that I didn't want to have the experience of the outpouring of grief, the unstoppable and unbidden tears that accompany that collective act of mourning. Some bit of me chose that for a positive reason, that those left behind on that day needed my presence. A part of me listened out for that little voice that sometimes makes its contribution, the little voice that, I think, resides in the same place in my brain as the various characters from These Matters, and tried to listen to what she would have said. It wouldn't have been straightforward, but I think she would have told me to stop faffing around, do what I thought best, and stick to it. She knew me very well, in the end, and I sometimes wonder what else she would have said, had I asked the right questions, or perhaps occasionally been more honest. We generally listen to advice only to find in it what we want to hear, and reject advice that doesn't meet this standard. Sometimes the best advice is just to reflect what the person who is talking has said or implied, and this was her great and under-acknowledged skill, seeing through to something of great significance.
The last line of Catullus's poem for his brother (atque in perpetuum frater ave atque vale), despite being wrongly gendered, has gone round in my head a lot since then. Perhaps finally, twenty-odd years after first hearing it read aloud to devastating effect by another student, I understand. There are a lot of bits of poetry that I learned then, knew then, but didn't understand, and I would like to be able to add to that canon. But I think of all the ways of expressing yourself, poetry seems to lay bare the soul of the writer, and because bad poetry can be so bad, one can't help but feel that sharing it risks exposing the inadequacies of the writer. But it is this attempt to capture the moments, or the feelings, or whatever it is, those bits of life that make us human, which could be as simple as the smell of a biscuit-cake, or as complicated as grief over a lost friend, mentor, and competitor, this attempt which I am in my own way undertaking even as I write this, that is what I am doing when I write. To express how it is to be alive.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought