Lay for the Day 31st
the eastern Church, today is the feast day of Joseph of Arimathea, the
wealthy man who requested the body of Jesus from the Roman authorities,
providing a new-made tomb for the burial, and spices for embalming.
has a close connection with one of the great centres of Celtic Christianity
in the British Isles, Glastonbury Abbey. (In the west his feast used to
be celebrated on the same day as St Patrick's, 17th March.) According
to Glastonbury legend, Joseph was Jesus's uncle, a merchant who brought
his young nephew to Britain on one of his voyages.
Messiah is said to have set up a shrine (to his mother!) on the site that
was later occupied by the great abbey church of St Marys. This is
the source for the famous lyric by William Blake known as Jerusalem.
part of the legend has Joseph returning to Glastonbury after the Crucifixion
and bringing with him the relics which are called collectively the Holy
Grail the cup which Jesus shared with the disciples at the Last
Supper and the spear which pierced his side on the cross.
is the patron saint of gravediggers, undertakers, cemetery keepers and
all such as deal with the dead.
Black iron torches turned down
on the pillars mean
That which feeds me kills me. Above, in a circle,
a snake holds its tail, grim sign of the eternal.
Soon theyll lock the gates and loose the dogs from the lodge,
a cottage-mausoleum, but theres fox-taint still
mingled with the warm humus of English jungle
and a feast of lairs where trees have toppled the tombs.
For a moment the wealthy may
make us obey,
with their final and funniest follies, their pleas
for contemplation, in epitaphs as queasy
as this tilted obelisk to all five children
of Mr and Mrs Long, capsized off Worthing
whose long bones lie with their little ones in the tower.
In waist-deep grass, past
head-high brambles, we stumble
on them. The birch and wild roses strike up through their
shady precincts, where stems lap over Wife of the
and Fell Asleep, Asleep, Sleeping in Jesus turn
to touch drunken heads with Daughter of the Above.
A plot of Anzacs, clipped
and swept, still hold their lines.
Upright, white as canvas, the largely empty stones
accommodate no cause, or birth, or loved ones thought;
only name and rank, and that date they had with death.
On the newest bed of chopped
clods a naked sponge
the flowers have fallen off spells DAD and a pine peg
puts him late in the race, nearly fifty thousandth.
The letters are careful, addressed
to an absence
whose edge has chipped few words from the composing hearts.
In an ash tree a thrush sings
over and over.
Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar