Here is how I had thought to begin this post: "The News of the World has been particularly horrifying recently." But then I looked out the window.
Yes, the News of the World has been particularly horrifying recently. Witnessing evil at work is always dispiriting. (Yes, evil. There is no other word for it. And any attempt to "explain" or "contextualize" or "excuse" or "justify" it on theological, historical, political, economic, or any other grounds makes one complicit in the evil.)
I looked out the window and I thought of a gift I came across earlier this week:
An Epitaph upon a Young Married Couple,
Dead and Buried Together
To these, whom Death again did wed,
This grave's their second marriage-bed;
For though the hand of Fate could force,
'Twixt soul and body, a divorce,
It could not sunder man and wife,
'Cause they both lived but one life.
Peace, good reader. Do not weep.
Peace, the lovers are asleep.
They, sweet turtles, folded lie
In the last knot that love could tie.
And though they lie as they were dead,
Their pillow stone, their sheets of lead,
(Pillow hard, and sheets not warm)
Love made the bed; they'll take no harm;
Let them sleep: let them sleep on,
Till this stormy night be gone,
And the eternal morrow dawn;
Then the curtains will be drawn
And they wake into a light,
Whose day shall never die in night.
Richard Crashaw, Delights of the Muses (1648). A side-note: the final line has an alternative reading: "Whose day shall never sleep in night."
Roger Fry, "The Cloister" (1924)
Fortunately for us, evil can never harm Richard Crashaw and his young married couple, for they are imperishable. I harbor no illusions: evil, and its ever-mutating tyrants of a day, will always be with us. But so will Crashaw's "sweet turtles."
Think of it: after nearly four centuries, you and I have just helped to preserve and prolong the beauty of Crashaw's poem and the love of the young married couple. Evil has no say in the matter. The continuity of the human spirit is something that evil can never understand, and can never touch.
Who could have known that, three hundred years after Richard Crashaw, Philip Larkin would come along?
An Arundel Tomb
Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd --
The little dogs under their feet.
Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.
They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor's sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.
They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they
Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,
Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:
Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.
Philip Larkin, The Whitsun Weddings (Faber and Faber 1964).
I have talked about "An Arundel Tomb" in a previous post, so I will not discuss its particulars on this occasion. But I do wonder whether Larkin knew of Crashaw's poem. Given his knowledge of English poetry, he likely did. However, I prefer to think that Larkin knew nothing of the "young married couple," the "sweet turtles," and that he independently echoed, and provided his own lovely elaborations upon, Crashaw's theme.
Roger Fry, "La Salle des Caryatides in the Louvre"
Those who traffic in evil are members of the human race, but they know nothing of humanity. They know nothing of love. They cannot conceive of, and thus can never harm, the uncountable and continuous streams of life, seen and unseen, that the rest of us create and perpetuate on a daily basis.
Love Lives Beyond the Tomb
Love lives beyond
The tomb, the earth, which fades like dew!
I love the fond,
The faithful, and the true.
Love lives in sleep,
The happiness of healthy dreams:
Eve's dews may weep,
But love delightful seems.
Tis seen in flowers,
And in the morning's pearly dew;
In earth's green hours,
And in the heaven's eternal blue.
Tis heard in Spring
When light and sunbeams, warm and kind,
On angel's wing
Bring love and music to the mind.
And where is voice,
So young, so beautiful, and sweet
As Nature's choice,
Where Spring and lovers meet?
Love lives beyond
The tomb, the earth, the flowers, and dew.
I love the fond,
The faithful, young and true.
John Clare, in Edmund Blunden and Alan Porter (editors), John Clare: Poems Chiefly from Manuscript (Cobden-Sanderson 1920).
"Peace, good reader."
Roger Fry, "The Church at Ramatuelle" (1922)