Saturday, March 26, 2005

And did those feet in ancient time? Well yesterday actually ...

If I’ve said it once I’ve said it several other times – synchronicity is a wonderful thing.

After a hard day’s photo-strolling yesterday, we found ourselves standing outside Bunhills Fields at sunset. We’d ended up there totally unintentionally at the end of a four or five hour walk across London.

The synchronicity thing cuts in because a couple of days ago someone posted an extract of William Blake poetry as a comment to my blog. The commentator had also mentioned in response to a reply from me that it would be nice if I could snap a photo of Blake’s gravesite next time I passed by.

Blake is buried in Bunhills Fields.

People have been buried in Bunhills (Bone Hill) Fields since at least the 11th century. Something like 120,000 people are reckoned the lie in the, not very large, four acre site (The trick is lay down a few feet of top soil every few years and stack ‘em in there, multi-storey car park style). Bunhills is a burial ground as opposed to a church yard and, for the last few centuries of its working life, the clientele consisted largely of non conformists or religious dissenters whose personal beliefs didn’t quite square with the Church of England.

Anyway, enough of the history lessons. William Blake, author of such snappy ditties as Jerusalem, sketcher of Red Dragons, seer of angels in trees and all round interesting chap is buried there. Only nobody’s quite sure where. He was buried in an unmarked grave and by the time someone eventually realised that such an all round interesting chap probably should have some kind of decent marker, no one knew which hole he was in.

So, the headstone in Bunhills isn’t the real McCoy. I remember experiencing similar disappointment for exactly the same reason staring at Doc Holliday’s ‘tombstone’ in Glenwood Springs a few years ago. But I digress.

Blake is still revered by many almost 200 years after his passing. This was evidenced yesterday by fresh(ish) flowers in front of, and a collection of pennies placed on top of, his head stone. The pennies are presumably there so that Blake isn’t stuck for change to cover his final ferry ride. Given inflation and changes in technology, a prepaid Oyster Card would probably be more appropriate but I guess the pennies have a more classical ring to them. Also, pre 1971 pennies would have been more suitable than the newer ones as they cover an eyelid nicely but they are hard to find these days and, once more, I digress.

This was not the easiest of photographic assignments. The light was fading, the stone isn’t situated in an aesthetically pleasing location and it has a signpost for a unisex public lavatory immediately behind it, plus I wanted to get the inscription, flowers and pennies all into one image. I plumped for a high angle, looking down perspective but was limited by the fact that I’m a relative short arse. In the end I borrowed a couple of loose bricks from Daniel Defoe’s nearby gravestone and stood on those. Wobbling precariously on my pair of makeshift stilts I did make the shot, but only just. I’m not sure what William and Daniel made of it all though. My guess is that, whatever the Ultimate Answer is; a higher level of existence or eternal oblivion, they don’t give much of a toss either way and I doubt if they’ll be troubling my sleep much.

As yet another aside, it’s fairly obvious why Daniel Defoe ended up in a dissenters cemetery; his resting place marked as it is by a far from subtle, huge phallic pagan obelisk, complete with a matching pair of stylised nuts at its base. But that’s another story.

Anyway, Mr Anonymous Commentator, here’s the picture. Made as well as the prevailing light conditions, my sense of composition and little legs would allow…

London – William Blake

I wandered through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every man,
In every infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear:

How the chimney-sweeper's cry
Every blackening church appals,
And the hapless soldier's sigh
Runs in blood down palace-walls.

But most, through midnight streets I hear
How the youthful harlot's curse
Blasts the new-born infant's tear,
And blights with plagues the marriage-hearse.


Anonymous said...


Blake also wrote in Gnomic Verses ...

An ancient proverb.

"Remove away that black'ning church;
Remove away that marriage hearse;
Remove away that place of blood:
You'll quite remove the ancient curse."

Needless to say, that didn't sit well with the CE crowd either.

Today, as I travel through life, I look toward 'home' with fear in my eyes, for like Blake, I've seen a place we don't want to go (again).

So I quote some Dylan for your visitors ...

"Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend a hand
For the times they are a-changin'"

May we all be so lucky and be buried in Bunhills Fields, Blake's work is not done.

Thanks for the photos!!

Stef said...

Yup, there are worse places to be interred but not just yet ;-)