This has been the most momentous time with the death of The Queen and the accession of King Charles. I watched the extraordinary spectacle of the coffin travelling from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall, the scarlet and gold of the troops, the funeral marches from the massed bands, the black horses and the Imperial Crown on its purple cushion.
Then behind the coffin were the four siblings marching in time like everyone else to the metronome of the muffled drums. It is so strange really to witness the juxtaposition of the state ceremonial with the private grief of those who had lost their mother.
As usual the devil is in the detail, the choreography of The Queen’s pallbearers as they transferred the coffin from the gun carriage to Westminster Hall was amazing. The Hall itself, 900 years old, commissioned by Richard ll with its double barrelled roof is certainly a fitting place for the hundreds of thousands of people who want to pay their respects.
Many people in the queue said it was like losing their granny even though they didn’t know her. I think these national moments of grief bring back our feelings for all the people we have lost over the years. I vividly remember the funerals of my mother and father who died more than 30 years ago and the strong desire one has to give them a good send off, to stand up straight and proud behind the coffin.
There were lots of letters those days that we all read at the breakfast table and inevitably made us cry, in a good way. Sometimes only a good howl will do.
I particularly love this poem written by the Roman Christian poet Prudentius, born in 348 and translated by Helen Waddell, that was read at my father’s funeral.
The Burial of the Dead
Take him, earth, for cherishing,
To thy tender breast receive him,
Body of a man I bring thee,
Noble even in its ruin.
Once was this a spirit’s dwelling,
By the breath of God created.
High the heart that here was beating,
Christ the prince of all its living.
Guard him well, the dead I give thee,
Not unmindful of his creature
Shall he ask it: He who made it
Symbol of his mystery.
Comes the hour God hath appointed
To fulfil the hope of men,
Them must thou, in very fashion,
What I give, return again.
Not through ancient time decaying
Wear away these bones to sand,
Ashes that a man might measure
In the hollow of his hand:
Not through wandering winds and idle,
Drifting through the empty sky,
Scatter dust was nerve and sinew,
Is it given man to die.
Once again the shining road
Leads to ample Paradise;
Open are the woods again
That the serpent lost for men.
Take, O take him mighty Leader,
Take again thy servant’s soul,
To the house from which he wandered
Exiled, erring long ago.
But for us, hap earth about him,
Earth with leaves and violets strewn,
Grave his name and pour the fragrant
Balm upon the icy stone.
One has to hand it to Shakespeare and in particular Hamlet that has all the best lines including this one that King Charles used in his tribute to The Queen.
May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.