steepholm (steepholm) wrote,
steepholm
steepholm

My Duty All Ended

"Felix Randal the farrier, O is he dead then? my duty all ended..."

I see that I quoted from "Felix Randal" here the day after my mother died. Tomorrow it will be five months since her funeral, and it's another line - the first, in fact - that keeps going through my head.

The weather is to blame. It's hot at the moment, and the habitual thought, "I hope Mum's managing to keep cool" keeps getting triggered - and then I remember that it's no longer really a concern. And I feel sad, with a side salad of relief because I don't need to worry about her, drizzled of course with a vinaigrette of guilt.

When I was a teenager and going through the Gerard Manley Hopkins phase that I guess most teenagers have, my favourite lines from this poem were these:

How far from then forethought of, all thy more boisterous years,
When thou at the random grim forge, powerful amidst peers,
Didst fettle for the great grey drayhorse his bright and battering sandal!


I loved the sudden time shift, the Anglo-Saxon phrasing and alliteration, the unexpectedness of "sandal". That said, I didn't identify with Felix, because death was never far from my forethoughts, nor did I really understand the priest's perspective: why was his first thought "My duty all ended", as if Felix had been first and foremost a burden to him? It seemed a tad uncharitable. Now, though, I appreciate the insight all the more.

Incidentally, Isabella Bird reports that, while staying in Nikkou, she visited a classroom where the children recited the following verse - in part no doubt for its pious Buddhism, but also because (like the quick brown fox jumping the lazy dog) it contains the entire Japanese syllabry, or 五十音:

Colour and perfume vanish away,
What can be lasting in this world?
To-day disappears in the abyss of nothingness;
It is but the passing image of a dream, and causes only a slight trouble.


Apologies if I've earwormed you with that catchy ditty, but I'd love to see the Japanese original.
Tags: books, nippon notes, real life
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