Sunday, January 20, 2008


In memory of Mollie

My great aunt Mollie has died. She had lived with Alzheimer's for many years, and spent the last eight years in a nursing home. A former nurse herself, she looked after the other residents, reassured them if they had to go to hospital, and was a firm favourite among the staff for her sunny nature. Apparently she used to believe she was living in a serviced hotel! It was always a pleasure to see her, her face wreathed in smiles, happy to have a visitor even if she wasn't certain who we were.

Nursing homes get a lot of bad press, but I won't hear a word against this one. One carer even came in on her day off to sit with Mollie's head in her lap, even though she was on morphine and not necessarily aware of her surroundings. It's an image that touches me profoundly. When Mollie passed away, all the staff were there with her.

Dad and I took Grandpa up to see her one last time, and I'm very glad we did, reconnecting with one of Dad's cousins who I haven't seen for years. But as I write this, we're trying to find out what kind of a person Mollie was. No-one is sure where she was born. We don't know quite which hospitals she worked at and when. Our memories are uncertain, half-remembered scraps of fact filled out with supposition. What we remember of her is her welcoming smile, the polite way she wouldn't smoke in your house, and her genial good humour. I remembered the last, triumphant line of Larkin's poem, "What will survive of us is love" - and despite his tentativedoubt in the penultimate line, it's that conclusion that stays with me. I suppose our family are "the endless, altered people," looking back, rather than reading her past. But her "remaining attitude" is the "final blazon" - it's love that survives.

So, in tribute to Mollie, a lovely person I never knew as well as I'd have liked to, I give you "An Arundel Tomb."

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His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.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 no 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 grass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-littered 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

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I love this poem too!

Have you ever been to see the tomb itself? Picture here.
No, I never have - but thanks for the link! Now I'm back in England I plan to explore more. We have a lot of Pevsner books with details of all the interesting churches, though...
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