Alexis Lykiard

The road to the graveyard is greased. [Willie The Lion Smith]

As often happens when viewing some suddenly significant, if once only vaguely perceived milestone, reflections on mortality rise to the surface of consciousness. Where in younger days my impending birthday might have signalled a prolonged hangover - from New Year's Eve right through to its actual date, January 2nd - the year 2000 threatened to be rather different. Its approach meant my own sixtieth anniversary would immediately follow that far greater and indeed global anticlimax, the New Millennium.

Whether or not one will feel like celebration, I'd speculated a few months previously, there could well be a general sense of relief at having survived in the first place. "Look, we have come through", as D.H. Lawrence put it. Viruses of every variety may fail to wreak their deadly havoc; no longer shall we think to bury ourselves prematurely in bunkers, hide out in woods or on mountaintops... If, after all, Apocalypse is not now, nor even very soon, we needn't drink up in haste and repent our pleasure and ready ourselves for close of play. Yet perhaps it does no harm to anticipate the end, or at least some sort of an end. Without taking matters quite as far as actual dress rehearsal- lying shrouded inside one's coffin, like Donne - a little meditation on the purposes and ends of journeys mightn't go amiss.

'Last things' had been much on my mind since a visit to that great Parisian necropolis, Pere Lachaise. It was a sunny October day in 1999 and the leaves were beginning to be whirled down the long alleyways between the graves. A curious almost welcoming autumnal melancholy within the morning light itself seemed to lend trees and stones, marble, earth and mausoleums alike, an unexpected quality as, blissfully mild and serene, it suffused the whole area in intimations not so much of mortality as of utter peace. The thought occurred to me as an atheist that somehow despite myself I'd detected an oddly attractive aura about the whole gigantic boneyard. H.R.Wakefield's wonderful ghost stories may describe some urban cemetery as "Garden of Corruption" or "many-acred morgue", but no poetic coinage prepares the wanderer for such an expansive, extraordinary place. [1]

There was something very affecting yet hard to define about this enormous and truly democratic City of Death. Such feelings, however, had little to do with aesthetics, with nostalgia or consolation, nor with sentimentality, awe and advancing age. None could fail to be moved by this vast cemetery's multi-racial, multi-lingual aspect, for here are included all religions and nationalities; here lies every shade of belief or lack of it. The famous, the infamous and the ordinary crowded together; corrupt and honest politicians; heroes of every persuasion, right and left; communists, communards, martyrs, anarchists, deviants, suicides; the creative and the destructive; smug bourgeois beside scandalmonger, infant next to greybeard. Family plots and grandiose sepulchres, baroque memorials, grotesque monuments, pious, braggart or simply modest inscriptions... Poor and rich are all properly allotted space and place of rest, while the conventional, decent, logical French allow them their dignity and due respect.

Pere Lachaise that day was full of whispers and surprises. People were rambling around, either aimless or purposeful. Strollers or seekers, tourists and locals... It was Sunday, so some had come from nearby churches: these visitors were dressed up accordingly, they'd no need to consult the large maps at the entrance gates, and quite a few of them bore bouquets and wreaths. Various visitors remained silent. This seemed tribute to the overwhelming, truly awesome stillness of the location itself. Others by contrast made noisy and almost nervous smalltalk.

Who and how are these presences - absences really - to be recalled? Which chasms are we staring into, and of what last things do we remind ourselves? Here are found relatives and friends, dead poets and living legends, artists and artisans, simple and anonymous victims. These fertilise the continuing struggle for human freedom, perhaps ... The abiding impression is anyhow neither of creeds nor credulity: that whole multitude of incised memorial words movingly relates a greater, most mysterious solidarity, always broadly republican rather than royalist or religious. Given this unique and precious libertarian ethos -the loving comradeship of death -the living processes of memory must, from time to time and for future time, dwell on Resistance, Holocaust, the horrors of War... So here the flowers of history and of the present are visible, are renewed and live on - whether at the foot of that wall where the Communards were shot or beside the memorials for the International Brigades members killed during the Spanish Civil War. The flowers rest always there too for those casualties of three wars against Germany, starting in 1870. And onward, through every form of barbarity - hostages, partisans, POWs; the brave, the innocent and the helpless all alike -first tortured then executed. Memorials too for everyone slaughtered in the concentration camps... What else in this fine, private yet most public of places should we wish to remember?

The living must also, I suppose, celebrate their own continuing luck. Survivors, by contrast, with our relatively happy lives to date... We exist and endure still, while only too well aware of what lies ahead: the dilemma both simple and complex remains quite insoluble. No wonder I can't remember my previous visit! I just wasn't old enough to appreciate the place. How could any adolescent - let alone that distant, depressed, hypersensitive boarding-schoolboy I was forced to grow out of- have interpreted such sights, on such a site? What did I ever retain or recall of all this? Absolutely nothing: that temporal gap from sixteen to almost sixty had been a huge abyss, hi consequence I was visiting Pere Lachaise as if for the first time. I'd steered well clear of the place while actually living in Paris, in my twenties. You do, at that age, since you believe yourself immortal; you and your own world go on for ever. Only when those close to you start dying is your youthful blind faith in survival, your confident indestructibility shaken.

And in your youth you don't have much to remember, nor do you feel the need for remembering. Everybody's still with you, still around; you have that boundless present sense of energy and potential; you enjoy a present tense where nothing ever winds down, stops or disappears. But after the deaths the memories swarm. Then and only then do things get personal, and the process starts by which we genuinely grieve and desire to remember. As Senancour said of this early 19th century graveyard, the great bonepark at the capital's eastern gate - it would one day compose "a city of memories".

And yes, the gang's all here, Romantics, Surrealists, Classics, Avant-Gardists and Eccentrics... The relicts of Heloise and Abelard, Moliere, La Fontaine and Beaumarchais were moved here, and are kept company by Constant, Balzac, Nerval, Delacroix, Gericault, Ingres, de Musset, Chopin, Rossini, Bellini, Michelet, de L'lsle Adam, Corot, Daudet, Modigliani, Apollinaire, Isadora Duncan, Sarah Bernhardt, Proust, Gertrude Stein, Eluard, Max Ernst, Colette, Julio Cortazar etc. I was most delighted to happen upon the plain black slab housing the extraordinary "posthumous celebrity" Raymond Roussel (1877-1933). This wealthy analysand, proto-caravanner, opium addict and poetic pioneer of arcane language-games, who found some sort of solution in a problematic Sicilian suicide, rests in his family plot, ripe for a rediscovery which, this side of the Channel at least, never quite happens. A far more fruitful subject for research, anyway, than that rather better known homosexual, poor old Oscar Wilde, a mere twenty yards further up the same avenue. Epstein's winged messenger who hovers over Oscar has had his prick broken off: one wonders whether this vandalism was due to talismanic greed, pudeur or targeted disapproval? Maybe a memento story, impure and simple, was what was wanted. At any rate, a rash of lipsticked kisses has flowered everywhere else across the yellowing stone, strange patterns of pederastic pilgrimage.

Another equally bizarre object of veneration - the sexual politics here distinctly hetero, though of course its nineteenth century political context has become blurred - is the effigy of Victor Noir. Noir, real name Yvan Salmon, was the 22-year old journalist shot dead in 1870 by Prince Pierre Napoleon Bonaparte. (There ensued huge republican demonstrations, but the fatally argumentative princeling was subsequently acquitted: the time for the Imperial Dynasty to be displaced had not quite arrived...) Noir lies, near life-size - if not black as his doom or pseudonym - cast in bronze, with a distinctive mouldering, greenish quality about him. Somebody punctiliously brings Noir red roses or red carnations, and there are shiny patches on his likeness. These much-kissed areas, where the bronze has been buffed smooth by obeisance are situated thus: forehead, lips, flybuttons and toecaps. Apparently young Noir in his long-gone heyday was a notorious ladies' man. So the superstition still holds over a century later that, lads and lasses alike, whoever kisses the relevant bits of Victor will have luck fucking - be it for pleasure or procreation, whichever is desired. A greater, lonelier talent, Isidore Ducasse - whose own penname Lautreamont had brought him no literary luck - also died in Paris in his early twenties and soon after Noir, that same momentous year. Unlike Noir however, Ducasse has no known grave, nor a commemorative monument here, but he mentions Victor Noir in his Poesies. It was when translating this enigmatic work that I first (as it were) came across Noir. Others have evidently done so for years and quite regularly: purveying spit and polish of the stranger sort. [2]

Easy come, easy go. If such rituals are thought sad, weird or perhaps merely silly, then it certainly makes sense to give Jim Morrison's last billet a very wide berth. Detritus of all kinds, human and other, surrounds the wretched rock phoney's final habitat. Graffiti, rotting flowers, beercans, indifferent guitarists and used syringes litter the last gig... Why did the tolerant French let in this ungifted poseur? Morrison can't compare with the real singers hereabouts - those homegrown products, Piaf, Montand and co - but someone must have felt that premature death plus a few pretentious scribbles rated a small corner of notoriety, if nothing else.

Talking of unsung writer-musicians, underrated heroes not Morrisons, I learned only recently that Mezzrow reposes here too. The author of the classic autobiography Really The Blues (1946) died in Paris, having become an honorary Frenchman -just like his celebrated US expat friend and colleague, the Creole genius Sidney Bechet. Mezzrow's recordings with Bechet from the 1930s and '40s are blues landmarks. Their music brought joyous consolation, wildly inspirational poetry to the fourteen year old European schoolboy I was when I first heard it; Mezzrow himself, I feel to this day, deserves to be better known.

Had he done nothing else but supply Louis Armstrong for many years with marijuana thus earning the soubriquet 'Mezz' - he'd have merited a modest niche in music history, let alone my own awestruck adolescent affection. Now an 'honoured guest' here, Mezzrow was half a century ago a legendary guru for Parisian traditional and mainstream jazzers, championed by their colourful yet revisionist critic Hugues Panassie. Because of his dubiously Parnassian association with (to adapt the modernists' putdown) mouldy figures like HP, latterday authorities tend to malign Mezzrow's clarinet playing as limited, sour-toned, shrill and so on. This is too patronising by half. True, Mezzrow was uneven, but he participated in some highly emotional, hauntingly memorable sessions, and he left a fine recorded legacy.

The archetypal un-American outsider, Mezzrow also of course loathed racism and by his own account actually wanted to be black. His determinedly unconventional way of life, self-chosen exile and deep feeling for the blues all led him finally to suggest, if not incarnate, the 'White Negro' of Mailer's famous essay. So where's the headstone for this maverick muso and sparky misfit, Milton Mesirow (1899-1972)? Pere Lachaise seems a fine place for those spookily insistent, twisting accents again to echo; for that special reedy, agitated style of his, with its odd, acrid turns of phrase once more to rise and resound. What then of their stoned creator, our continuingly controversial jazzman? Refrains long "gone in the air"; remains hard to locate on this overcrowded patch of French earth... However belatedly, let's hear it for Mezz! A quatrain from Tony Harrison's 1987 funerary 'film/poem', Cheating The Void, provides for him a primly mellifluous epitaph:

  • And that, what's that?... A bird?
    Follow the leafy paths to track the sound
    and maybe find it's not a thrush you hear
    but Mezz Mezzrow's clarinet from under ground.

  • Mezzrow was fortunate: as a young man living through the exciting extremes of the 1920s, the first great classic age of jazz, he managed without compromise to survive. And survive he did, to a relatively ripe old age, excesses, successes, disasters and all. He'll continue to be discovered and savoured, heard and read. By contrast, that dull hustler Jim Morrison, striving to shock his way to an elusive stardom in what was by then the rock era's decadence, won't count for much or for much longer. One of those sad troubadours more talked-about than listened-to, unlucky Jim never really made it, and is probably more trouble now than he was ever worth. He represents a capital H hassle for the rubbish-collectors, cleaners and gardeners, while few of the locals, the relatives and the soberer, more intelligent visitors would have warmed to Morrison or his callow American acolytes the first time round. As for actually revering this superannuated avatar of Bullshit Immortal, forget it - these strange days the doors need to be firmly slammed!

    It's a dull Sunday morning, and a couple
    stop to ask me if I know where
    they can find the grave of someone famous.
    I point into the distance, and a
    light rain begins to fall on the forgotten.

  • [Jim Burns: Pere Lachaise]

  • The gates of memory had anyhow creaked open for me earlier that summer of 1999, just after my father's death. A sense of relief mingled with release was my only emotion. My father in Greece had been a wartime collaborator and he became when 'home free' later on in England, a domestic tyrant-in-exile. I was to hear nothing good about Greece, and the war and ensuing civil war were unmentionable subjects: so for better or worse I lost a country, a language and many early recollections.

    My father himself had died long ago as far as I was concerned. I'd not seen him for thirty years and didn't attend his obsequies: this was a man who hadn't after all bothered to go a mile down the road to my mother's funeral in 1963. The old conman duly disinherited me of course, but his real legacy to me has been priceless: in life I always do the opposite of whatever it is I think he would have wished. I've survived quite happily as a result. As for my father, he lived to the unholy age of 96, exploitative to the end, further accumulating and selfishly spending wads of money never rightly his to begin with, hi my view, therefore, I have escaped the dead-weight of a tainted inheritance: good riddance to it and to him.

    Looking through some old papers and notebooks, as one does after deaths and on approaching anniversaries, I located a journal I kept from 1964 to 1966, years during which my relationship with my father was especially fraught. Struggling to achieve independence and become the writer I wanted to be, I endured from him mainly a cold sarcasm which I sensed was envy, destructive criticism masquerading as 'advice'. More isolated than ever while trying to find my voice, my own literary personality, I experienced a certain need for mentors and examples. These necessary if then unacknowledged exemplars were of course the opposite of authority figures in loco patris. They might, though, be any kind of creative forefather or guide whom death had not diminished, who would live on for me, and from whom I could draw timely comfort and encouragement

    Neglected artists, autodidacts, black sheep, obstinate eccentrics, baffling misfits, battlers against the odds - theirs was the contemporary company to keep me warm! And to my taste best of all by the summer of '64, was that convivial genius Malcolm Lowry. Then still lamentably underrated, Under The Volcano and all - magical Male, alchemist of the word if ever there was one, alcoholic poet and experimental proser - became my timeless hero of literature and good cheer.

    I'd known his work since student days, when it was not even in print in England, but midway through my third novel I would make my overdue pilgrimage, go to see his grave, pay my respects to the unforgotten, unforgettable dead. And so back to a 24 year old self- re-entering my entry for 28 May 1964 - a time I lived in a tipsily steep and ramshackle attic flat overlooking the sea. Its address Lowry himself might have relished: Cambridge Road, Hove 2...

    * * *


    At 6 pm, after sunbathing on the roof reading Hemingway (it was still a beautiful day) A. suggested a drive out to Ripe, Sussex. I'd talked incessantly of seeing Lowry's English haven and last harbour and had even plotted out where the small village was. So we drove there, appropriately eating grapes & having to ask the way once. I knew the best place to go would be the pub (for information). We had a snack & a couple of drinks & the sun sank & I was beginning to despair as the barman was harassed (plenty of people in one small pub - coaches to nearby Glyndebourne?) & I couldn't find a way to talk to him. The drive had been wonderful - 2 little rivers, 2 dilapidated level crossings, meadows, trees, hills, cowparsley everywhere & cattle & hardly a house. Was it to be anti-climax?

    At last I asked the barman where "the Norman church" was (description in Prairie Schooner) & he said Ripe Church was nearby, but there was another he thought cd be older. How long had he been there? Was he there in 1957? No? Seemed like a dead end. Then I saw a middle-aged man next to me at the bar, wearing creased dark suit, who'd just bought a bottle of whisky. Turned to him as the barman moved away, and confessed that a great writer had died here and I wanted to find out where he lived & was buried. "Oh" he said calmly, "he was at the White Cottage. I live there now."

    I think we were both a little surprised: I was sublimely thrilled & amused by the coincidence! Of all people to approach, I found myself next to the owner of Lowry's cottage. We talked perhaps 10 mins about the man & his work & my enthusiasm for his work as writer. He sd Under the Volcano had been a difficult book for him to understand, but he'd since read a great deal of Lowry MS. shown him by Mrs L. & that the 85 year old lady next door remembered him well & had only last week been interviewed by Canadian television. She'd discovered some Lowry MS. too! "I'll show you the room where he died", he said, after we'd discussed the man & the myths & the way English writers had to die before recognition. -

    A. seemed quite surprised (she'd gone for a walk) to find me about to see the very house. We walked down a small path, appropriately behind the pub, smelling withered lilac along the wall. There was a big open field, grassy & golden with buttercups, and a pine & a laburnum also golden, & the small white cottage with blue windows and door. He led us inside - tiny stairs, bending heads. On first floor, Lowry's minute room - ceiling perhaps 6ft 3 - half the size of my attic in Cbridge Rd. The window overlooks this clear wide field dotted with gold, & beyond it the Sussex downs gently slope into the horizon. The sun was sinking & everything quiet. "A wonderful room for a writer", said our host. "A beautiful place to die", I said. We all three stood silent a moment before going downstairs.

    I thanked him (he said he drank too much!) & promised to return with an issue of Prairie Schooner. He's a journalist, he sd (or ex-?) called WJ.Burrough. (Bill, the barman called him, bit of an irony too...) [3] Longing to talk to the old lady, but didn't want to because of the TV people - it cd wait. A & I walked along to the churchyard. Incredible village, w. by the church a spreading chestnut tree & bench beneath. No people. Very quiet. Churchyard in a frightful state. Very long wet grass & weeds hid most of the tombstones. Yews. Slugs on the crudely shorn paths. All the stones were old or ornate or covered with moss. Went all around the churchyard without success. Finally went inside church on my own. Unremarkable interior, but I felt considerable emotion: it was a kind of pilgrimage for me, which I had to make. Stood & watched the sun pour in by the altar & wished & prayed to write a gd book & that ML was at peace & could sense there were some who hadn't forgotten him. Then I bought 2 photos of the rather ordinary little church (I doubt Norman) & wallowed about in the damp grass again trying to find the stone. I noticed a separate corner of the churchyard, with a broken grey stone wall bordering it. I walked through a gap in the wall and there, about the fifth grave along lay all that remained of Lowry. Headstone looked weathered and only said: Malcolm Lowry 1909-1957, the mound looked untidy, and was beside a newish stone which bore a fulsome inscription & had a jug of fresh flowers &c on top. Lowry's in contrast seemed terribly forlorn & neglected. Untidy, anonymous or nearly, no flowers. So I picked a few sprigs of cowparsley, some daisies, a handful of buttercups. Better. I felt I'd paid my homage & respects.

    A. came up at that moment, as if reading my sad & lonely thoughts (was this what it all came down to? Why did no others remember, protest against such waste - the irony of a man writing anyhow one great book & dying before leaving us more...) She'd picked some flowers, not thinking I'd have found the grave, then saw mine, smiled & laid hers there also. Walked away together in silence. Buttercups stuck to my boots. Drove quickly back to Lewes for coffee, sun sinking all the time, finally to drop like a great red boulder behind the hills. Marvellous unexpected trip that turned out so right: will remember that quiet room, that graveyard, that village... and will go back.

    [That 9 June I did]: 2nd visit to Ripe, this time on my own. Arrived about 7 pm., warm humid evening. Went into pub, as before. Completely empty except for barman. After 5 minds the first man to enter was Burrough who lives in Lowry's house. Again, nice coincidence. I said: "Come to see you again" & gave him copy of my poetry bklet. Had brought issue of Prairie Schooner too, but he'd seen it. Newspaperman for 40 yrs he said. Worked on Daily Express (financial side) & now had his own paper (didn't find out which!) No intellectual, but a friendly man: drank large whiskies & bought me another pint & we talked more about Lowry. Sd he'd take me along to meet Miss Winnie Mason his nextdoor neighbour who, with her sister, had been friendly with the Lowrys. We met her looking for him just outside The White Cottage & he introduced me. She immediately invited me in, though cooking supper, & made me feel at home.

    An alert 85 year old lady, very independent, beaky nose & round black-rimmed spectacles, grey hair tucked under grey hat. Her intellect & speech remarkable for her age. When communicating my interest & enthusiasm for Lowry she sat me down, gave me wine, & talked fluently about him. Now of course, can't remember the order, but here's what: Malcolm & Margerie's self-sufficiency - their happiness - his writing late -she'd type incessantly for him, he wd ask her opinion - his playing on the guitar, often when drunk - they didn't want to know anyone else - only about 1 other neighbour opposite to whom they'd talk. "Outlandish clothes" (ace. Miss Mason, self-confessed Victorian!), Canadian lumberjackets, etc. Lowry a real gentleman. His questing eyes. Miss M sd they were remarkable, always looking for something, some experience he hadn't yet had. (Death, I wondered?)

    Very warm, friendly, very shy man. She showed me wonderful photo of smiling ML, head cocked on one side, plus Margerie looking fondly at him, plus dog. He knew, ace. Miss Mason, that he hadn't long. Margerie tried to stop him drinking. He had attacks & went to London sometimes for treatment. He had 2nd sight, Miss M said, & worked on the poems in the end, because he knew he'd not have enough time to finish another novel.

    Margerie heartbroken when he died: she had a breakdown in the USA when she went back & is now devoted to editing his work. Was shown a v. affectionate letter from Mrs Lowry to her, talking about the new edition of letters, which are some of the best ever written, apparently - according to the publishers. Very many of them too, selection necessary.

    Lowry the doomed kindly genius. Everyone loved him. Miss M. agreed with me about false myths (cf. Dylan Thomas, etc) but Lowry a true writer, very conscientious & hardworking & revised incessantly. She thought there was something hereditary about his drinking.

    Told me the story of the last hours. Margerie came to her early in the morning. "Winnie, he's gone". She thought she meant "Gone away", but "Dead" was meant. He was on the floor - plate with food on it had smashed. Miss M. said it was heart rather than choking. And he definitely was not in bed, but lying on the floor. Used to have midnight feasts & work late. Mrs L. more or less collapsed & there was Inquest & "Accidental Death' verdict. "Allowed' to be buried in churchyard! Vicar sd it was all right. "Malcolm would never have committed suicide, never. There was no question of that." (sez Miss M.) She said she didn't know who arranged the funeral: ML's brother (hardnosed Liverpool businessman) didn't show up. Miss M. met him & didn't like him, I gathered.

    The Lowrys spent nearly 2 yrs there: looking at the peace & quiet of the place you can imagine an idyllic situation for writer & wife he loved who was devoted to him... The view, the birdsong, the peace... Ripe, the last haven. Was Lowry's voyage also one of escape (from his background?) as well as quest (for whatever it was he was always glimpsing?) A powerful man physically. (Esp. for a visionary.) Margerie a keen gardener. They'd sunbathe in the garden there, sort of private Eden. (cf. Do you like this garden that is yours? etc from Volcano.)

    The pilgrimage I made delighted & saddened me. Like Lowry's work, found humour & pathos & poetry in what that old lady said. Was also flattered she told me about those last 24 hrs which she said she didn't tell any of the reporters for the recording. She saw Lowry's work meant much to me (though she herself cdn't get on with a lot of it: "Those long sentences!") She knew he was a genius, quite simply, without reservations.

    So, mass of impressions. Too overwhelmed to note things down. Went inside church again, walked back to car. Noise of distant tractor, church clock chiming, smell of cut grass in churchyard. Pond, mossed with scum, nearby. The laburnum still flowering. Peace. Something like heaven, and hell too. Hell being the realisation there's a price to pay for everything good. After the realisation comes some kind of acceptance. All the effort is worthwhile, nothing is really lost or wasted, because everything falls into a kind of pattern, and ML wanted to find out what that pattern was. Postscript: Lowry's small, precise, 'classical' handwriting. Close-packed, ace. Miss Mason. Like the writing, she thought, of some well-educated readers, esp. of the classics.

    * * *

    Well, he'd been to Cambridge, at that. As I had. My handwriting in those days was larger and untidier than it is now. I'd no idea what lay in store, what dedication actually involved, what life and death might be about. I was a naive young man, having barely digested many years of useless information which I was all too eager, in one form or another, to excrete. I would need to unlearn most of what I 'knew', to live harder and rougher and leave academe well behind.

    Another remarkable overlooked artist - author of several fine books before he too met a premature death in the '50s - was the American, John Home Burns. [4] In my final Sixties journal, I see I've been reading his Lucifer With A Book. I note there that it's the only novel of his I'd not previously read - an "excellent expose of the academic system". I'd also copied out a quotation from it that seemed to me both "memorable and correct". In many ways it still does. "That was what education was: a visit to a cemetery made holy through tabus".

    We should escape as best we can, however, those fatal exemplars of living death or death-in-life - the pretentious hypocrite, the monumental bore, the whited sepulchre. They're wastes of time, and time is always too short. Graveyards nonetheless remain good places for reflection. [5] Life to be sure is elsewhere, but one needs now and then to recall or remark these increasing, overlapping hosts. They filled the past and still permeate the present, sifted finely if never finally, through earth, dust and atoms in eternal progression. Thus they meet the future, enduring anonymity, abiding by an endless absence.

    A long lifetime ago, Llewellyn Powys wrote a moving short essay entitled The Grave Of William Barnes. "Though I recognize it as a form of primitive ancestor-worship", this eulogy begins, "I always desire to visit the graves of great men who have brought enlightenment to the human mind." Such feelings aren't simply a matter of touristic tribute, sentimental fandom or romantic melancholy, although attention should always be drawn to any unfairly neglected talent. Indeed, if death is the only universal certainty, why be afraid to wander in its wake? We, the living, very likely visit cemeteries for reassurance as much as for remembrance. Such personal pilgrimages often enhance a continuing awareness that there exist hard lessons still to learn and debts to be repaid. The other, unknown journey is this way intuited if not yet confronted: willingly and realistically one can speak of the unspoken, in greeting that death which every individual must earn. It seems there are always appropriate occasions - certain special moments in our lives for paying due homage to the dead. Through them we may learn more of life and so do justice to our mortal selves.


    [1] H. Russell Wakefield (1888-1964). One of the best British writers of the supernatural short story. Collections include: They Return At Evening (1928); Old Man's Beard (1929); The Clock Strikes Twelve (1946), and Strayers From Sheol (1961).

    [2] Cemetery officials, perturbed by these disrespectful and superstitious goings-on, have now sealed off the grave.

    v. Mortuary Management, vol.92, no.3, Feb. 2005.

    [3] W.J.Burrough. Looking back, possibly I misheard or misspelt the name. And that perhaps he was related to the British artist Edward Burra, a friend of Lowry in the 1930s. But in that case the painter's name would surely have entered our conversation.

    [4] John Home Burns (1916-1953). Author of The Gallery (1947); Lucifer With A Book (1949), and A Cry Of Children (1952). Writing about him in 1964, Brigid Brophy called Home Burns "by far the most talented and the most attractively talented American novelist to emerge since the war."

    [5] Soon after this was written some almost apocalyptic gales swept France, during which millions of trees were felled. Pere Lachaise, too, lost many. I've not had the heart to revisit the place since. Adding to this sad footnote in May, 2004,1 was reminded it was the 200* anniversary of the cemetery's opening: life goes on, and so does death.... Earlier in 2004 too, Malcolm Lowry's latest and best biographer Gordon Bowker suggested (in the Times Literary Supplement) that "newly released police and coroner's reports throw fresh light on the death of one of England's least acknowledged literary geniuses". In other words, the latest available evidence now fuels speculation that Lowry's demise was neither suicide nor accident, but in fact uxoricide! Bowker's theory is horribly convincing, it must be said. Yet whether the 'solution' to the mystery be true or false, dissolution - the greater Mystery is certain. In the end, the title-truism of a (Cheyney or Chase?) pulp murder novel sums it up You're A Long Time Dead.