As the eyes of the world focus on London and Westminster Abbey for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, we shall drown in the commentary of this moment and of all those other moments of history featuring the Monarchy. I recall at the age of 6 or 7 (1963?) walking with my whole primary school, from the school to the harbour of Carrickfergus to join with other primary schools lining the harbour and streets with flags at the ready to welcome the Queen as she came from the Royal yacht Britannia to our small harbour to use the same landing stones as William III (William of Orange) did, in 1690! (surely a most inappropriate image, shame on those who made it happen. Prince William, now Prince of Wales, also carries the title Baron of Carrickfergus). Commentators will not be short of words to describe the beauty of Westminster Abbey and all those whose names, graves and busts, are to be found there. Today, I would like to share two poems, The first is by William Wordsworth which I recall having to learn by heart while in high school. The second is by Mathew Arnold about his father Thomas Arnold who is buried at Rugby Chapel, Rugby School. All three, Wordsworth, Thomas and Mathew Arnold have memorials in Westminster Abbey. Take a moment to enjoy the beauty of Wordsworth’s sonnet, written we believe while he gazed on the city while standing upon Westminster Bridge in 1801/2. Arnold’s elegiac poem recalling his father as he visits Rugby Chapel some 15 years after the actual death of his father. Arnold raises important questions about life and legacy. If you are exhausted by all the exaggerated pomp and circumstance of Britain then take a quiet moment to read these poems and ponder the beauty of their words and the sense of humanity’s purpose captured by Arnold. The latter’s poem is long, so please forgive my abridged version. For the full poem please use the link https://www.poeticous.com/matthew-arnold/rugby-chapel
I wish to refrain from over explanation and too much commentary. This is a moment for prayers, poems, and Christian ponderings.
Upon Westminster Bridge
by William Wordsworth
Earth has not any thing to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!
by Mathew Arnold
Coldly, sadly descends
The autumn-evening. The field
Strewn with its dank yellow drifts
Of wither’d leaves, and the elms,
Fade into dimness apace,
Silent;—hardly a shout
From a few boys late at their play!
The lights come out in the street,
In the school-room windows;—but cold,
Solemn, unlighted, austere,
Through the gathering darkness, arise
The chapel-walls, in whose bound
Thou, my father! art laid.
What is the course of the life
Of mortal men on the earth?—
Most men eddy about
Here and there—eat and drink,
Chatter and love and hate,
Gather and squander, are raised
Aloft, are hurl’d in the dust,
Striving blindly, achieving
Nothing; and then they die—
Perish;—and no one asks
Who or what they have been,
More than he asks what waves,
In the moonlit solitudes mild
Of the midmost Ocean, have swell’d,
Foam’d for a moment, and gone
And through thee I believe
In the noble and great who are gone;
Pure souls honour’d and blest
By former ages, who else—
Such, so soulless, so poor,
Is the race of men whom I see—
Seem’d but a dream of the heart,
Seem’d but a cry of desire.
Yes! I believe that there lived
Others like thee in the past,
Not like the men of the crowd
Who all round me to-day
Bluster or cringe, and make life
Hideous, and arid, and vile;
But souls temper’d with fire,
Fervent, heroic, and good,
Helpers and friends of mankind.
Then, in such hour of need
Of your fainting, dispirited race,
Ye, like angels, appear,
Radiant with ardour divine!
Beacons of hope, ye appear!
Languor is not in your heart,
Weakness is not in your word,
Weariness not on your brow.
Ye alight in our van! at your voice,
Panic, despair, flee away.
Ye move through the ranks, recall
The stragglers, refresh the outworn,
Praise, re-inspire the brave!
Order, courage, return.
Eyes rekindling, and prayers,
Follow your steps as ye go.
Ye fill up the gaps in our files,
Strengthen the wavering line,
Stablish, continue our march,
On, to the bound of the waste,
On, to the City of God.
in this moment of national mourning
within and around the United Kingdom
of Great Britain and N. Ireland
help us each to keep proper perspective
of life and death, as your most holy gift to all.
Remind us that we are each made in the image
and likeliness of you O Eternal God.
Remind us each of our humanity and of
Watch over and bring peace to all who mourn. Amen.