Reflections in the Churchyard of St Peter's, Birch

How well we would know them now
Those who have gone before; how glady
Greet with belated maturity's sympathy
Those who loved, taught, comforted, admonished
And forgave; whose inscribed name inscribed
Also the moments, months and years of our past.

Here upon the brow of this enduring vale
Foregather in death as oft' they did in life
Doctor, canon, farmer, squire, blacksmith, teacher
Gardner, grocer; builder, clerk and engineer;
Each one a mentor of the formative years,
An originator of recurring recollections,
Whimsical, remorseful, joyful, grateful, indelible.

Along this grassy route the monuments
Familiar symbolise the passing years:
Here, a noble stone with coat-of-arms, evoking
Thoughts of lazy, cricket days, of fetes
And lawns and lakes and lofty columned
Living; of an era ending with the huntsman's
Gone away plaintive in an Autumn twilight.

Hard by, three shapes identical, unadorned,
Recording lives each near a century's span;
Embodying once the church in all her seasons,
Now benign spirits easily persuaded
To frequent again the yet unravaged ways,
To sense again that aura of tranquility,
To know again that still-prevailing authenticity.

'Midst polished granite, marble, nabresina,
Squats craggily sincere a weathered tribute
From his beloved garden to a kindly doctor;
While names adjacent pose tableaux
Nostalgic: a glowing bakehouse, the binder
and rabbit exitement of the harvest field,
The culinary heartiness of a rotund butcher,
The plus-four'd omniscience of an artist in wood.

Salute the unmemorialled plot, this grave
Of one who toiled with hook and sythe,
And whetstone in patient acceptance
Of a humble role, his worth not known
'Till now: for upon those denied the dignity
Of a resting place well-tended, only nature
Bestows her solace; a random wild rose,
A holly bush, the buttercup and daisy
Of their village meadows, the morning glory
Of the cock-pheasant on the 'keeper's grave.

Where in his time a gracious cedar
Cast its shade, a gentle father rests
Within the bosom of his adopted soil,
Spared as were all in this green haven
Thoughts of the impersonal municipal cemetery,
Reassured in old age by the knowledge
Of a resting place among their own.

From St. Peter's Quartet
See also
When Remembrance was new

Spring Wedding

The Bailey Meadow

Author: Owen Ellis
ID: ELS_068
Source: Mersea Museum