Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Nearer To Thee...

I park in a layby and step out into the Essex sun, pick up my disposable camera, and look around at a place I have never before graced with my ephemeral presence.
A small hamlet, a couple of miles east of Harlow.
I stroll along the side of a country road, maybe a hundred yards, before halting and gazing across at the row of mature oaks and yews, concealing what lay behind. A small white gate is visible at the end of the row, and I cross the road and enter the grounds
The trees block sunlight, shadows, moss and earthy scents pervading my senses. I move beyond the trees, into the sunlight, onto soft but damp grass that quickly soaks my trainers, moving among the stones, their Victorian etchings gradually fading with the onslaught of time and lost memories.
The tomb stands in the diffuse morning light, a solid rectangle covering a notable family, now resting in their pastoral slumber here in the peace eternal. A mile away, traffic pours its perpetual rumble into the atmosphere, sounding in these secluded bowers like the humming of a Deity.
I squat, trace out the name of the youngest daughter, dead in 1848 at the age of 43. Above her name I see the epitaph 'Nearer My God To Thee'.
I wonder how many tombs that line has appeared on. Possibly thousands, considering its significance to the recently departed. But on this marble monument, ivy beginning its serpentine crawl toward the stark words, it truly has relevance. 'Nearer My God To Thee'.
The hymn was played at the funeral of the assassinated President, James Garfield. Its first two lines were the last words of a later assassinated President, William McKinley. It was the last song played by the band on the RMS Titanic as it slid inexorably toward its doom. It was the hymn written by the actress and poet buried below the monument before me.
Clearly it holds considerable relevance to our cousins across the ocean, and indeed the words on this tomb were restored by an American Christian organisation shortly after the Second World War.
I hold my camera, peer at the words through the claustrophobic aspect of a small lens, and press the shutter. I lower the camera, staring with my own eyes at the age-worn words.
Sarah Flower Adams, I briefly snap my eyes shut, visualising the pencil drawing of you I know, the lovely brunette with a smile of intelligence and innocence. Did you know, could you possibly have imagined, the effect of your song upon future generations of your fellow believers? When you wrote your words, could you see ahead, to their whisper on the lips of a dying President, their resonance filling a freezing Atlantic air in the midst of hopeless screaming and groaning, tortured metal?
Of course not. Which is why you rest in such sylvan peace, away from the vissicitudes of a world that barely remembers your name
I move away, the camera returning to my pocket, noticing the lack of any faint trails snaking between the surrounding monuments, the proof that this place is rarely disturbed by the modern world.

Goodbye, Sarah. Your moment of inspiration has made you immortal through your words.
Sarah Flower Adams 1805-1848

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