Monday, April 20, 2009

Five Tombs Told

Dún Fhearghusa (Newgrange) on a bend in the Boyne valley, 5000 years old and restored by Prof. Michael J. O’Kelly, from the Department of Archaeology, University College, Cork; was originally a tomb and its corbeled roof has never leaked since it was built in 3000BC.


Highgate cemetry, Karl Marx, i think i saw once, or perhaps not. If i did it was a singularly uninspiring experience.


Keats in Hampstead Parish Church is different, as there is a marvelous John Keats memorial bench in the small cemetery attached to what is perhaps, the most pukka parish in the entire Kingdom of England, tucked away behind foliage and used only by junkies and various classes of working people on a break.

Here is a sense of peace; as it is “the first memorial to the poet John Keats on English ground” - as the Westminster Gazzette reported it in 1894, when Edmund Gosse took possession of a marble bust from the pioneering poet Bret Harte (1836-1902).

Harte was born in Albany New York and moved to California in 1853 at the age of seventeen during the gold rush, taking up various jobs until finding one as a printer's helper in San Francisco, where he turned his hand to writing and journalism. He shot to fame in 1868, when the editor of Californian periodical, Overland Review, with a story called The Luck of Roaring Camp, a tale of miners in the Californian gold rush.

In the latter half of 1870 his poem Plain Language from Truthful James - a satire on the racism shown by Irish labourers in North California to the Chinese competing for the same work, was unfortunately read by the middle class readers straight, as a legitimate object of cultural-criticism-as-art, to justify their own prejudices against the Chinese. He later called the poem *trash* and “the worst poem I ever wrote, possibly the worst poem anyone ever wrote.”


Harte is an interesting figure in American letters, at one time Mark Twains chief literary rival, whose early works lead him to syndicated fame across the American West, (with the poem above that gained a common title: The Chinese Heathen). In 1871 he returned to Boston and signed an unprecedented $10,000 a year contract to write for the Atlantic Monthly. By by the end of 1872 however, Harte had fallen out of favour and was reduced to lecturing on the gold rush and selling jingle-ads to a soap company.

He ended up a diplomat and intertwined with the men of letters who in his time, united under the aegis of Harvard historian and prof. Charles Eliot Norton; son of a Harvard professor of Scared Literature and the man most credited with accelerating the college into what Harvard is today.

Harte died in 1902 and is buried in St Peter’s Church, Frimley, Surrey, England, and Keats remains in the Protestant cemetery in Rome, (his legacy the largest collection of papers at Harvard), the hero *snuffed out by an article* as Shelly wrote.


Shelley's heart is interred in a grave next to Mary Shelly’s in St. Peters Church Bournemouth, and the funary votive rites of poet and audience conferred in the level of vitriolic abuse forerunners from the then avant-garde of a Romantic-vatic lot of heavy boozing transgressors - set off in crazee mixed up mad-heads - their contemporary trolls here online, making me a shakey laureate who roars of tombs in which dead ghosts drawing sustenance of shadowy substantive proofs of the heavier sort, sail into steep ascent, blowing across the top of a nunatuk someplace - Slievemore, or Croaghaun cliffs perhaps (pictured) on Achill island, where the Hawk of Time swirls above the sod.

1 comment:

suzan abrams said...

Beautiful story, Des.
A great mix on your blog these days.