How you haunt me still. A theological blog 23 – vii 19

How you haunt me still, dear Ben, who were once amongst the handsomest and most beautiful of men both cursed and favoured by Apollo, you died before your time, wreathed in distress and sorrows, bald, riddled with cancer and terrified by demonic images (the drugs I must suppose) with the bleeding souls of your two wives howling with a grief no outsider should have ever witnessed; how I now regret that I was amongst those who, hungry for a transcendence that is, alas, always incomplete, descended on your beauty like flies laying eggs on meat: one more item to add to the world’s vast gallery of misery;  as now at Thiepval cemetery we view with stunned and emptied minds the list of those whose bodies were never found,  blown to bits or drowned in mud in no-man’s land  (in Mametz Wood Robert Graves saw a  Huge Bosch from Frankfurt or Hanover sitting as if in his armchair with nose and mouth pouring black blood, and two combatants who, as if in a marriage of dreadful lovers, had bayoneted each other, aaah! the mind turns back) and clothe them with what scraps   of dignity we can; bugles blow the last post with a pure and plangent melancholy  only made more  complex by the polyphonic undertone of at least it was not me.   What was it all for, this list of disembodied souls at Thiepval cemetery stretching as if in a seemingly unending row of empty hangers wanting clothes:  what caused a war so terrible? To defend our empire? To defeat evil?  Or a dreadful darkness swimming up into the mind gulping hungrily the beauty of these brave young men simply because they were beautiful?   In the face of a horror so huge you can feel nothing, pity dries up, reason disintegrates, all hope disappears, you turn back in gratitude to the anaesthesia of daily life  –  memo:  don’t forget the cat food and birthday card for wife;  and so I add Benedict to my own small garden of sorrow and remorse, that I weed and tend and each day water with  my tears, so personal a plot I can almost cope with it, and listen in fragile hope to Schubert’s  Am tage aller seelen,  a work of art so solemn and immortal it would almost console and bless these torn holes in the heart; the yearning in the long spun-out legato line; the down tiptoeing triplets so dainty they would not wake the dead;  the gap that opens in the heart in the descent to the minor key returning  to the dominant in a consoling blessedness  of music beyond what words can say;  and if such miracles of art can look horror in the face, I am encouraged to almost hope that the myth of God taking on our humanity  and even in his agony pleading Father forgive them they know not what they do, is a myth so beautiful it might be true, and those lost corpses remembered in Thiepval cemetery, and dear Ben,  might find their bodies beautiful in the forgiveness and the blessedness of heaven;

Rest in peace dear souls, Ruh’n in Frieden alle Seelen and Alle Seelen ruhn in Frieden.

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