Nothing now can ever come to any good

I love the funeral scene in IT Crowd where Reynholm Industries’ 2IC prefaces his eulogy by saying with great solemnity: “I’d like to begin by reading a poem that I saw in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral.” The surface joke here (I think) is the incongruity of elevated oratory and pop culture, but the underlying point is that pop culture topples elevation (indeed it’s supposed to). What starts as a touching scene about love and death, in which a forgotten and somewhat ironic poem is dusted off, becomes a cliché of unreconstructed emotion, a kind of emoticon for feeling sad. When things are ‘popularised’ they lose their quality of exalted singularity, their holiness. The sheen of the coin is rubbed off in its wide circulation. The upside might be a democratic redistribution of wealth, but the flipside is that the gold is gone. What we love, we love to death.

So now I’d like to share with you a poem that I saw in the show IT Crowd.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

How everything turns away

Last week's offering made me think about other poems that respond to paintings. I like this one, "Musée des Beaux Arts," by W.H. Auden about Pieter Breughel's “Landscape with the Fall of Icharus.” It's a neat comment on the way those old Dutch paintings exquisitely rendered the ordinary, but it's also a poignant observation of the world's propensity to sail calmly away from the boy falling out of the sky.  The museum of the title is the Musée Royaux des Beaux Arts de Belgique, which is well worth a visit if you're ever strolling up the Rue de Musée in Brussels.

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just
walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.