At Tous les Saints, 31st Octobre, a stone was laid at the grave of Richard Aldington.It marks the culmination of a two year project, and it was sited at Sury en Vaux withthe permission of his grandchildren.It measures 28cm x 28 x 26, and rests without fixture at the corner of the existing gravestone. In the photograph I have attached, can be seen the engraved letters which simply state the author’s name. These letters are only just discernible as they are eroding.I am not a relative of Aldington’s, I am an enthusiast in literature. I spent much ofthe centenary years’ visiting the battlefields of the Somme and Flanders with the War Poets Association. Where we inspected many cemeteries of the soldiers of the Great War. It was striking, and a cause for great humility at how immaculate the cemeteries are maintained. None of the stones appear to have suffered from weathering. And thestones are dazzling as they stand in regimented and measured rows.On one of these tours, I came across the name of Aldington during a lecture deliveredat a converted barn in Auchonvillers, near the Ancre.I became interested in his life and work. And one Christmas Holiday, I visited theSancerrois, where he spent his dotage at Maison Salle. A bungalow lent him byhis Australian secretary, Kershaw.By good fortune, I had made the acquaintance of his widow, who was able to tell meof the exact whereabouts of Aldington’s grave at the small cemetery. Without this information I should not have found it, as there is no headstone.It would not rest easily on the conscience of any lover of elegant literature, to learnthat the author of ‘Death of a hero,’ has not been commemorated to posterity at his resting place.What to do?I set about alerting his literary estate, and the society Aldington formed in Florence. I wish to extend my gratitude to his biographer, Vivien Whelpton, for her unfailing and generous support.I assumed that one could contact a monumental mason in the Sancerrois, but I alsoknew that if I took this course the project would become elongated to the point of indifference. Again, by good fortune, I learnt that a former colleague of mine isrunning a stone carving studio at Rabastens, on the Tarn.I contacted her, and asked whether she would agree to a commission from me.She would. And, elatedly, I informed interested parties that there would be a stone! I knew se could be relied upon to produce a work of quality. The only obstacle that now lay before me was in how to convey a piece of dense Fontenay limestone from the studio to the cemetery. A distance of over 500 km…
That stone can be observed at ten paces.
It lies a gauche, four up and four along,
Gild the name of ‘Bizet’ traces
One side, the other the name of a vigneron.
Whose vats beyond the wall are strong;
Whose vineyards now are in the sere,
Curving the slope like a waiting column.
A gathering for Tous les Saints is here,
With bouquets for those who’re dear.
Whoever adorned the porch unto l’eglise
With pebbling, clearly hadn’t in mind
One dragging a case with any ease!
With a wantaway wheel that won’t align
To the course and steer of one’s design,
Or the coaxing of a firm hand.
I might make that train on time.
I told mine hostess that I must understand
The burden of the stone over the land.
First, a long bridge across the Tarn,
With the sound of waters over a weir.
The turn for le Gare gives cause for alarm
When steps over the line appear,
What strength I have would dissolve here.
One kilometre and my arm is numb.
One corner forth, then the other till I’m clear
Of the track, and on up to the station:
Thus, a journey to the city is begun.
There is no fear of robbers making off.
J’ai horreur du voitures.
They’ve spilled over the world enough,
And destroyed so much where they tour.
And hidden souls from their neighbour.
I have hired one that I may traverse
The length from Garonne up to Cher.
The stone in the boot where the lid lowers,
No one as yet its weight discovers.
The motorcar is alive with bleeps
And flickering over the dash.
I try its width along an adjoining street
So as one wheel mounts the kerb, it makes a rash
Of complaints which seem rather harsh.
My hand’s in the side when reaching for the gear;
At each arret the engine gasps,
Ere its engagement quietly disappears,
And I’m left stranded with others to rear.
Till I remember to depress the clutch;
And then the diagram splits in twain.
The needle sensitive to the touch,
I soon tear along l’Occitane.
My thoughts sloughed in the mundane,
Even when crossing the Dordogne.
Why was there no connecting train?
That I may observe where strata adjoin,
Within the valley’s dip and groin.
To get to the bureau ere it closes,
So as I’m not lumped with the car,
Means I hardly notice Des Causses;
Beyond Chateauroux, still northbound fare.
Strapped to seat over endless tar,
My spirit restless for another cause.
Night closes, as the world rifles the bar;
Switches down and locks entrance doors;
I’m exasperated as I enter Bourges.
And there is gazoil over my shoe!
Couldn’t they track my final approach?
Round to the rear with the wheels askew
I park, whilst they have put on their coats.
I drain some water to the driest of throats,
Whilst they call me a taxi for the last part.
They are gay with lightsome notes.
A girl seems ready her own story to impart,
The nozzle didn’t cut; there’s no place to park!
Then she offers to carry my case.
I sharply forbid – it’d crush her toe,
And there’s a word I cannot trace,
Under stress the word for ‘heavy!’ I do not know.
Over the next five and twenty, I can bow
To weariness, or look through the night
At the glowing lamps of a plough.
Or, explain to the driver how I’ll site
A stone- if I can tell it right:
A gesture of one poet to another;
As a symbol to the enduring,
For student’s in the future to discover.
Sans heritage, poetry is thus scouring
Only at a surface – that’s not for learning.
At the hilltop town, I pay and he goes.
Silence flows back once he’s made the turning.
Through the night nought familiar shows,
And streets run off into deep shadows.
Mistakenly, I thought I’d remember,
And not a soul stirs that I could ask.
Each rue is dissolved and slender
In a mist that roams and masks.
A bell tolls, and mocks my task,
As I cannot fathom its source.
The wheel gives out, and there’s sparks,
I imagine, where I grind out a course.
I fume at each step I force.
Under quiet shutters to and fro,
Is anyone listening to my moans?
I try to read a map in a window,
I’m only a few paces from the home.
Though the hotelier must be changed in tone
At my whereabouts, and if I’m still intent
Upon the place whilst listening for the ‘phone.
Upon each slope my strains are bent,
Which way to turn, which way is meant?
And now I’m beginning to despair,
Until, as so oft, so oft there comes
An angel our providing Lord has prepared.
I rest my case, and try to summon
Up some composure where I’ve none.
His gait looks a trifle unsteady;
(From cave to cave a line of path runs).
“Rue Marechal?” he says, “follow me!”
I drag and more sparks I see.
He points out the rue, and goes his way.
A lady emerges from a side door,
“Ah, Monsieur Taylor?” Mine hostess says,
I have no breath to make a rapport,
I try though am furious unto the core.
We get it through into the courtyard,
And her waiting husband takes to the floor.
Grinning as one about to make a remark
In a facetious tone as becomes his part.
Unseen by me, his wife signals
For him to withhold and to restrain,
I beg to leave the weight on the cobbles,
And unzip the case to make it plain.
They gather as round a salesman.
Unthinking, I pass him a bundle from inside,
Through modesty she straightens up again,
As if smarting at a tanner’s hide;
Or as a bather meets an incoming tide.
At last, I prize out the stone.
Tomorrow, I say, it will be unveiled,
In front of the Mairie or perhaps none,
At the quiet cemetery of Maimbray.
Where tombs of others amply display,
But of this poet the rain’s consuming,
And the shallow letters begin to fade.
It shall settle under shine or loaming,
And this man upon it swooning!