Laying the Wreath of Prayers at Westminster Abbey…

Jumping the turnstiles of Chance and Coincidence

 To Lay the Wreath of Prayers at Westminster Abbey…

Dr Oindrila Ghosh - Diamond Harbour Women's University

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Dr Ghosh with THS Chairman Mark Chutter

14th of January, 2023: It was an exceptionally cold and turbulent morning, it had been raining all night, and very gusty and the only warmth which enveloped me, as I travelled to London from Oxford, was the sheer enthusiasm for doing something that I had only been doing only mentally, and through the photographs and stories of others for the last fifteen or more years of my life, and might do so for the rest of my life! When I alighted in London, the rain was falling faster, and the gusts had grown mightier, and most people preferred milling inside cafés and restaurants, rather than going about their business outside. But I made my way first to Trafalgar Square, where a Turner Exhibition was accidentally discovered at the National Gallery! Two of his paintings which were loaned to the Gallery for the first time in 100 years, Harbour of Dieppe: Changement de Domicile and Cologne and the Arrival of a Packet-Boat: Evening, were seen by me the first time apart from their prints! What a greater way to pay homage to Thomas Hardy on his ninety-fifth death anniversary (the one who had beckoned me from around five thousand miles away, and now two hours journey from my temporary abode, to be with him for a short time) than being led by the Universe through chance and coincidence to someone who had deeply influenced Hardy’s artistic vision – his treatment of landscape showed him to be the most deeply and pervasively influenced by Turner’s landscape-paintings! Yet, the exhibition cost me time and the delay resulted in me reaching Westminster Abbey slightly later than I had hoped to. Herein began my jostles with destiny, left to fend against its machinations in a chaotic Hardy-Universe. It being a Saturday late-afternoon and the Westminster closing to general public viewing, owing to repairs, the stately Porter at the entrance very sternly told me off as I asked him the way to Poets’ Corner. Quite ruffled, and gradually more and more flabbergasted I ran from this entrance to the next making sure I did not end up like Fanny Robin turning up at the wrong venue at the right time, to have her world fall apart! A panicked call to the dearest Dr Tracy Hayes, my friend, gave me the encouragement to present my case again to the Porter, to explain that am no visitor but a participant in the wreath-laying ceremony within the chapel. The second time I went to reapply my case, the stern Porter had miraculously changed and as I was beginning to blurt out my case in quite exasperated, ungrammatical phrases “Poet’s Corner, Hardy Society, Wreath-laying…which way?”, the changed man panicked and showed me the direction and quickly added, that I was perhaps very late! My heart sank a bit more. But the journey from thence was smoother, though adventurous no less, as the kindest old Porter at the gate of the Chapel, on knowing of my position almost hand-held me while walking me through dim-lit corridors, large doors, guardrails, which I did not wait for him to open for me, as I almost jumped over them as if they were turnstiles around Egdon Heath (almost like a Hardy protagonist trying best to avert a predestined mishap!), much to his surprise! When I finally made it inside, flustered and apprehensive, the small group of familiar faces made me calm down. The wreath-laying was officially over, and the readers had all read their poetry-tributes, but my sinking-with-every-passing-moment heart was salvaged by Sue Clarke, who let Dr Mark Chutter, the lovely Chairman and Academic Director of the Society, who I was meeting for the first time, know that I had after all arrived! How kind and wonderful was the congregation who instead of making me feel small for arriving slightly late, made sure that I do after all read out the poem I had decided upon, as homage to the dear Old Man, “I Need Not Go” (and though the Circulated Sheet had a different poem printed against my name, none of the dear souls seemed to mind!). Shaken up from the anxiety of not almost not making it, to having reached at last, and ensconced in the affectionate encouragement of the loveliest Hardy folks, the sombre day of remembrance suddenly turned bright and sunny for the world within me! Thus, while photographs captured us all in a frame at this particular place, on this winter’s day forever, the memory of its beauty and sanctity remain etched in the heart of this Hardy Lover and Scholar, who is drawn by Mr Hardy and Providence from distant shores again and again for the love of his land and the magic of his mind and words! To end on a note of Hardy’s uncanny ability to draw the most sensitive souls into the ambit of his thought and vision, there came yet another poem by my Poet friend, who recently re-initiated into Hardy’s works through our many conversations about the Master, again composed his poem, imaginatively collaborating in foreshadowing my presence at the Wreath-laying ceremony, many days before I was actually there! Thus the day of serendipity came full circle…crystallized in memory and poetry!

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Dr Ghosh reading to THS Members in Poet's Corner

Reading a Poem at Westminster Abbey

A Hardy scholar, from distant shores, reads Hardy’s poem, at the wreath-laying ceremony, on his 95th Death Anniversary at the Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey.

It starts with silence. The words follow

a moment later. Faces, familiar, unfamiliar

are attuned in collective solemnity.

The pages read long ago,

turn in their minds, recollecting

words which touched their hearts.

For, that is what brings them here.

Here the kindred are many,

and sweethearts too.

Other elements also converge,

from other spheres.

The waters of Frome are grief borne,

carrying feelings resting deep in hearts

and pour them into the silent Thames, standing witness

to this outpour of the everlasting longing; the land

of Dorset calling out to its kin sleeping here in the Abbey.

There are other calls too, that traverse this silence of tongues.

Hearts calling out to hearts, minds in soliloquies, dialogues,

and thoughts weaving an intricate wickerwork.

All fusing together into a venerable wreath,

Beside the one the visitors laid.

Memoir: Oindrila Ghosh

Poem: Mohammad Zahid

January 2023

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