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Funeral Oration, by the Deceased

‘Thank you for coming, and in such numbers. I’m hoping that during the next half-hour there will be some weeping and perhaps even a little wailing, but please try to avoid gnashing of teeth now that it’s so hard to find an NHS dentist.

To be departing at a good though not a great age is a bargain I accept cheerfully if ruefully. In these final weeks I have read of children starved deliberately at home in England; and seen a lovely black girl, shot by soldiers, lying in her blood in Haiti. My pain at the end was controlled.

Present today are many who represent the stubbornness of good, the unofficial story, a reason to hope that we may unexpectedly avoid disaster, may even — acknowledging Beckett — step hesitantly towards a world where laughter and tears are inconstant quantities.

Fragile optimism: too many others I have known and been polite to, who have enjoyed success and done little harm in our quiet country and quiet times, would have taken the Stasi’s money in East Germany or supervised the loading of trains at Drancy.

I am glad that throughout life I was stirred by the dash of a hare breaking cover in a wood, by the first primrose beside the road in March or April, by blackbird song, by the sea in all its states and motions.

I had work which satisfied and paid me, and often enough received a signal that it was useful. I have known the bounty of friendship, the giving and taking of it, bulwark against the years. I have entered into love, and remained with her.

So I am grateful to have lived. I go now (I have already gone, to be pedantic) into the certainty of annihilation, unencumbered by fantasies which troubled and prolonged my childhood. I have put away childish things.

Goodbye to you. Enjoy the refreshments in the hotel across the road. I’ve provided champagne. I forget who said (was it Maurice Bowra?), “The only important question to ask about champagne is, Is there enough? There will be enough. Enough.’

Audio file

Listen to this poem — read by the author