Friday, 23 August 2013

Ceremonies of Ecology

A few posts back I wrote about my son’s D.Phil. graduation ceremony at Oxford University, and I’ve found myself since then reflecting on the term ‘ceremony’ itself. It has some very memorable (albeit right-wing) poetic manifestations in the work of W.B. Yeats, in poems like ‘The Second Coming’ – ‘everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned’ – and ‘Prayer for my Daughter’: ‘How but in custom and in ceremony/Are innocence and beauty born?’. But it crops up significantly in Morris criticism too, as when J.M.S. Tompkins remarks of the Germanic romances that ‘Morris enjoyed devising ceremonies ... Morris enjoys to the full the devising of ritual and ceremony’ (pp.300, 310).

The Morrisian literary ceremony that I most enjoy is the brothership ritual that crops up in both Sigurd the Volsung and The Story of the Glittering Plain. It appears in the latter as follows: ‘the Erne had already made the earth-yoke ready. To wit, he had loosened a strip of turf all save the two ends, and had propped it up with two ancient dwarf-wrought spears, so that amidmost there was a lintel to go under ... they went under the earth-yoke one after the other; thereafter they stood together, and each let blood in his arm, so that the blood of all three mingled together fell down on the grass of the ancient earth’ (ch.XXII).

It is the ecological rather than military-machismo dimensions of this ritual which are most likely to move us today, that sense here of forging in the most practical way an intense identity between humanity and earth. So I wonder whether we might not turf over some of the Coach House garden at Kelmscott House to make Morris Society ‘earth-yoke’ initiation ceremonies possible there too.

1 comment:

Kotick said...

On the day Seamus Heaney dies, we could and should recall another memorable poetic use of the word "ceremony" in his poem 'Funeral Rights': "Now as news comes in/
of each neighbourly murder/
we pine for ceremony/
customary rhythms". Are Irish poets able to unselfconsciously employ the word in a way that English poets are not?