Tuesday, 20 October 2020

The Grave in the Woods


There are lots of graves in the woods in the Touraine Loire Valley. Most of them date from the summer of 1944 and are the graves of Resistance fighters. But there is one that is different. It's virtually unknown and is a much grander affair than what you can glimpse above ground would lead you to believe.

The small isolated wood where the Porcherons are buried.
Woodland on the plateau between two river valleys.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

A few simple stones mark the entrance to a sealed mausoleum where the remains of artist Lucien Porcheron and his wife are buried. Lucien decorated the interior of the tomb and was buried there first. When her time came his wife joined him in the vault. According to a friend who lives nearby their beloved dog was supposed to be buried there too but there was no one left to organise it when the dog died. She says she thinks of them every time she walks by.

What you can see of the grave today.
Grave of Lucien Porcheron and his wife, near le Grand Pressigny.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

When I posted a photo of the grave on Facebook our friend, the artist Bryan Eccleshall immediately suggested the poem The Two Graves by William Cullen Bryant. So here it is.

On the Alert (an oil painting by Lucien Porcheron, depicting himself on the left, and Monsieur Hilaire on the right, out hunting probably in the very woods where he is now buried).
 Oil painting by Lucien Porcheron, showing himself and a local farmer out hunting.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.


'Tis a bleak wild hill,--but green and bright
In the summer warmth and the mid-day light;
There's the hum of the bee and the chirp of the wren,
And the dash of the brook from the alder glen;
There's the sound of a bell from the scattered flock,
And the shade of the beech lies cool on the rock,
And fresh from the west is the free wind's breath,--
There is nothing here that speaks of death.

Far yonder, where orchards and gardens lie,
And dwellings cluster, 'tis there men die.
They are born, they die, and are buried near,
Where the populous grave-yard lightens the bier;
For strict and close are the ties that bind
In death the children of human-kind;
Yea, stricter and closer than those of life,--
'Tis a neighbourhood that knows no strife.
They are noiselessly gathered--friend and foe--
To the still and dark assemblies below:
Without a frown or a smile they meet,
Each pale and calm in his winding-sheet;
In that sullen home of peace and gloom,
Crowded, like guests in a banquet-room.

Yet there are graves in this lonely spot,
Two humble graves,--but I meet them not.
I have seen them,--eighteen years are past,
Since I found their place in the brambles last,--
The place where, fifty winters ago,
An aged man in his locks of snow,
And an aged matron, withered with years,
Were solemnly laid!--but not with tears.
For none, who sat by the light of their hearth,
Beheld their coffins covered with earth;
Their kindred were far, and their children dead,
When the funeral prayer was coldly said.

Two low green hillocks, two small gray stones,
Rose over the place that held their bones;
But the grassy hillocks are levelled again,
And the keenest eye might search in vain,
'Mong briers, and ferns, and paths of sheep,
For the spot where the aged couple sleep.

Yet well might they lay, beneath the soil
Of this lonely spot, that man of toil,
And trench the strong hard mould with the spade,
Where never before a grave was made;
For he hewed the dark old woods away,
And gave the virgin fields to the day;
And the gourd and the bean, beside his door,
Bloomed where their flowers ne'er opened before;
And the maize stood up; and the bearded rye
Bent low in the breath of an unknown sky.

'Tis said that when life is ended here,
The spirit is borne to a distant sphere;
That it visits its earthly home no more,
Nor looks on the haunts it loved before.
But why should the bodiless soul be sent
Far off, to a long, long banishment?
Talk not of the light and the living green!
It will pine for the dear familiar scene;
It will yearn, in that strange bright world, to behold
The rock and the stream it knew of old.

'Tis a cruel creed, believe it not!
Death to the good is a milder lot.
They are here,--they are here,--that harmless pair,
In the yellow sunshine and flowing air,
In the light cloud-shadows that slowly pass,
In the sounds that rise from the murmuring grass.
They sit where their humble cottage stood,
They walk by the waving edge of the wood,
And list to the long-accustomed flow
Of the brook that wets the rocks below.
Patient, and peaceful, and passionless,
As seasons on seasons swiftly press,
They watch, and wait, and linger around,
Till the day when their bodies shall leave the ground.


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