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Filial duty: the century ends - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
Filial duty: the century ends

Filial duty: the century ends


As near to priesthood as I shall attain –

(My mother, in her wits, had been made glad

Had I, her son, her father’s path thus trod) –

I place the white pills in a palsied hand

And follow with the paper chalice.  Now

I am a father to my father, thus.


Those cupped, dry hands now shake that once dealt death

And honour in the frozen hell of war.

They did not tremble in Korean snows

Nor clench as Chinese bugles brayed.  Not then

Did those strong hands fail of their grasp, now lost.

(My father’s views were in that hour forged:

The Yanks, the Turks, the Aussies, Princess Pat’s,

The Black Watch and the Glosters: give him these,

And he would hold against the ranks of hell,

Brigaded with the best of fighting men.)


Those days are sped.  His tanks are rusted scrap.

He cannot hold the cane that stayed his falls.

(‘Three points, lad, make a plane: remember that.

It’s all the maths you’ll want to know, when old.’)

His hands are corded, chalked, and weak, they hold

And fail of holding, fumble, and fall still.

The blazing height of summer leaves him cold.

He sleeps through matches he should once have seen

With keen, discerning eye and avid mind.


His wife of fifty years is long since gone:

A long and twilit fall into her sleep,

Her body – ever frail yet ever steel –

Outliving her, her wits robbed by drear age.

When she yet spoke, she called out for the dead,

Her siblings and her parents, long since clay.


She wished to see them, anxious to go home.

Well, so she has.  It left her husband halved.

Five decades do not sunder at a stroke.

The second Charles wore my father’s face

(There’s reason for that); like that merry king,

My father rued the time he took to die.

He did not care to see his waxen face

Reflected, nor the whiteness of his hair.


It was not vanity.  These things, to him,

Were measures of lost power, faded strength.

We talked of strength.  His father, he recalled,

Had never known his own strength, to the last:

A gentle giant, ever slamming doors

Without intending; who, when shaking hands,

Or patting shoulders in approving wise,

Left strong men wincing, sprawling, stumbling.  Yet

He wrote a fine and noble hand, and had

Fine delicacy for work intricate.

His tenants loved him, for the strength he had –

Not strength of arm, but moral strength, and strength

Of mind and heart devoted to their weal.


We talked of dogs and horses we had known

(And loved: my father kept a large disdain

For most mere humans, bar his few close friends,

Who were select, and measured to a rule

That few could meet.  The loyalty of dogs

Exceeded, in his view, the run of men.)

We talked of old forgotten kin, the lore

Of clan and family: uncles and aunts,

Wits, dons, eccentrics, lairds, remittance men,

Old soldiers turned to farming and the land;

Old feuds and quarrels, legends of the blood,

The vitriolic wit and cutting tongues

That are our portion: there’s a trait that lasts,

And causes trouble even as it sparks

New gledes of wit and stories wryly told

To generations apt to caustic smiles.

Sardonic is the humour of our kith.


Night fell.  He did not rage: the dying light

Was comforting.  He gladly went to bed,

Where he yet slept as if his wife were there

In her accustomed place, as she had been

For fifty years beside him in the night.

He asked for blankets – he was ever cold

In his last years – and burrowed in, cocooned,

In chrysalis awaiting the next change.

His hair, now white and fine and candyfloss,

Peeped out in tufts.  He slept, and found his peace.


The way of duty has been glory’s path;

The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Yet duty’s to be done.  And it was done.

The task discharged, there comes a rest at last.


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9 comments or Leave a comment
femmequixotic From: femmequixotic Date: June 20th, 2010 09:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
I am moved to tears, dearest. What a beautiful, heartbreaking tribute to your father, and to your mother.

I am so very, very, very glad to know you.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 20th, 2010 09:16 pm (UTC) (Link)

The pleasure is gratefully reciprocated.

They were very interesting people, and should have thought highly of you, I think. I certainly do.
femmequixotic From: femmequixotic Date: June 20th, 2010 09:27 pm (UTC) (Link)

You are a dear.

I'm sending a soggy, snivelling Yankish hug your way, you realise. :D
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 20th, 2010 09:34 pm (UTC) (Link)

And welcome.

Have another cuppa and some jam tartlets.
femmequixotic From: femmequixotic Date: June 20th, 2010 09:44 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: And welcome.

You do know the best ways to cheer me. :D
tekalynn From: tekalynn Date: June 20th, 2010 09:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you.

*moment of silence*
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 20th, 2010 09:14 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you, m'dear.

You're always so kind.
noeon From: noeon Date: June 20th, 2010 10:13 pm (UTC) (Link)


Finely weighted, deeply felt.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 21st, 2010 10:11 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you.

Wonderfully distancing and mediating thing, verse.
9 comments or Leave a comment