Page 42 - catalogue 230117
P. 42
5. The Choirmaster's Burial.
From Moment's of Vision – published 1917.

He often would ask us As soon as I knew But 'twas said that, when
That when he died That his spirit was gone At the dead of next night
After playing so many I though this his due, The vicar looked out,
To their last rest, And spoke there upon. There struck on his ken
If out of us any Thronged roundabout,
Should here abide, 'I think,' said the vicar Where the frost was
We would with our lutes 'A read service quicker greying
Play over him That viols out of doors The headstone grass,
By his grave-rim In these frosts and hoars. A band all in white
The psalm he liked best- That old-fashioned way Like the saints in church-
The one whose sense Requires a fine day, glass,
suits And it seems to me Singing and playing
'Mount Ephraim' - It had better not be.' The ancient stave
And perhaps we should By the choirmaster's
seem Hence, that afternoon, grave.
To him, in Death's dream, Though never knew he
Like the seraphim. That his wish could not be, Such the tenor man told
To get through it faster When he had grown old.
They buried the master
Without any tune.

The burial is that of old William Dewey, master and bass-viol player of the
Mellstock quire in Hardy's novel “Under the Greenwood Tree.” In the novel the
quire with its accompanying strings was disbanded by the new vicar in favour of an
organ played by the young schoolteacher, Fancy Day. The story reflects the
experience of Hardy's own grandfather and father who played in the Stinsford choir,
and the engraving has been set in Stinstford churchyard where they are buried.
Lying in the foreground are the remains of the old west gallery choir pews. The
Mellstock quire has reassembled to pay their respects to old William. His son,
tranter Reuben Dewey, has taken over his bass viol, as he does in the poem “The
Country Wedding.” Young Dick Dewey, now married to Fancy Day, is still first
violin, and the second has been given to his younger brother Jim. The tenor viol
player and narrator of the poem, Michael Mail, (looking a little like Peter Pears in
the engraving) has asked the vicar's permission for them to play, and is seen telling
the others of his refusal. Fancy looks most embarrassed by the whole scene. Not
only was she the original cause of the quire being disbanded, but in the novel she
also has a brief involvement with the vicar about which she has never told Dick.
The adult singers of the quire, Robert Penny, Elias Spinks, Joseph Bowman and the
dotty Thomas Leaf, all follow the coffin, which is carried by the now grown-up boy
singers. The end of the poem could be taken as divine intervention, or simply the
product of the vicar's troubled conscience, but would he have told anyone what he
thought he had seen? Perhaps the quire retired to the tranter's cottage for some of
his homemade cider, and later that night felt brave enough to return to fulfill the old
man's wishes.
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