New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Culture
12 September 2017

Towards the Revival of Everyday Courtesies: Funeral Rites

A new poem by John Burnside.

By John Burnside

At one time, we buried our dead
in whalebone and apples,
then lit pale fires between the ghosts

of lilac trees where, once, there would have been
a doorway in the light, from here to where
all blossom vanishes.

We never thought of this
as final, while the blackbirds came and went
from day to night, from memory to ruin,

and somewhere in the house, a clock
kept stopping and starting again
in an empty hall.

It was summer in the crook
of shadow in the stairwell, jam-jars
perched on windowsills, a stray bird

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

calling in the roof, the windows
open, but no breeze.
Then it was autumn: dewfall in the orchard.

We never thought of this
as permanent, with so much ripening,
May Queen and Laxton’s Fortune, the quiet dead

waiting in the hall beside a covered
mirror, and a year
of windfalls, dropped like footfalls in the night,

an ample sound we did not take for grief,
though all the parish knew
that we were grieving.

John Burnside’s most recent poetry collection is Still Life with Feeding Snake (Jonathan Cape). His novella Havergey was published by Little Toller earlier this year

Content from our partners
The future of private credit
Peatlands are nature's unsung climate warriors
How the apprenticeship levy helps small businesses to transform their workforce

This article appears in the 06 Sep 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn’s next move