Monday, June 05, 2006

Three posts about Gumilyov part three

Agamemnon's Warrior

It was several years before I had the slightest idea what Gumilyov might have been thinking about when he wrote this one.

A strange and fearful question
Oppresses my uncertain soul:
How can you live when the son of Atreus has died,
Has died on a bed of roses?

Why, I wondered, would Agamemnon's warrior have even the slightest difficulty outliving his king? Granted, Gumilyov was a monarchist (not exactly my favourite political philosophy), but surely the whole point of monarchy is that "the king is dead, long live the king"?

It was only once I needed to think about such matters that I noticed the similarity between kingship and fatherhood, and wondered if the grief that the warrior feels is for the loss of his father. Kings get replaced. Fathers don't.

My father had all the medical knowledge you might expect from a working class Gateshead lad, and an implacable (and possibly inheritable) stubbornness. As he developed prostate problems, his reaction was not to think about his problems, not to seek a doctor, and to refuse any offer of help.

What was needed was someone to tell him, probably using medium levels of swearing, that he was a stupid bastard who was going to die and leave my mother widowed. An appeal to chivalry would probably have shocked him to the doctor's and this whole sad business could have been avoided.

This conversation, which we never had, ranks #1 on my all-time list of things I wished I'd said (anyone who doesn't have regrets about anything hasn't, in my opinion, made enough mistakes yet - just wait), and the reason we never had it comes back to fatherhood and kingship.

All that we dreamed of always and everywhere
Our longing and fears
All was reflected, like in clear water
In his calm eyes

Children look up to their fathers, and I had never shaken the habit of trusting more in my father's judgment than my own. He had in the previous ten years been right many more times than I had. At thirty, I deferred to his opinion, even when I knew he was wrong, and said nothing.

Ineffable power lived in his muscles
A saga - in the curve of his knees
He was beautiful, like a cloud
The golden lord of Mycenae.

By the time he took himself to hospital he was almost dead and, though he survived, his kidneys were damaged and his bladder ruined. He lived his last few years in misery.

And by inviting my mother - against her instincts and my father's wishes - to visit me in Scotland, I ensured that he was utterly alone when he had his stroke. He smashed up some rooms, defecated on the floor and collapsed on his bedroom carpet, to be found a day later when my mother got the Fire Brigade to break into our house.

As drove up from Luton Airport through a weird electric storm with Britney Spears' wretched One More Time on continual loop in my brain, it struck me that there was no longer any need to rush. That my father had died. Without wanting to sound like a senseless filly again, I was right. He had died in hospital a few minutes earlier.

Later, at four in the morning and completely unable to sleep, it seemed strange that, of all the nights in my life, I should be living this one. The one where I was without my father for the first time.

Who am I? A fragment of ancient wrongs
A javelin, fallen in the grass
The leader of nations, the Atreid, is dead
While I, a nobody, am alive.

You survive these things: grief has a long half-life, but it isn't forever. After seven years, I try not to concentrate on his last day, though I fear the unresolvable horror, of never knowing how much he experienced, the absolute absence of consolation, has sunk into the bloodstream of my family. I do not feel primarily responsible for his death - any dispassionate analysis shows that my father had many chances to let the Health Service help him, including at the very end, when he could have dialled 999. But to do so would have been again the grain of a lifetime spent avoiding doctors. My father was a fool.

Even so, there's plenty of secondary responsibility to go round, and I now see how Agamemnon's warrior could have felt this way:

The clear waters of deep lakes beckon me
The dawn looks on with reproach
It's hard, hard to bear the shame
Of living, after losing your king


Anonymous Paul said...

I'm afraid that this has nothing at all to do with your most recent post, but I can't find your email address... this is the reader who was going to Thailand, Paul. Now I am here and it is lovely but I wanted to tell you that I recently re-read your posts about Thailand and found that you, too, hated Khao San Road. That made me smile, because I loathe and distrust everything connected with that strip. Just last night I returned to Bangkok from Ko Chang (lovely island) and we arrived on Khao San Road, of course, and immediately a middle-aged Thai man tried to take me aside, shouting, "You see ping pong show! Ping pong!"


Other than that, all is well...

- Paul

4:27 am  

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