We promised that we’d reproduce all the contributions that were made at the funeral last September; and especially those contributions which couldn’t be made for a variety of reasons.
Here’s Jane Hammett’s – Sam’s ex-partner and longstanding friend. You can read the poems by clicking on each link.
Sam’s love of poetry wasn’t well known. He had read widely and had definite and well informed opinions on the poets he admired. There were quite a few evenings in the Marie Curie when the conversation turned towards poetry, as he bravely deliberated over which poems he wanted to be read at this funeral.
Louis MacNeice was always a front runner, and Sunlight in the Garden was selected from his own well-read copy. Although open to a number of interpretations, what Sam found affecting was its evocation of moments of pure joy, spent with loved ones, and represented not only by the image of sunlight but of rain and thunder as well, moments when the elements bring it home to us how vital and alive we are: moments when life seems brim full of energy, sensation and vitality. The moment of sadness enters when the poet realises such moments are fleeting and cannot be contained. Although lost to time, the memory still brings pleasure and there is a sense, even in the face of death, of having lived life to the full.
I am sure this is what struck a chord with Sam, as the illness took more and more of a hold, and his options receded. He was so sad he had not been able to go on a last trip to Spain with his children, and be able to feel the warmth of the sun on his face one last time.
The other poem he chose was William Blake’s, The Garden of Love. I remember him having an old, battered illustrated copy of the, Songs of Innocence and Experience, presumably from his Bristol days. One evening in the hospice, a Catholic priest walked down the corridor, possibly to deliver the last rites to someone. Sam suddenly shouted,”Go away!” to him (but I don’t think he heard). He then turned to me and recited,
“And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,”
“What’s next?” he challenged. Luckily, I could reply,
“And binding with briars my joys and desires,”
“I want that at my funeral, to leave no shadow of doubt that there was any last minute religious conversion.”
Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to read it at the service.
I really treasure those last conversations with Sam at the hospice; they were always lively, wide ranging and interesting. Once, he wondered why he was bothering to fine tune the arrangements for his funeral with Andy, when he wouldn’t be around to care. I like to think that he might have been comforted by the reply that it was the one moment in his life that every single person in the room would be totally focused on him; every thought, every word, every memory, would be about him.
As I write this, I am experiencing the sharp intake of breath, and the “knots of grief in the stomach” that Brian Patten wrote of in his poem, So Many Different Lengths of Time on the subject of mourning loved ones.
That’s why it has taken so long to get round to putting this down on paper and, if Andy can manage to include it here, please read it. It seems to express the sense of loss that Sam’s death has left with his colleagues, friends and family.