Three weeks ago I happened to be in London. As things turned out, on that very same day the city was somewhat preoccupied with a very high-profile event at London’s most iconic church. Given the circumstances, I felt the need to escape the gravity of St Pauls and mark my all-too-rare visit in a more personal way. So on the morning of April 17 I headed to Bunhill Fields in the Borough of Islington. Here, at a quiet Nonconformist graveyard tucked away from the thrum of city traffic, are buried some of England’s less showy heroes.
Here you’ll find John Bunyan, radical preacher of Pilgrim’s Progress fame, whose stone form lies prone atop a hefty tomb. Nearby stands an obelisk that commemorates Daniel Defoe, a man who in addition to writing Robinson Crusoe was also a great traveller and author of an opinionated account of the nation in the early years of the 18th century. Next to the Defoe obelisk, and far more humble, is a plain stone that marks the life of another great Londoner– William Blake. So unpretentious is this tomb marker that it does not even stand on the exact spot where Blake are buried – the actual grave is unmarked and the poet’s bones lie elsewhere nearby, although the exact spot is uncertain.
It was a cold grey day, and workmen were working industriously clearing the ground in another part of the graveyard. Otherwise, there were no other visitors to Blake’s – or anyone else’s – grave on that particular morning. Meanwhile, just a mile or so to the south, the traffic had been stopped and bells silenced – no ding-donging permitted on this day. Assorted armed forces lined the street in a gung-ho revival of Falklands fever as a sorry procession of politicians, prison novelists, low-rent celebrities, arms dealers, blubbing chancellors and sundry Spitting Image characters entered the cathedral to take their seats beneath the lofty Wren dome.
As history was rewritten for the umpteenth time in a matter of days, Blake’s bones lay sleeping unperturbed in Bunhill Fields – definitely not for turning. A bone fide Londoner who wrote of higher places, William Blake was a man whose words could reach out to everyman – to Londoners of every stripe certainly, but also to those in Scotland, County Durham, Liverpool…South Wales…South Yorkshire…
Do what you will, this world’s a fiction and is made up of contradiction