Friday 15 February 2008

William Blake in London: A Green and Pleasant Land

The day before yesterday was, I read in the paper, the hottest February 13 on record.

I'm not surprised. I spent my lunchtime on Wednesday sitting in a lovely enclosed garden a short walk from where I work.

The garden is a peaceful haven amid the office blocks and busy city streets but it was the first time this year it has been warm enough to sit there for more than few minutes without wearing my gloves and turning up my collar against the cold. The sun was out, one tree was thick with white blossoms and others were sprouting tiny green buds. Birds chirruped among the crocuses. It was hard to make myself return to the office and I thought how perfect it would be if it was like that on Valentine's Day.

Except that it wasn't.

February 14 was overcast and bitterly cold. More like a normal February day, in fact. So, instead of spending my lunch hour sitting in a lovely spring garden I went for a walk.

I had thought of engaging in some Valentine's Day retail therapy but, for some reason, my feet lead me instead to Bunhill Fields Burial Ground.

You might think a cemetery is a strange place to go on Valentine's Day, and I admit I felt I was giving in to my inner goth when I walked through the wrought iron gates, but I don't regret it at all.

Bunhill Fields has been a burial ground for more than a thousand years and the name is derived from 'Bone Hill'. It was designated as a public open space in an 1867 Act of Parliament and, as a leaflet I picked up says, "The four hectares of Bunhill Fields are an oasis of calm and greenery in a busy, congested locality just north of the City of London's Square Mile."

It was the perfect antidote to the commercialised festival of love that is February 14 in our modern world - the tawdry pink tat in every shop window, the flower sellers hawking hothouse roses for £30 a bunch on street corners and the newspaper adverts telling us how we still aren't too late to book up an expensive evening for ourselves and our loved one.

At the centre of Bunhill Fields Burial Ground I came across the gravestone of the artist, poet and visionary William Blake and his wife, Catherine. I hadn't realised it was there at all. When I stopped to photograph it, I saw that people had left offerings - coins, leaves, even a chocolate bar. I felt humbled. In the heart of a bleak and cold part of London people were showing their love for someone who rejected greed and commercialism and who dreamt of an England that was a green and pleasant land.

Bunhill Fields is between City Road and Bunhill Row, London. The nearest stations are Old Street and Moorgate.



Anonymous said...

I didn't know that was there. Thanks...

Yewtree said...

You might like Tracy Chevalier's novel about Blake, which is entitled Burning Bright. I found it very enjoyable. Merry Yule!