There was an obituary last Friday in The Times for poet, Michael Shepherd. This is more personal. Many poets, philosophers and neoplatonists fond of networking on the internet knew him. He was that bubbling, enthusiastic spirit who had something to say about everything, and often seemed to start saying it mid-sentence. He was the amused clown, the bounding puppy, the fund of knowledge, the devoted friend.
I first met him when I joined the group translating the letters of Marsilio Ficino. Michael had been there from the beginning. He was clever and knowledgeable, he was a tutor at the Royal Academy, a writer of obituaries for the Daily Telegraph. And you wouldn't know any of that, because what you had in front of you was a Santa Claus of a man, all pink cheeks and barely-suppressed smiles. Smiles and laughter constantly moved around inside his face eventually to burst out in a radiant shower of light. And then, naturally, there were times when he was depressed. He spent a good many years caring for his elderly mother. His loneliness during those years was alleviated by the invention of the internet and he spent hours on it chatting to so many of us. When his mother died, he grew very depressed indeed, but in that darkness the seeds of some great poetry germinated, and suddenly his internet friends were receiving sonnets, sometimes as many as one a day. It was a terrific outpouring.
David and I published a collection of them called 'When I Awaken to Myself' under the imprint of Godstow Press. http://www.godstowpress.co.uk. These sonnets, we thought, were truly great. Others have thought so, too. Michael became a great hit on Poemhunter.com, and one of the last things he received in this life was a copy of a recently published anthology of great poets which included one of his poems. Michael, we all suspect, is destined for fame and glory once time gets around to sifting the wheat from the chaff of this petty and superficial age.
Funerals are a great way to judge a man's worth: Michael's was splendid. He had no relatives and was cared for since his stroke by friends. These friends and many others crowded into Mortlake Crematorium this morning. We were already laughing when we arrived, because next door to the Crem is the National Archive and the Recycling Centre - just the sort of thing to tickle Michael.
The funeral began beautifully with music from Discantus Choir and an address by Michael's friend, Rev Stephen Thompson. The roof nearly came off as we ripped into Love Divine, All Loves Excelling. Shirley Burch read Michael's sonnet 'That'. Clement Salaman, head of the Ficino translation group since its inception, gave a moving tribute, and then Arthur Farndell, translator of Ficino's Commentaries on Plato, and the friend who, with his wife, has cared so well for Michael over the past seven months, stood to give his tribute. 'Michael,' he began, and we all anticipated 'was' to be the next word, but no. 'Michael,' he said, 'how are you?' And there in Mortlake Crematorium, forty or fifty people were transfixed by this in-the-moment dialogue between two friends. Naturally we could only hear one half of it, but Arthur let us know what Michael was saying.
For instance, that Michael thinks that of all crematoria, Mortlake is one of the best. The Crem-de-la-Crem. Typical, the old punner lives!And so it went on, this funeral that answered my anxieties, expressed a few days ago on Facebook, about how to bury a Platonist. Answer: remind us that there is no such thing as death.
The Rev Thompson, finding himself in the company of so many philosopher friends, gave us - led us in - a prayer in Sanskrit and a verse from an Upanishad. Suddenly, not only Michael was with us, but Yeats and Eliot popped in to see what was going on. Surely it has to be most fitting that a philosopher-poet is sent on his way by forty or fifty people chanting, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti (Peace, Peace, Peace - see the end of Eliot's The Wasteland)
When I was planning my celebration for All Souls yesterday, I decided not to use the chinese lantern I had bought since a friend warned me that the metal parts choke cattle, but when I went to throw it away, I found I'd unwittingly bought a harmless one (brand - BoyzToyz). We've delayed All Souls by a day and will send it up later tonight, to wave not goodbye but hello to Michael.