Jonathan Taylor on Dido's lament

For My Father

… but Purcell’s Dido’s lament –  

When  I am laid in earth,
May my wrongs create
No trouble in thy breast;
Remember me, but ah! forget my fate,

– never seems to finish,
and the five-bar basso ostinato,
recurs again and again,
closing like a trap on the Carthage Queen,
remembering what she wants forgotten,
the 3/2 rhythm persisting,
long after the record has finished,
chaconning my footsteps
towards the C.D. player
and the Eject button,

which can’t eject the ostinato
from my head, and can’t stop me
remembering the Queen’s fate
encased within it –
the slit wrists, the betrayal,
all that Aeneid balls-up –

And I know what the circling ostinato tells me:
that, despite those seven last words,
her fate is to be remembered for her fate,
to be immortalised for nothing else;
and I know too that grief,
the ground-bass to all our memories,
all too often memorialises by mistake
the fate, the last illness, the how,
and not the who or what.

*Jonathan Taylor is author of the memoir Take Me Home (Granta Books, 2007). He is also Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at De Montfort University and co-director of arts organisation and small publisher, Crystal Clear Creators. His poetry collection will be published by Shoestring Press in early 2013.

This poem was first featured in New Walk Magazine

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