(First Movement)


The key to the burial ground arrives in the post,
Wrapped in paper, like a thermometer.
I’ll go there on the next warm afternoon.

How many people can walk to the plot
In which their urns or coffins will be laid?
Fewer today than in pre-industrial times.

We all live close to life everlasting.
Night falls. There is no void.
Time endures for everything.


A lovely May day, it’s time to try the key.
The main gate is chained – except for funerals.
The key turns twice in a narrow side door.

The dusty boards swing open into a garden.
There’s a small bungalow, the caretaker’s house,
Screened from the main avenue by tall trees.

Skirt the lawn and begin at the beginning.
The gravelled avenue, flanked by white stones,
Dusts my shoes. Ancient trees arch the way.

Uniform gravestone lines sag here and there.
Foundations sink into well-tended grass.
Birdsong surrounds the locked meeting house.

A welcoming iron bench waits in the sun.
The magnificent trees and shrubs are unfamiliar –
Not so the grey roll-call of family names,

A list of well-known firms cut into stone,
Walpole, Bewley, Pim and Goodbody.
Many names bring memories of friendly faces.

Behind the meeting house, hidden by a hedge,
Is the inevitable debris of cut grass,
Tree trimmings and discarded tools.

More mysteriously, there’s a car covered in dust
Under the polythene of an ad hoc greenhouse.
A fox darts behind a rusting water butt.

I find my way back to the bungalow by another path.
There are signs that children play in the garden.
A totem made of flower pots hangs from a branch.

At the first turn the key fails in the lock.
The third attempt sets me free - back
Into the noise and fumes of life.


Quakers bought Temple Hill in the 19th century,
Creating a burial ground on land
Formerly part of the Rockfield estate.

In those days you could see the sea
And look back at Dublin from the
Quiet height, rich in trees.

How far can we look back, how far forward?
Pre-history, history, the modern, the post-modern,
Guesses, facts and dressing-up.

"Temple" suggests the practice of worship,
The priests and gods of long ago,
A sense of architecture.

Friends choose simplicity.
A wall was built around the ground.
The meeting house is plain.

The wall, beginning as enclosure, blocks
From view almost all encroachments -
Today a busy highway blurs the gate.


The size and shape of headstones is prescribed.
Each has its archive number and inscription,
Dates and family details - never an epitaph.

Such essentials stay the same while so much changes.
Chugging cars succeeded clip-clop coaches.
Our engines must respect far greener norms.

All this can be surveyed from overhead.
Commercial flights and private helicopters
Look down on the island of graves.

Further out in space, satellite sensors
Monitor all that moves, colouring
Thermal maps for government use.

What the technology, what the governance
To change the context in the years ahead?
The Religious Society of Friends will watch.

So long as Irish Quakers mark interment
They’ll find space here and know
The grass will still be mown.

The power of this place is
The peace of Christian virtues,
Accepting God in every person.

The stones are witness to a vision.
Fundamental rights and egalitarianism
Implying pacifism,

Not facing the tide, like King Canute,
But standing in the sea, exemplars
Seeking to channel the waves.


Time endures for everyone.
Religion can disappear
When worlds collide.

Should unavoidable cataclysm
Leave anything worth study,
May the archaeologists work in peace.

Shards of bone will have their beauty.
The symmetries of objets trouvés
Go once it’s asked "What are they?"


The sun rises and the wind blows.
Seas wash the shores of fertile and infertile lands.
Peace has meaning.

Night falls.
There is no void.
Eternal spirit.

(Second Movement)


Months later, when the leaves were down,
I went to a funeral – other than my own,
The rite, according to tradition.

The sadness of loss chilled the air.
The thanks for a life borne on silent prayer
Were answered by an unseasonal sun.

The last handshake, and all was done,
As Elders and family wished it done.
I left the graveside glad to have come.

The peace to be found in a burial ground
Is more than the absence of urban sound,
The quiet contemplation of last things.


Man’s interest in the metaphysical abides,
Dragged here and there by daily tides
Of truth and contradiction.

What was it on that sunny day,
The turning of both leaf and clay,
That seemed to sort out faith and thought?

How can it be that diptych
Says more to me than triptych,
Defying Hegel and the Trinity?

A sense of tolerance and compassion,
Accepting a reality of reason and unreason,
Responds to differing truths and values.

In the eye of time most truth is relative.
Newton and Einstein, each in his own perspective,
Is true of the world, but seems provisional.

Scientific advance is made by hypothesis,
As, indeed, we now read Genesis.
Why demonise the transitory?

Do I argue for a middle way,
Happy medium, or Third Way?
That is not what I seek to say.

My argument, such as it is,
Rejects some higher synthesis,
Prefers the case for openness.

Can we try – like gods – to see
The unity of diversity
That questions every facile phrase?


Myth and history live together,
Changing faces like the weather,
Fine or cloudy, wet or dry.

Old or young, enchanted, bored,
Find a place for pen and sword,
Respect the rights of yes and no.

Why not cherish Christ and Islam
Without today’s fanaticism,
Learning from the rough and smooth?

The sane and insane, drunk and sober,
Have insights they can bring together,
In the arts of daily life.

Black and white, healthy and sick,
Catholic and non-Catholic,
Polarities of little use.

We can remember and forget, lose and find.
Forgiveness as a state of mind,
Respects the need for dignity.

To see things as event and process
Can help dissolve uncalled for stress,
Allowing time to work.

Facing the visible and invisible,
We do both good and evil.
Seek neither guilt nor mercy: Learn.

Listen, understand, respect,
Find ground for peace and justice.


The sun rises and the wind blows.
Seas wash the shores of fertile and infertile lands.
Justice has meaning.

Night falls.
There is no void.
Eternal spirit.

Neville Keery