Lady Catherine Dyer

Do you know who first copied down the epitaph, "My dearest dust" in Colmworth parish church? And where did you find the poem?

--- Victor Perry

Dear Victor:

We found it at Inventions of Farewell: A Book of Elegies, Sandra M. Gilbert, Editor, as published by Norton.

We have to admit that we do not know who copied down the epitaph.  We hope it was someone wise, like Johnson, Coleridge, or Thomas.

--- Lolita Lark

Dear Lolita,

Thank you for your email.

I first came across Lady Catherine Dyer's "My dearest dust" in The Penguin Book of Love Poetry Jon Stallworthy, Editor (1976, originally published 1973). A reviewer singled this poem out for praise, saying he had not seen it before.

Then I found it in The New Penguin Book of English Verse, Paul Keegan, Editor (2001) --- where the writer's name is spelled Katherine and the poem is printed in old, presumably original, spelling. Again a reviewer (who clearly had not read The Penguin Book of Love Poetry), said the poem was new to him and singled it out for praise

As we do not live too far from Colmworth, I determined to visit the village and see for myself. I got in touch with the vicar, who told me that someone had written a history of the village. But I have not yet managed the trip. Currently I am very busy, but, who knows, I may yet manage it.

The other puzzle is Catherine Dyer's skill as a poet. I can find nothing else by her. People do write "poetry" after a death, but it is doggerel, though, if one sees such a poem, one can't tell them that. (1) Did she get someone else to write the epitaph for her? (2) Had she been perfecting her skills for years, but all her previous work lay unpublished and was not preserved? (3) Did she simply have an innate talent, previously unused, but now carefully put into service?

If I do go to Colmworth, I shall write again.

'Johnson, Coleridge, or Thomas': which Thomas?

--- Regards,
Vic Perry

Dear Victor:

I am more fascinated by the fact that you and I and a few others --- the three editors in question --- found something powerful in "My dearest dust."I got a BA in "English Literature" at a small, prestigious east coast college, and one-half to two-thirds of a MA at the even more prestigious graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley. (I stayed at the latter until disgust at the "scientific" study of the literature I loved drove me out.)

Even though my interest in English literature was great, the material I was given access to scarcely included four of the poets who have given me the greatest pleasure in my later years: John Donne, John Clare, Walter de la Mare, and Edward Thomas (it was the latter I was referring to in my earlier letter to you; Dylan Thomas was too interested in Dylan Thomas to be interested in obscure 17th Century Poets).

I suspect from your letter that you have the same interests and poetic affections as we do, and we would treasure any suggestions you might be willing to make for the poetry section of the magazine.

--- Lolita Lark

§     §     §

This is the complete epitaph from 1641, on a monument erected at Colmworth Church, Bedfordshire, by Lady Catherine Dyer, addressed to her now departed husband Sir William Dyer.
    My dearest dust, could not thy hasty day
    Afford the drowzy patience leave to stay
    One bower longer: so that we might either
    Sate up, or gone to bedd together?
    But since thy finisht labor hath possest
    Thy weary limbs with early rest,
    Enjoy it sweetly: and thy widdowe bride
    Shall soone repose her by thy slumbering side.
    Whose business, now, is only to prepare
    My nightly dress, and call to prayre:
    Mine eyes wax heavy and ye day growes old.
    The dew falls thick, my beloved growes cold.
    Draw, draw ye closed curtaynes: and make room:
    My dear, my dearest dust; I come, I come.
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